TVD Premiere: Nineteen Thirteen, “Summertime”

When Janet Schiff pressed play on a CD of an old Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recording, Victor DeLorenzo didn’t know what to expect. They were listening to records when Janet asked if he wanted to hear her grandmother play the organ. He said yes. No, he wasn’t just being polite. 

Marguerite Schiff, Janet’s grandmother, was an eccentric and beloved Wisconsin character. She was a gifted musician who sang and played piano, accordion, and organ and toured America doing just that. Marguerite and her piano were never separated; it went with her wherever she traveled—even to the Bahamas where she “wintered.” When the entire state of Wisconsin got to vote on the very first thing they’d ever see on television, they chose Marguerite.

“There were a few different songs that she played,” the Violent Femmes co-founder recalled. “When it got to this version of ‘Summertime’ well, to be quite frank about it… ‘Summertime’ is a wonderful song, but it’s been so overdone. But there was something about her version with just that organ; it was so ghostly and so hauntingly elegant the way she played it.”

The moment DeLorenzo heard the fifty-year-old recording, he knew it was a perfect project for his band, Nineteen Thirteen. Named for the year in which Janet Schiff’s cello was crafted, the “heavy chamber rock” trio make a habit of subtly blending both old and new sounds to create unique musical traditions of their own. Without a doubt, Marguerite would feel right at home with the band.

“Over the course of the next year, every once in a while I’d ask Janet if she’d get me a copy of her grandmother playing organ, because I was just haunted by it,” says DeLorenzo. “Finally, she gave me a copy and then we got serious about it.”

Over the course of six months in the studio, Janet and Victor filled the space around Marguerite’s lone organ track with layers of cello and percussion (provided by the enigmatic Nez and DeLorenzo himself) and upright bass courtesy of Rob Wasserman. Frequent Nineteen Thirteen collaborator Monia offers beautiful, operatic vocals—which she recorded in just one take.

“I really think this song is haunted,” says DeLorenzo, “but haunted in the best possible way. There is really a soul in there; there’s something happening in that song where every time I listen to it… there’s a certain feeling about it. I can’t even describe to you what that feeling is, but there is a kind of a haunted elegance or just a feeling like maybe Janet’s grandmother is so exalted and feeling like, ‘Wow, I’m getting to play with my granddaughter.’ Through the miracle of technology, we could make that happen for Janet and Marguerite.”

The serendipitous recording is the essence of Nineteen Thirteen. Known for charming audiences by creating entire orchestras from spare and beautiful instrumentation, their take on the great Gershwin standard is pure Southern gothic, evoking hot summer nights, lightning bugs, sweet tea, and house concerts.

“My grandmother was a huge influence on my musicality growing up,” Schiff tells TVD. “She was a beautiful woman with a strong will and quite progressive for her time. I think she’d be fascinated by what’s going to happen with this song’s release.

“I feel like she’s making herself known in a way to more than just the people on the project, but also the people who will soon be part of it by listening.”

Nineteen Thirteen Official | Facebook | Twitter

Cover art by Janet Schiff
Photo of Marguerite Schiff by Maurice Seymour
Photos of Nineteen Thirteen and Monia by Doug Seymour

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text