What started out as an adventure experimenting with a sorta-bluegrass instrumental side project has evolved into a way of life for Black Prairie
, a band consisting of four-fifths Decemberists and two-fifths Bearfoot, The Woolwines, Dolorean and Jackstraw. Yes, the math is weird, but we’re talking about a band based in Portland, where apparently no one is in only one band.
For Chris Funk
, founding Black Prairie was a way for him to pursue his fondness for Americana. “The banjo mystified me,” he explained. “One it bites you, it’s got a hold on you for the rest of your life.”
He pulled in fellow Decemberists Nate Query
(bass) and Jenny Conlee
(accordion), plus Annalisa Tornfelt
(fiddle) and Jon Neufeld
(guitar). In 2012, Decemberists drummer John Moen
joined the fun. “One thing led to another,” Funk said, and Black Prairie has now released a third album, Fortune
, full of vocals and no longer focused around bluegrass. The band does retain a folky flavor, but veers into a familiar indie pop sound and even rocks out – which makes sense when Funk explains the Led Zeppelin influence running throughout. Led Zeppelin III
, with its emphasis on acoustic songs, inspired him to look deeper.
“I dove into the songwriting,” Funk recalled. “It’s completely insane. Tempos change for no reason.” Thus smitten, he crafted songs for the new album that also “made no sense” by any measure of pop music – check out the lovely “Let It Go” for an example. He often gets infatuated with songs, learns to play them, deconstructs them and then incorporates the concepts into his own thing.
Why the focus on the past? “It’s hard to invent a new genre,” Funk said. “It’s not surprising people are looking backward.” When the Decemberists launched onto the the music world in 2001, the band did bring then-novel sounds to the scene. “There weren’t a lot of bands playing accordion,” Funk noted, but now no one thinks twice about it. This mainstreaming of indie rock – “Fleet Foxes are like Crosby, Stills and Nash” – hasn’t dissuaded him from doing what he does, he said. And what Funk does is have fun making music, regardless of which band he’s in.
Black Prairie lands in the Arcata Playhouse Sunday night. Advance tickets are strongly recommended. They run $20 general, $18 members and are available at the usual locations and via arcataplayhouse.org
. Show's at 8 p.m.