Can we have some bread?
You children dont have anyone in the world, do you?
No . . . 1-2-3-4!
The dialogue comes from Charles Laughtons sole directorial credit, 1954s James Ageepenned Night of the Hunter. (You know, the one with Robert Mitchums knuckles.) But it also shows up in Young Peoples song of the same name, which closes War Prayers (Dim Mak), their second full-length. Katie Eastburn reads Lillian Gishs big line less than empathetically, as if holding the begging moppets on the record, two of the singers former dance students at arms length. Then the kids count-off kick-starts a frat-house rave-up, complete with sax and the discs meatiest backbeat, courtesy of guests Jonathan Silberman and Joe Plummer.
We were listening to 70s Elvis records for the arrangement, but we used what we had available, says Eastburn. It hardly matters that the result sounds nothing like the King. What the track lacks in polish it makes up for in imagination. Guitarist Jeff Rosenberg: A lot of this record was inspired by fat Elvis and fat Jim Morrison, and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, and musicals. The way we dress isnt Broadway, and the shows we put on arent Broadway, but sometimes its Broadway in our minds.
Were talking at Spaceland, before the originally L.A.-based trios first hometown show since moving to New York a year ago. Theyve even managed to conjure up a Broadway-style opening-night crisis: During sound check, Jarett Silbermans tour-battered guitar suddenly stopped making noise. Now hes doing emergency surgery while the other members settle around a Ms. Pac-Man console to discuss the current discs progression from their 2001 debut.
We recorded the first one over one weekend in our basement, and another weekend in [engineer] Rod Cerveras former residence in downtown L.A., explains Eastburn. We mixed it in two days. The new one took a whole week. We rented a tape machine in Seattle and flew Rod up to a farmhouse in Olympia, so it was total immersion. We didnt have the budget to make a huge record, says Rosenberg, but we thought the idea of us going big was hilarious, because were so inherently minimal.
Thats an understatement: Even at its most expansive, War Prayers draws on a strictly limited palette. The Valley sets Eastburns contralto against skeletal percussion, rhythmically unmoored from the hymnlike melody, and nothing else. Elsewhere, she tops Silbermans spacious, tom-heavy drum parts with a nautical-sounding gong or an atonal violin scratch, while Rosenbergs guitar moves from single-note slide passages to abrasive skeins of feedback, often in the same song. Its a curiously full and compelling sound, implying more than it ever states directly.
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Eastburns collaged lyrics are nearly as elusive. I use hymnals, old traditionals, phrases of movies, snatches of language from anywhere. Parts of The Valley came from a book of early American songs in the Brooklyn Library. But if something doesnt fit, Ill change it. Its never a straight translation. While the folky strain is strong, other sources on War Prayers range from John Ford (Stagecoach) and John Fante (Ask the Dust) to ex-televangelist Tammy Faye Messners recent stage act. The result is a patchwork flag, sewn together from several centuries of cultural detritus, flapping in the chilly wind of Eastburns full-throated but emotionally unreadable vocals.
Back at Spaceland, the surprise hit of the bands set is another secondhand rose. Recorded for a BBC session on a recent European tour but as yet unreleased, The Man That Got Away is another kind of American traditional the torch song tailored by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin for Judy Garlands comeback in A Star Is Born. Live, Rosenberg and Silberman approximate big-band orchestration with two reverb-drenched slide guitars, while Eastburn, behind the drums, whomps and belts her way to a big finish Ever since the world began/There aint too much sadder than . . . thats equal parts Mo Tucker and Ethel Merman. Though Rosenberg admits, We rewrote everything underneath the vocal line, the song somehow emerges in one piece. Even so, Young People arent likely to show up on your local standards station alongside Toni Tennille and Michael Buble but thats show biz.
Young People play the Troubadour on Thursday and Friday, April 1 and 2.