David Grubbs: Wingdale Community Singers Will Be ‘Busy For Years To Come’
Let’s enumerate, shall we, the instances in which authors of note¹ have put down their pens and picked up instruments instead.
Let’s see, there are of course the most obvious examples – rock critics – like when Richard Meltzer strapped on for VOM and Lester Bangs hi-fived with the Delinquents. Taking the blue ribbon would have to be the Rock-Bottom Remainders, who have counted among their ranks Stephen King, Scott Turow and Maya Angelou. You can fill in the blanks in between (and insert the jokes while you’re at it).
Most would argue those bands aren’t much to write home about², but it’s a different story³ altogether when you have someone like David Grubbs on your side. That be the case with Rick Moody, the “The Ice Storm” and “Purple America” author who is so devastatingly depressing that the faint of heart are more likely to pick up a shotgun than his next tome.
[Be sure to read Moody’s response to this article, and the Bad Penny’s response to his response, right here.]
As anyone who has a fleeting familiarity with his works surely knows, Moody is one to brood, but when he has Grubbs and other skilled musicians by his side, the results are a smidgen less suicidal. More concretely, the results are the Wingdale Community Singers, a misty-eyed band of Americana lovers who’d fit snugly at your neighborhood watering hole if they weren’t such cognoscenti. (Well, that and one of their members, who does not wish to be disclosed, is a teetotaler.) For verification, look no further than their recent song “Tears in My Tequila,” a barfly’s lullaby if there ever was one.
Moody lit the campfire that brought together the Singers early last decade when his ears discovered singer/songwriter Hannah Marcus for the first time. After they powwowed on some songwriting, Grubbs – he of Gastr del Sol, Squirrel Bait and other bands you’d better know if you don’t want to be scorned in these quarters – entered the picture. (By the by, he’s also teaching at Brooklyn College, and collaborating with poet Susan Howe and artist Anthony McCall.)
“I’ve been amazed at how quickly the two of them can crank out lyrics,” Grubbs told me last year. “For me, who writes three or four songs per year, it’s really something to behold.”
A Wingdale Community Singers album of the same name came to fruition in 2004, after which they widened their net and pulled in additional Community members.
One album often tends to lead to another, and the WCS trajectory followed that path, resulting in the still-fresh Spirit Duplicator (Scarlet Shame). With songs predominantly written by Moody and Marcus, the record has its vocals and lyrics front and center – always. One track, Moody’s “On the Carousel,” actually consists only of vocals – Grubbs and Nina Katchadourian also pipe up – while other songs present lyrics that are waiting to be burned into your brain.
“I’m going AWOL in the army of the Lord,” Marcus sings on “AWOL,” one of the mellower, seemingly iconoclastic anthems you’ll find. “I’m the unborn fetus,” she then hums. “I don’t need a friend.”
“That was supposed to be a joke,” Grubbs admitted.
Grubbs also disclosed that while Moody and Marcus churn out the lyrics quicker than the U.S. government is printing new money these days, “creative momentum has been a difficult thing to achieve,” since the players involved have other goings-on.
When asked what was up with the four-year gap between records, Grubbs sarcastically replied, “We were, ahem, weighing our label options?” Either that or Moody, who took almost a decade to write his fourth novel (2005’s “The Diviners”), had the Spirit Duplicator specs buried beneath a pile of papers somewhere. He also just finished a new book and has a newborn on his hands, which are even more legitimate excuses.
But a more reasonable explanation would be that WCS isn’t meant to be a full-time affair. But even if WCS won’t be wearing out their welcome anytime soon, Grubbs does foresee them having a long shelf life.
“There are so many extraordinary musicians just bopping around Brooklyn that that should keep us busy for years to come,” he said.
And when that aforementioned creative momentum does abate, and if the WCS misplace a few puzzle pieces along the way, Grubbs can always share with his fellow Singers what he considers to be their singular focus: “Write fantastic songs. Make music that transcends its time – forwards and backwards in time.”
Bad Penny MP3 download: “Wingdale Community Singers Death Is Only a Dream”
¹²³ = yes, those are deliberately excruciating puns