This record is special. A collaboration between members of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir and legendary, underground swamp blues/garage man Jackson Phibes (Tom Bagley). These songs pay tribute to the chilling tales that have been shared for generations, but they go past “the killer was in the backseat” and “the call was coming from inside the house” as the band tries to strike fear into the masses with unsettling tales of serial killers and savage slayings. Somehow they do this with a smirk.
Tom and Bob were nice enough to give us a track by track breakdown of the record, complete with back story and influence. I say this often, but this might be my favorite Deeper into Music yet. Enjoy!
MP3:: Agnostic Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy - Wolfman Franz
Tom: The song “Campfire Tales” was the first tune I completed specifically for this project, attempting to use Bob’s approach of limited-scale vocal melody found in traditional mountain-type songs. However, being a more pop-oriented songwriter (it’s true!), I couldn’t resist throwing in the big minor chord change that provides the main hook. All the stuff in the song (and some of the others) comes from reading books about oral-tradition urban-legend stuff like “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” and “The Mexican Pet” (by Jan Harold Brunvand) and and those “Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark” children’s books by Alvin Schwartz.
Bob: I had this musical idea I was kicking around where I wanted to combine a one-chord country-blues riff with a one-chord eastern European riff just to mess around with modes and fuse a couple of unlikely styles. Ad Tom’s playing and it sounds like sounds like the weirdest southern rock you’ve ever heard.
I wasn’t having much luck with the lyrics until I remembered a story Judd Palmer of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir told me about a character he met up with when he was travelling around eastern Europe years ago. He was a guy who was faking insanity so he didn’t have to work. Or not faking it. You decide. I thought it was so funny the guy deserved to be immortalized in song. I hope he doesn’t lose his disability benefits because of the song. I’ll leave it to your imagination about what an ass harmonica is. I doubt many southern rock bands would deal with such a worldly topic. Walk on.
“The Windigo Song”
Tom: “The Windigo Song” is based on a cow-punk riff I had been toying with for a few years, and having the Epcore Centre performance* deadline looming (back in Apr. 2010) gave me impetus to finish the damned thing. I based the lyrics on several versions of the Windego/Wendigo legend, a native North-woods spirit that makes people go crazy from the isolation/wind by some accounts, and more of a sasquatch-type cryptid critter by others. I also threw in a reference to the Algernon Blackwood pulpy tale from 1910. Pretty much an excuse to jam a mess of story-tellin’ lyrics in with a spazzy dual-slide guitar freakout.
* (This was the band’s inaugural gig, billed as the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir with Jackson Phibes.)
Bob: I guess I got a bit Poe on everyone’s ass with this one. There are some legal experts who theorize that for a person to kill, they have to be insane at the time of the action, even if it is momentary and in self-defense. Sometimes, seemingly normal people go haywire and do heinous things. Around the time I got the idea for the music, there were a few stories in the news about just that. I won’t be specific. It is horrible and terrifying, but sometimes a fact of life. Scientists will theorize it is a chemical imbalance. Religious fanatics will say it is demonic possession. When I reflect on the lyrics I kind of feel uncomfortable because they are so dark - though admittedly I do like some of the turns of phrase - but Tom consoled me by saying he felt the same way about “Neckin’ Party”. How is that for a segue?
I love Tom’s solo in this one. He follows the melodic theme of the chorus, but it’s the way he plays it!
Tom: “Neckin’ Party” wrote itself, kinda dragging me down some dark roads putting me as the writer in the character of a Gummo-esque/River’s Edge bad-ass small town teenage creep with some nasty roofie/rape/homicide scenario being hinted at. It’s always weird playing this one for pleasant folk-type audiences, but it’s just a story I made up. I love the delicate harmony guitar interplay that Bob adds to the whole mess.
“Wild Night Company”
Tom: “Wild Night Company” is fun to play, but we usually screw it up for some reason or other. I got the idea for the melody while walking my wee doggy on a blustery, snowy night last year, with visions of the Great Hunt running through both of our heads. My dog is a bit obsessed with Night Rabbits that seem to come out of nowhere on blizzardy evenings. The main melody has kind of an Irish jig feel to it, so I stole the title from a 1970s Peter Haining anthology of Irish ghost stories. Bob thought it had a spaghetti western feel to it, so he added the more Latin-inflected acoustic guitar pattern that runs underneath. The song also works with a killer Dethklock-style metallic shank, which I would like to work up someday down the road in a different project.
“Who Fears The Devil?”
Bob: The first time Tom and I collaborated was over a decade ago. I did an interview with the author of Lords of Chaos, a book about the early Norwegian black metal scene, and Tom did the illustration. Tom and I both have an interest in that scene, mostly for the insane and unintentionally comedic elements. In fact, the first time Tom and I got together to write for this project we spent as much time talking about metal records as we spent throwing around musical ideas. Anyway, since we were working on the premise of constructing a few murder ballads, and I had to pull my weight, I realized the story of Euronymous and Count Grishnacht was a modern murder ballad that was already written. I just had to put it into verse over my bastardized desert blues. The moral? The rhetoric one spews can extract its own vengeance.
Tom’s slide in this is killer, speaking of murder ballads. The subject matter wouldn’t have worked without it, or the sparse but powerful playing from Jay and Vlad, for that matter. It’s spooky.
“Magpie and Skunk”
Tom: “Magpie and Skunk” don’t give a shit, they just take what they want. This song exists in a couple of versions, the main chord progression also forming the basis for a Forbidden Dimension song that hasn’t been recorded yet (with completely different lyrics/rhythm). I prefer this version more as an instrumental, but the lyrics here refer to folks that ain’t never gonna learn from their mistakes, but it just doesn’t matter in the end anyway, as sooner or later, we all help the little flowers grow. The piano vamp that runs through this was cribbed from an Ella Mae Morse song, but Vlad thinks it sounds like “Marian The Librarian” from “The Music Man”. It was fun working up the Bob Wills-esque harmony lead section with Bob.
Bob: This is the only holdover from the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir’s set. We played it on our last tour, but didn’t get around to recording it, or anything else for that matter. It started as a riff along the lines of a Mississippi hill country blues where I do the rhythm and the melody at the same time on the guitar. Lyrically, it’s a succinct formula for societal harmony. Respect each other. Believe what you want, but don’t impose it on anyone. I suppose it’s a true agnostic gospel tune and my antidote to religious fanaticism.
“Butcher, Maker, Undertaker”
Tom: “Butcher, Maker, Undertaker” is a re-worked Forbidden Dimension tune that originally appeared on our 1997 album, “Widow’s Walk”. Total spaghetti western/Jonah Hex revenge action in the lyrics, and I was really happy to revive this one in the context of this project. Bob’s amazing finger-pickin’ and the Jay/Vlad rhythm section completely elevated it for me, giving it a whole new life and feel, different than the cow-punk bulldozer approach of the original recording.
“Blind Ghost Moan”
Bob: Tom wanted to base something on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”, something that expresses a desperate emotion without words, but louder and more creepy. We sat down and worked it out between Tom’s electric part and my acoustic slide melody. The gradual build and the hypnosis of repetition causes Jay Woolley to think it sounds like the Melvins playing blues. It was a fun one to do in the studio because we went to town with vocal overdubs.