Thursday, November 12, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Random thoughts: I barely remember this interview, but I do remember Pall Jenkins being a nice fellow to chat with.

A sad and beautiful world

By Jason Schreurs

One thing you can always count on from Pall Jenkins, leader of The Black Heart Procession, is a detailed explanation of his records. The San Diego collective’s fifth album, The Spell, takes listeners on another desperate yet hopeful journey, one that Jenkins is quick to divulge.
“The common thread is love and war,” begins Jenkins, “the idea of being captivated or feeling like you’re in a spell. You can read this record as a political record, or a love record. The spell is the concept of being helpless and feeling controlled. That’s why The Spell is a very appropriate title for the record; being tangled in things and not being able to move.”
If that sounds like aural punishment, it’s not. Really. The essence of The Black Heart Procession’s sound may be morose, dark, downtrodden… even haunting, but it’s hopefulness that always finds a way to peek through the despair, if only momentarily.
“I think we throw those elements into each one of our records. We look at our music as a journey where you go through a series of emotions and ideas,” explains Jenkins. “With each one of our records it gets really dark—it gets light as well…”
Jenkins hesitates, then adds, “Traditionally we’re not very light, we’re always on the darker side of things.”
The group, which began as the side project of Jenkins and guitarist/piano player Tobias Nathaniel after their other band, Three Mile Pilot, went on an extended hiatus, has swelled into a five-piece with the additions of drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), bassist Jimmy LaValle, and violinist Matt Resovich (both of The Album Leaf).
Although the songs on The Spell might create the impression that Jenkins and Nathaniel are coming full circle and returning to the style of their previous band, nothing is ever as it seems in the disturbed world of The Black Heart Procession.
In fact, it’s more likely their next album will see more lineup shuffling and a return to the bare minimum sounds of their trilogy of albums, appropriately titled One, Two, and Three, which were probably best known for using the melancholy sounds of a manipulated saw and pieces of sheet metal.
“I think our next record will probably be even more different. This one we wrote on purpose as a full band. I’m curious to see what our next record will be,” muses Jenkins. “Who knows, it might just be back to a two-piece and really eerie. This record we didn’t put the saw on very much because it just didn’t need it, and now I’m kind of itching to go back in this other direction where it’s the saw and all the spooky stuff.”
In the meantime, we have The Spell, an album that once again illustrates how this band’s music seems to come together in a séance of spirits from the musical netherworld. With melodies lurching and stumbling and piano keys echoing, it’s Jenkin’s pensive lyrics that complete the sordid lullabies.
“I try not to fight too hard against my words. I avoid really having to struggle hard to have the perfect lyrics. I just let the song start dictating itself and I’m there as a medium to the song,” says Jenkins.
As songs develop, Jenkins says the lyrics are added at different times, but only when he feels the mood is right. The analogy he makes is to a key unlocking a door, and he extends that analogy to its brink while explaining his unique writing process.
“A lot of it is about being patient and waiting for that time when it dawns on you. With every album and every song there’s a key, and you’re searching for that key and waiting to open the door to the song. Sometimes you have a bunch of keys on a key-ring and you’re trying different things, just to find the right vibe, or mood, or idea. Eventually it starts unfolding and you start opening all the doors and everything comes together.”
The analogies don’t end there. Jenkins also likens the band’s creative process to the making of an elaborate puzzle. “We don’t have a lot of preconceived notions and it’s kind of like making a puzzle. It’s not my fault; we’re just putting the puzzle pieces together,” he laughs. “We just opened this box from Toys R Us and this is the puzzle. Let’s put it together. That’s how I look at it.”
Ask most bands to describe their sound to potential listeners and genre names are usually thrown around, but describing The Black Heart Procession is nearly impossible, even for Jenkins. Luckily, he pulls out the perfect answer.
“I don’t like to think of us as one style of music. I like to look at our music as world music; it’s for the world and made by the world with elements of the world.”

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