The migratory patterns of Asheville’s (or is that Portland’s?) Drunken Prayer
Morgan Christopher Geer enjoys the best of two pretty cool worlds. The musician splits his time between Asheville and Portland, Ore., taking advantage of the former’s central touring location and accessible scale and the latter’s big city amenities – in Drunken Prayer’s instance, that means access to a lot of top-notch musicians who’ve helped flesh out the Geer’s sophomore full-length, Into the Missionfield. If Asheville provided twangy inspiration and short tour-stop drives, Portland meant proximity to fiddler Marilee Hord (Kristin Hersh), drummers Scott McPherson (Beck, Elliot Smith) and Joseph Medeles (Breeders) and harmonica man David Lipkind (Supersuckers).
Geer’s songs would likely slot in the rootsy category, but not because of the traditional whiskey-soaked alt-country signifiers (though there are a few of those, too). The narratives have more in common with the stories of Randy Newman and clever word-play of Warren Zevon than on-the-endless-road troubadour or young man-angst fare. Shuffle’s JG Mellor returned from his long Nepalese exile and shot the Drunken Prayer songsmith some email queries.
Shuffle: Your band’s listed as having two homes; Asheville and Portland, both pretty musician-friendly towns…what would you call the key differences and similarities between them?
Morgan Christopher Geer: Both are pretty supportive and artistically passionate towns. They’re both easy to live in, with good venues and a deep, talented pool of musicians. I’ve found more recording studios and engineers in Portland but obviously it’s a bigger city so that would make sense. Portland has better public transportation, seems a little safer and has a less aggressive police force than Asheville so I’m more likely to go out and see shows there. Asheville’s location is better for playing out; you can reach a lot more cities in a shorter amount of time. It’s also a less competitive scene it seems, which is a double-edged sword.
Shuffle: What’s the origin of your band name? I hear there’s a choice encounter that’s partly to blame….
MCG: It seems like I’ve been name dropping him a lot lately, so I apologize, but Tom Waits kind of came up with the name in a conversation I was fortunate enough to have with him. He was recommending an album by the Abyssinian Baptist Church Choir and that led to talk about music that’s both spiritual and visceral —the whole Saturday night/Sunday morning thing: A drunken prayer. My writing was heading that way anyway and the name seemed to fit. I think I would consider the source.
Shuffle: I think if I met Tom Waits at a fish market I’d be hopelessly tongue-tied — how’d you broach that, and what about that conversation was the most inspiring? Did it really lead directly to this band?
MCG: I was working at a bookstore in northern California and he would come in now and then; we’d had a few back-and-forths. But yeah, I wanted to throw up. It’s hard not to be star struck, I mean – Tom Waits! I’d be hard-pressed to name anyone else alive I’d want to talk to more. It was very cool of him to take the time to talk with me.
Shuffle: Your narrative fare seems more informed by the likes of Randy Newman, Warren Zevon and Harry Nilsson than, say, Bob Dylan or Townes van Zandt…what drew you to those guys?
MCG: We had Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys when I was growing up and it’s one of the best albums start to finish I know of. Other than that one, Sail Away, and the newer Harps and Angels, I’m not too familiar with his work. I really only started listening to Warren Zevon and Harry Nilsson after I started getting compared to them. We must have similar influences. It’s humbling to even be mentioned in the same breath as those guys. If I had to pick one I’d say Willis Alan Ramsey was my biggest early influence.
Shuffle: When your songs tilt country, they recall both Topanga Canyon-era and more traditional Piedmont — if that’s fair to say, what would you say the appeal of both is?
MCG: That’s a tough question because I don’t mean to tilt either way or any way really. I can see that though. I like smart, loose music.
Shuffle: Tell us about some of the songs on the LP — what’s the story behind the track, “Brazil,” for instance? How about “I Saw It With My Own Two Eyes?” And what’s the title track about, and how’d it wind up as the title?
MCG: “Brazil” is just a story of unrequited love with the added fantasy that the loved one finally comes around in the end.
When we were kids me and about a dozen or so friends saw a UFO in Asheville. “I Saw It with My Own Two Eyes” is a collection of thoughts about that.
“The Missionfield” is about the short and troubled life of a pitbull I and my wife at the time rescued from the Katrina disaster. In my mind it also works as a metaphor for human life on Earth too.
Shuffle: You’ve got some impressive guests on here — people who’ve done time with The Breeders, Beck, Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Supersuckers, Kristin Hersh, and I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House — how’d you land some of them?
MCG: Well that’s Portland for you. They’re pals. I’m lucky and grateful to be able to play with these folks.