Private Playlist: Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down

Dorian Wood with their playlist selections. Credit: Dorian Wood.

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. Dorian Wood is an L.A. native whose searching and emotional work runs the gamut of genres and styles. Their commanding voice has been heard fronting chamber orchestras, rock ensembles, and anarchist marching bands, among others. As a musician, Wood has released over a dozen recordings, the most recent of which, XALÁ, marks the first time that they have recorded a full-length work in their mother tongue of Spanish. Prior to the quarantine, they were touring Europe, Mexico, and the U.S. with a show paying tribute to the late Mexican singer Chavela Vargas. Most recently, they became a 2020 Creative Capital Award recipient. Wood spoke with KCRW about the joy of supporting creative friends, the importance of embracing one’s darkness, and “the Impossible Burger of songs.”

To me, the biggest challenge is avoiding conceptualizing the future. The most accurate metaphor is walking a tightrope and avoiding looking down, simply because there is this void, this seeming nothingness, that many of us perceive the future to be. That's how I perceive it, anyway. And I try not to think too much about what the future may or may not be like. So, as I'm walking this tightrope of staying balanced, that's focused enough for me, living in the present day.


I've recently worked on and presented a tribute project to Chavela Vargas called Xavela Lux Aeterna. And in delving into Vargas's catalog, I was able to further absorb the legacy of singer-songwriter Violeta Parra from Chile. Violeta always sang from a beautifully poetic but very focused indignation at what was happening politically in Chile. And so much of what she's saying, so much of the truth that she shares with the world, is still very relevant today. But it's so beautiful.


As everything shut down, I wanted something that gave me a sort of blissful escape, but also to dance and to promote movement in my body, and Bad Bunny did that — which I wasn't expecting. "Ignorantes" makes me cry, it makes me dance. It's the Impossible Burger of songs: "You're telling me this isn't meat? You're telling me that somebody composed this song that you can actually cry and feel sexy to, and that it's all just part of the same conversation?" Kudos to Bad Bunny for doing the impossible.


Something that always brings me enormous joy in the music of others is knowing that it comes from friends. One of my dearest friends in the whole world is also one of the greatest creative minds I know, Tommy Santee Klaws. His most recent album is called Bad Player, and it is so good. The opening song, "Get Me Out This Car," is this portal that you run right into and don't question where you're being taken to.


Last October, I went on a very special tour for my friend David Coulter's project, Swordfishtrombones Revisited, where he invited several musicians to interpret all of Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones. And one of the vocalists I really bonded with is Lisa O'Neill. I remember being in my hotel room in London; I went on YouTube and I discovered her song, "Rock the Machine." And I wept hard, hard, hard. I was a weeping mess. It is so extraordinary.


Ever since high school, there really has only been one artist who has consistently shown me the importance of embracing your darkness, and making it your mission to move through it and past it. And that artist is Sinéad O'Connor. Her EP Gospel Oak is taking me through it with its opening song, "This Is To Mother You." Sinéad mothers us and shows us, yes, it's okay to be angry. It's okay to be indignant with this world that, time and time again, fails us. And who can really pull that off? Massive props, massive respect, and massive adoration for Sinéad O'Connor. The world needs to give her the credit and — dare I say — the pedestal that she deserves.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey