Like a cryptic, symbolic dream, the music of Joker's Daughter feeds on a range of conscious and unconscious influences, from classical violin training to Arthurian legend to a certain fascination with food.
The result is haunting, infectious and playful, a rich harvest from a broad psychic landscape.
Born in London but Greek Cypriot by origin,
Helena Costas studied violin from ages 7 to 13,
then taught herself guitar and keyboards.
As she became an adult, her mission came into focus.
She wrote songs relentlessly, learned the art of production,
and gained confidence as a performer as she played gigs around London.
In 2003, she began sending her home recordings to artist/producer Danger Mouse,
a correspondence that continued as his career grew.
The two artists discovered a natural affinity,
and launched a collaboration,
which they dubbed Joker's Daughter
after one of Helena's many shifting personae.
Joker's Daughter is a dualistic character who draws from the serious
to turn it into humor.
The character gives voice to the darkness and redemption in Helena's psyche,
often with a mischievous flair. Always evolving as a musician and performer,
Helena has recently taken up the bouzouki,
a traditional instrument played by the muses in ancient Greek myth.
Danger Mouse is a full collaborator at every stage.
His verdant production and instrumentation compliments the
full spectrum of emotion in Helena's music,
from grief to celebration to happy ambiguity.
Together, they make music both timeless and fresh.
It's folk-pop from a strange, uncharted world.
An Interview with Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse on Joker's Daughter
Q. How did you discover Helena?
A. A friend of mine saw her singing somewhere and told me about it. This was back in 2003, I think. She came out to LA and we worked on a couple of things. It wasn't quite the direction either of us wanted to go in, that first stuff. After she got home, she started sending me demos that were a little bit more her. When I heard those, I encouraged it a little bit more, because I really liked the new direction.
When I was working on the Gorillaz album, I spent some time in London, and I met up with her on the weekends. Usually on Sundays. She brought some of her new ideas, and we recorded them in my apartment. After doing that over and over again, we had an album's worth of material, thirteen or fourteen songs. That was 2005.
Later, she sent even more stuff that went even further, that I thought was even better. Little by little, we rerecorded some of the old stuff and then worked on some new songs. We never really did release that first one. There are a couple of songs, like "Jesse the Goat," that survived. But she was really coming into her own style now, so we kept recording. Over the last couple of years, we put together this album.
Q. What about her music made you want to collaborate with her?
A. She has such a fantastical mind. She goes all over the place. She's got a crazy imagination. I love that element of it. It reminds me of being a kid. I knew that when she was singing this stuff, she wasn't doing it for a big audience. It was just what was going on in her head. She had no intention of writing a song so a whole bunch of people would be affected by it. She was writing songs based on having fun, and on having an amazing imagination. But there was a dark side to the whole thing, as well, that I really related with. As with other people I've worked with, I didn't need to understand everything she was talking about. But it was important that I thought it was genuine. And with her, it absolutely was.
Q. How would you describe your role in the project?
A. A collaborator, I guess. All the ideas initiated with her. I heard things in the music that were undeveloped - whole passages or instrumental parts that I would hear in my head. I went into the studio and worked on those things, just to flesh it out a bit more. Some of the songs, I didn't add much at all because I didn't think she needed it. But I knew that she left certain parts open for me to interpret. In some cases, there was a lot going on, and I took some stuff away. I felt like, on most of the stuff she sent, there was a place for me. I think that's why she sent it.
Q. How it is different collaborating with someone over a long distance, when you're not in the same city?
A. It takes a lot of trust. When I'm working on stuff, I know that she wants me to do what I feel, just like I want her to do what she feels. So when I'm doing the music, I'm not asking her if she likes any of the stuff I'm doing. I just go for what I feel and send it back. An overwhelming majority of the time, when I sent her back stuff, she was very, very into it. It would have been a lot more difficult if she'd wanted to make this change and that change. It would have been hard for me, when I got the next song, to feel like I could do whatever I wanted with it. It wasn't a back-and-forth process. She sent it to me, I sent it back. Some of the songs, I didn't like as much, and I didn't work on. I worked on the songs that I really loved.
Q. Is there anything about Helena that you're still curious about?
A. She's a very mysterious person. I don't even begin to try to understand some things about her. She's one of the few people that intimidate me with their imaginations.