Closer Look: Talia Billig & The Orchard Sessions

Friends, I have a special treat for you! Today, I am bringing you a guest writer!  My dear friend Talia Billig, a sweet, hilarious, talented, curly haired lady I have known since the age of 11. Her voice and music often flow out of my computer speakers while I work on my own prints, patterns and illustrations (especially her project The Orchard Sessions .... oh and her AMAZING 2012 Valentines Day gift that may or may not be on loop right now). It got me thinking about all the collaborating we as artists (visual, musical, theatrical...etc.) end up doing. I keep up with Talia's musical adventures and projects and thought she would be a perfect guest writer. After I had asked her to write a little something about her experience as a musician and singer, her experience with collaboration and moving forward, I crossed my fingers, pet a rabbit foot, held my breath ... and lucky for you all, SHE AGREED!!!

Talia Billig.  Photo Credit: Rob Northway Photography.

Talia Billig.  Photo Credit: Rob Northway Photography.

Hey. Internet. My name’s Talia. Here’s a quick bit about me: I’m a singer-songwriter and I run an online music salon called The Orchard Sessions in my Manhattan Chinatown apartment. Okay. Now that we’ve got that formal stuff out of the way, let’s talk about Gil Scott Heron. There's something in that deep, gritty, no-nonsense prose of his that has been STOPPING ME DEAD in the middle of the NYC street lately. In one of my favorite poems he brilliantly pronounces:

"Because I always feel like running. Not away, because there is no such place. Because if there was I would have found it by now."

I keep saying that sentence to myself over and over again. These days, as any musician in New York City (or the world, dammit), will attest, you feel like running about 95% of the time. This new era of electronic communication is empowering but also supremely exhausting. The Internet and its descendants dismantled the top down record executive/label approach and made it much easier for artists to create/export their product on their own terms (I firmly believe an artist like myself would not have been able to make music twenty years ago). But it also led to artists doing an astronomical amount of work on our own as we shoulder the responsibilities formerly performed by many trained (and very skilled) professionals. We're all happy to put in a hustle. We wouldn't do it if we weren't. But more often than not, this amount of work ends up leading to a commonly experienced burn out. Imagine writing, rehearsing, performing, booking gigs/tours, managing yourself, publicizing (facebook, email, twitter, tumblr, two websites, etc, etc)…. You get the idea.

So here’s what happens: You always feel like running. Not away, because there is no such place. Because if there was, you would have found it by now.

A year ago I was at what felt to be the peak of my burnout. I was surprised to be there, since we had just recorded our first record The Ripple Effect and financed it through an amazing and inspiring Kickstarter Campaign. If anything, I expected to be bounding forward.

But I wasn’t. It was summer of 2012. Old and seemingly rock solid friendships had fallen by the wayside. My band (at the time also some of my best friends and the people who really shaped my music), had come to a sort of resting spot. I was a year out of college and felt unsteady even with an album already behind me. I wasn't making music except for spontaneous jams in my living room, all with people not involved in my band. That summer I began to sweat, and not just from the heat.

I was hanging a lot with my dear friend Beto Vargas at the time (before he swam over to MTV—well done, sir!) He was in a similar place, which we discussed often over rose and/or margaritas. Eventually we just thought: what if we cut out all of that bullshit? What if we just made an honest, one-take, in-the-moment documentation of what our community is doing, in my living room on Orchard Street, with no frills?

That's how we started. The Orchard Sessions grew out of an unparalleled amount of turbulence. As such, they were a joyous rejection of the formal bullshit. The Orchard Sessions were an honest and desperate attempt to recreate my love for music and my own community. We started humble and small. Our first session involved some of my best friends, was completely unrehearsed, and even featured the magnificent Eric Read playing a bowl of rice and my typewriter as percussion.

Fast forward to today. Last month we celebrated our one year birthday. To date we have recorded twelve Orchard Sessions and have many more on deck. Beto has moved on to MTV and I am now blessed with a new videographer, the amazing Sachi Machlachlan. Starting at Camila Meza’s session (#7), we were fortunate to bring Gavin Skal into the fold, who continues to share his brilliant talent mixing and recording our audio. Gavin is able to produce a warm and perfect live sound with NO mics in the shot. In other words: Gavin Skal is a wizard.

I've learned two essential things through The Orchard Sessions. One: Assemble a creative team of your friends and most trusted allies. Beto, Sachi, and Gavin are people I trust unwaveringly and they have brought the sessions to a place I could never have dreamt of. Two: Accept your own creative trajectories, no matter where they lead you, down to each second. That means you live with the negative, the seeming wastes of time. We all have to accept each choice, be mindful, and move forward.

The Orchard Sessions have been about committing to something: feeding it, watering it, and watching it grow. They are about exposing the purest components of music and thus stepping out of our comfort zones. Most importantly, they are about loving and celebrating one's own community.

"Because I always feel like running. Not away, because there is no such place. Because if there was I would have found it by now."

Yes, sometimes I am a runner. I think as artists we all are runners, sometimes. But Gil Scott Heron was right: There is no such "place" as "away." There is only where you are and the people with whom you share your life. Even in my unsteadiest moments, this community has brought me an immense amount of joy and peace. This community is the closest I have to "my such place." I am happy to serve it, to present it, to cultivate it, because every time I go back to it I feel like running just a little bit less.


Talia lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Esconced on Canal and Orchard since 2007, she is continuously energized by the history and diversity of her community. In July of 2012 she launched The Orchard Sessions, a bi-monthly online salon captured live and shared online. Each session features a new guest artist performing a spontaneous collaboration with Talia and other artists. Viewers have the unique opportunity to watch as the story and music unfold. She continues to perform as the headlining and opening act in music venues across the United States and Canada. True to her creed, Talia lives a musical life in motion, exciting and inspiring at throughout.