Black Prairie Isn't Bluegrass and It Isn't the Decemberists Either
Am I right about your interest in musical collage?
Definitely. The band was started not as a reaction to the Decemberists but as sort of a platform to go further, to be free of the confines of pop music. The Decemberists do that as well. That band has never really followed anything. The Hazards of Love was a rock opera, which could be the nail in the coffin of your career. But this band was something liberating, maybe just to do something new. So there was never any pressure from a label, and there still isn't. We weren't touring at the time or thinking about making money in this band or our career. So we just wrote all over the place and continue to do so.
The latest record, Wild Ones, is a soundtrack to a book by Jon Mooallem. How did that come about?
Jon is a friend and was listening to our album called The Storm in the Barn, which is a soundtrack to a play that the Oregon Children's Theatre commissioned us to write. He was listening to it while he was writing his book, and he asked us to make a companion piece. We were a perfect band for it in the sense that we're up for anything and have this instrumental side to us. He sent us an outline of characters that he wanted us to write about. We'd send back music and say, "This is the butterfly song," and he'd say, "No, that's the crane song. It sounds like a whooping crane." It was a fun collaboration. He just left tour with us. We did about five shows together where it was like a radio show; he would read and we'd do the underscore for it. We enjoy doing those kinds of projects. As we work on this new, more song-based record, it will be fun to have those projects on the side, to let the strange music be really strange.
Do you feel like there's cross-pollination between Black Prairie and the Decemberists? Does one inspire the other? Will things you're doing in this band show up on a Decemberists record?
It's hard to say. We are all that band, so probably, but really we just play what we play, meaning, our personalities come through in our music. It's not like suddenly for the Decemberists I would just up-trade my banjo for a synthesizer. I play the same instruments in both bands. But Colin is the primary songwriter in the Decemberists, and in this band we're all songwriters, so it's going to sound different. The last album with the Decemberists, The King Is Dead, is much more American sounding. Prior to that Colin was more focused on the British canon of folk, and then The Hazards of Love was all about Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath and the influence of that. And previous to that he was influenced by Robyn Hitchcock and that era of music. So it was just a timing thing where we decided to do a more Americana band, and he decided to do the more American side of folk music. I don't think he's really influenced by this band. I don't think he looks at us and thinks the Decemberists should have more banjo. It's probably the opposite, I'd imagine.