Sub Pop sent me an album by Daniel Martin Moore and Ben Sollee about a month ago. It's called Dear Companion. Popping in the album with no expectations - I'd never heard of either of these guys before - I was overwhelmed by its sound. I was brought back home to Appalachia, where I'd spent the previous four years of my life. Not only is the music beautiful, but it's touching. The proceeds for the album all go to bringing awareness to mountaintop removal mining, a horrible environmental clustercuss that you hear about in the news every day (if you live in that region).
A noble cause, sure, but if the music stunk, I wouldn't listen. Not the case. The album reaches from good ol' Appalachian folk to singer-songwriter (think Mason Jennings, Jack Johnson, Matt Costa) to absolutely gorgeous instrumentals ("Wilson Creek," holy crap). You can listen to the whole album, streaming on their site.
I did a little interview with Daniel Martin Moore, and if you're in the good old land of Cleve like I am, I suggest you make it out to the show - in two days - March 11th at the Beachland Tavern.
How did you and Ben find each other to team up for Dear Companion?
Myspace - can you believe it? Ben heard the song “Flyrock Blues," and sent me an email about meeting up the next time I came through Lexington, where he lives. I had just scheduled an in-store at CD Central, their indie record store, for the next week. So, we had a good long talk about music and Kentucky, and that conversation laid the whole foundation for this record and tour. Chalk it all up to the modern world.
What first brought up the issue of mountaintop removal? Did you know from the start that album proceeds would go to Appalachian Voices to halt MTR?
It was something that we were both thinking a lot about, and writing about, and we both felt and still feel that it's too much of a hidden cost of the way we all live. Chalk that up to the modern world, too. ‘Cause MTR is not only poisoning people and destroying land, it's also destroying our cultural heritage. When our homeland is gone, we lose the place and the community that gives us our identity. We wanted to make sure that as many folks found out about it as possible. We hadn't settled on a group to partner with yet, but as time went on, it became apparent that Appalachian Voices was the one. They have powerful tools and knowledge freely available on their website, www.ilovemountains.org, and do more to raise awareness than any other group.
You grew up in Kentucky, where I’m assuming you were surrounded by mountaintop removal. When did you first discover what it was, and what was your reaction?
The first time i really connected the dots was when I heard the Jean Ritchie song, "Black Waters." I can remember, as a child, seeing MTR sites, but I've never actually lived under one. I have the same reaction to MTR as I'm sure most everybody does - it's just colossal in scale, a cleverly planned yet seemingly careless feat of engineering that is hard to justify when all the fallout is taken into account.
Do all the songs on the album pertain specifically to the mountaintop issue? Many of the lyrics sounded like they could be love songs and speak to much broader world issues.
We see the record as being many things. For one, it's a love letter to Appalachia and the traditions we've all grown up with, and the music and culture that has nurtured us. But it's also a letter to the rest of the country, asking for attention and for help. Some of the tunes, like “Flyrock Blues,” are specifically about MTR. Whereas a song like Ben's “Something, Somewhere, Sometime” is more about how we got to this point of literally destroying ourselves in order to consume as much as possible, and more and more all the time.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the album’s title track.
We wrote the song “Dear Companion” after reading a letter written by a miner who had died after being trapped in a mine collapse. It was addressed to his wife, 'Dear Ellenor' (he repeated that greeting over and over again) and was basically saying goodbye and expressing his love for his family, and his deep sadness that he wouldn't see them again. We saw the parallels for all of central Appalachia, and wanted to write a letter, as if to say, "we have been forsaken, are bearing this tremendous burden for you, are you paying attention?"
I can hear a distinct difference between the songs you wrote, and the ones Ben wrote. How would you describe what you bring to the team?
Just another voice and perspective, I hope. That is the beauty and one of the great joys of this project: that the three of us [Yim Yames, better known as My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, produced the album] came together, each from a different place, both musically and literally. We came from a different spot in Kentucky, and crafted these tunes, each bringing our own styles and ideas to the table. As a musician, that kind of collaboration is such a great feeling.
What's Yim Yames like? Was he a super-genius music explorer? What was it like working with him?
Yep, he is all of those things. Plus he plays a mean blues solo, and knows his way around the ol’ block. But he rebukes me repeatedly for not having a beard and for not using a, quote, "real man's tuner." So I really don't like to discuss him. But I will say that he brought so much to the record, and the reason it sounds the way it sounds is due in large measure to his generous spirit and intuitive musical nature. And his blues solos.
What can we expect when you stop through Cleveland on tour?
A real old-fashioned good time! We're gonna be playing all the tunes from Dear Companion as well as a few from each of our solo records, along with some new covers. The wonderful Cheyenne Marie is with us, and we also have another incredible musician, Dan Dorff, pulling double-duty as both percussionist and keyboardist. You already know how great Ben Sollee is. Everybody at the show will be having a good time – you can count on it.