Week in Pop: Fascinating, Pascale Project, WRITER

Sjimon Gompers

Chronicling the rise of Montreal's Pascale Mercier—aka Pascale Project; photographed by Alessandro aka l'homme viande.

Barra Brown

A conversation & listen with Barra Brown; press photo courtesy of the artist.

A conversation & listen with Barra Brown; press photo courtesy of the artist.

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Barra Brown just realized his labor of wonder & love with Poem Project available today from Cavity Search Records that features an array of interpretations of Brown’s song “Poem” from an assortment of talents. Enlisting members from The Shins, Ages and Ages, The Westerlies, etc; new approaches to Barra’s visions allowed the input of other seasoned artists to further expand the possibilities and dimensions of sound through richly innovative & expressively collaborative contributions.

Poem Project begins with the gathering call from the Barra Brown Quintet where an alternative version of “Poem” is heard with a lot of heart brass. Julia Lucille’s take on “Poem no. 1: Diluvian” brings out what sounds like trad folk pop from future cultures & frontiers. Tim Howe’s “Poem no. 2: Go Forth” shares senses of wanderlust that grows gradually to a more electric gallop toward an elusive horizon that lies ahead in the dusty distance. On Patti King’s “Poem no. 3: Life in Boxes” unwraps a life spent in the shrink-wrap in earnest tones of care, as Dwight Smith keeps the poetic underscore strumming sweetly with a sense of harmonica-tinged melancholia on “Poem no. 4: Fewer Promises”, right before the emotive score gets completely bathed in the digital pop blend from Colin & Illslur’s radiating & radical “Poem no. 5: Cycle of No Dreams”, to the woodwind tones on twig twig’s super succinct “Poem no. 6: So Close”, swimming dearly down to the fields of flotation device flutes on “Goodbye Good” from Catherine Feeny & Chris Johnedis as you are left with the haunting sewing string chamber pop wonder of “The Thread” by the great Gregory Uhlmann. We were able to get a privy view into the making of this masterpiece in our recent conversation presented after the following listen to Poem Project:

Tell us about the first time you heard Claude Debussy’s “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” and how it has affected your own creative visions & missions.

The first time I heard “Girl with the Flaxen Hair”, I wept. I say wept because it was a different sensation than crying. It was one of the most beautiful pieces I had heard. I can’t quite remember what was happening at that time in my life that I had such an emotional experience. Sometimes timing really affects how much one can connect with something. Sometimes you can’t explain it, and I think that is what we are always searching for: that beauty that is unexplainable. I’ve always been a fan of Debussy though, so I think it’s safe to say that I would’ve reacted similarly, even if it were at a different time. I remember thinking “Every time I listen to something by Debussy, it’s more beautiful than the last.” I really connected with how he the used simple melody with harmony that was pretty but also had tension. Debussy is really a master of gorgeous harmony in my book. I was inspired and wanted to know how he used harmony in the song. I analyzed the chords and melody, and through that process, I wrote “Poem”. If you’ve heard “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” then you’ll recognize a short chord progression that is Debussy. The rest is my own, using the imagery I got from his piece as a template for mine.

Describe how the creative collaboration with Julia Lucille, Tim Howe, Patti King, Dwight Smith, Colin Jenkins, Illslur, Twig Twig, Gregory Uhlmann, Catherine Feeny, Chris Johnedis & more further built upon Poem Project.

I suppose I re-discovered how much work it is to make and finish an album. It’s even more difficult when you bring in eight other musicians to a project and none of them were ever in the same room—except Catherine Feeny and Chris Johnedis who recorded at my home studio. Art takes a lot of time! Originally I wanted to release a version of Poem from a different artist each month. But because the musicians are so great, it means they are super busy. I don’t think a single one was released on time. I wasn’t working with my own timeline anymore; I was working with eight different timelines. This turned into the project taking three years before it felt complete. I didn’t initially plan for this to be an album per se. It was mostly a way for me to collaborate with some of my favorite musicians while being on the road a lot and living in a different city than them. I discovered—to my shock—that I can be patient with art and with people, that being flexible can turn an idea into much more, and that friends can be incredibly generous with their time.

What did you discover about others & yourself when making this?

I wrote the song “Poem” for a different band which recorded two different versions back in 2012. At some point after, someone mentioned that the instrumental song sounded like it would be good with lyrics. I thought that was an interesting idea: if the instrumental was already interpreted in two completely different ways, what would happen if I asked songwriters to add lyrics to the melody and gave them freedom to arrange the track in their own style. So Poem Project, as it is heard now, was an experiment in collaborating from the start. The album is a collaborative piece that is, in essence, eight interpretations of my interpretation of a classical piano work.

Artists & events & more that you would like to recognize?

I’d like to thank all the artists that contributed to this album; Julia Lucille, Tim Howe, Patti King, Dwight Smith, Colin Jenkins and Illslur, twig twig (oka Zubin Hensler), Catherine Feeny, Chris Johnedis, and Gregory Uhlmann. And as always, thanks to Denny at Cavity Search Records, and Avi Sinkin and Maya Dagmi for contributing to the album art.

I few shout outs are in order:
Congrats to Julia Lucille who will be releasing her new record “Chthonic” on Keeled Scales records on April 7th!
Patti King has begun touring with The Shins which is so amazing!
Gregory Uhlmann recently released his solo record “Odd Job” with his production company out of LA called Dog Legs Music and also plays in Fell Runner and Similar Fashion which are awesome bands to check out.
Colin Jenkins has a cool project called Rio Grands and tours with Ages and Ages.
Tim Howe has an album out under Vista House and plays in a Portland band called Cool American.
Check out Dwight’s music he’s an amazing guitar player, and definitely check out Catherine Feeny and Chris Johnedis’ record as well.

Parting meditations you care to leave us with?

Parting meditations: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I release music. It’s such a process and takes lots of hours, a good bit of money, and it can be a bit of a struggle honestly. Is it for me? Is it for others? Is it meant to be shared? The thing is: I don’t know what else I would be doing. This is a passion, a love, a job, something that for me just has to be done. I haven’t really found a straightforward answer to these questions; it feels like yes and no to all of them.

It’s amazing to see what can be created from a spark of an idea. This diverse album came from one simple melody. Look at how many interpretations come from one thing! People view things in such different ways. We all hear music differently, interpret the political climate with varying subtleties, etc. I think that’s a good takeaway: building community and sharing ideas in all forms, music and otherwise, is greatly important, but it’s also hugely important to recognize that everyone is coming from a different background and doesn’t think the same as the next person. All these different backgrounds and opinions make for something beautiful and challenging at times. Listening is more important than ever.

Barra Brown’s Poem Project is available today from Cavity Search Records.

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