Thursday, August 16, 2007

Arkansas: Land of the Giant Jesus

A few weeks ago I went to Arkansas to record with the band Mar. Their founder and frontman, Kyle Reidy, asked me last year, out of the blue, if I would record cello on their album. I took one listen to their music and said yes. They have that epic melancholy quality that I always find myself drawn to. I can't resist! Plus, there is so much room for cello!

I'd passed through Arkansas numerous times with Rasputina, but only to Fayetteville, and never for longer than 24 hrs. The thick woods on the surrounding hills, I'd seen them on the drive in, and they called to me. Next time, I thought. Next time I'll come back and go into those woods!

It's one of the frustrations of touring: yes, you get to go to so many places...Copenhagen! Montreal! Omaha!...but you never really see or experience them. For a slow, meandering traveler like myself, it can be a form of torture. For example, I can spend many days investigating all the nooks and crannies of a few square miles: sampling all the regional foods, chatting up the locals in the bars and cafes, reading the epitaphs on tombstones, observing the flora and fauna. But on tour, you arrive and must leave the next day, or maybe even right after the show. If you're lucky, you might have pulled in that morning or the previous evening and there are a few hours to explore. Or more likely, you can squeeze in a quick ramble up and down the street in the hour before soundcheck. To deal with the tragedy of always being about to leave, in every city I cram as much exploring as posisble into those tiny windows. I imagine that I am scoping it out for when I come back. That list of places to go back to is now impossibly long, and growing!

Don't get me wrong, I love to tour. I love waking up in a new place everyday (and each time is different, so even if you were there the year before, this time feels new). I love the anticipation of what untried and exciting foods will live around the corner from the venue. I love having a new audience every day.

I also happen to love surprise recording projects where I have no idea what to expect. So a few days in the exotic and mysterious land of the Ozarks, with a band I'd never met, and songs I'd never heard...well that sounded fantastic. That is how I found myself on a small commuter jet on route to the NW Arkansas regional airport.

The first inclination that this was a different kind of place I was headed to, were the passengers on the plane. They were large, loud and very friendly. The boisterous chatting across the aisles and with the flight attendant started immediately. "You're coming from where?", "Oh, we used to go there when I was a kid! I remember when...". There was a great deal of interest and questions in regard to my hair. "Oh you must be going to Eureka Springs!" , everyone in the adjacent seats nodded knowingly and..were they winking? I actually had no idea where I was going, "er, somewhere in the Ozarks", which became a topic of conversation in itself.

Anyway, it turned out the band was recording near Eureka Springs, in a rented log cabin they had turned into the perfect studio retreat. Running the controls was a handsome chap from Iceland named Flex Arnason. After a welcome-to-Arkansas recuperatory beer, we went to listen to what on earth I'd be playing along with. I loved it immediately. This is a big deal because I am notoriously hard to impress and am not moved by most music I hear. And if I'm not moved, I find it hard to play the cello to it. The sound was epic but spacious, exultory (is that a word?) and intense. Beautiful and soaring violin parts had been laid down the previous day by Anton Patzner (who composes his own music and plays violin with Bright Eyes). Overall this was more full-on and rocking than their previous album I'd listened to. I couldn't wait to get started. I spent the next 2 days locked up with Flex and John Lennon's microphone (loaned to the band by the person who bought it from Yoko. I heard it was the mic he recorded all his solo albums on and was probably worth more than my new cello). I lost track, but I think we recorded cello for five or six songs. I honestly can't wait to hear the final product.

Yet again, there was no time to explore much of the area, so I'll have to go back. The cabin itself was in such a beautiful location, perched on the cleared top of a densely forested ridge so the sun would rise on one side and set on the other. On my last morning, I watched the sun rise from my bed. Everything was all orange and hazy. During meals and breaks, it was great to sit out on the porch in the heavy air and listen to the omnipresent cicada soundtrack (that's Ty, Flex and Kyle experiencing the cabin's ambiance). So although the visit was short, I really felt like I got to settle into the slow, velvety rhythm of the place. It went with the music. Another day and I would have started speaking in a drawl!

The last night there, after a grilled dinner on the deck, the band took Flex and I to see one of the main attractions of the area: the 60ft tall Jesus of the Ozarks. Unfortunately my cellphone camera could not capture the halo of bats circling his head. Thankfully, the gift shop was open.

Check out Mar


Blogger goodwolve said...

Please do come back. We are an eclectic town with filled with amazing people. Fun blog! Thank you for sharing. Jacqueline (

Blogger Melissa said...

I remember the last time I was in Eureka Springs. It was the dead of winter and my poor Dodge Aries could only make it up half hills- I mean town. Oh well, the walk was better anyway.

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