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Drunken Prayer Explores Hope, Home With "Cordelia" (premiere + interview)

Photo: Christa Mayo / Howlin' Wuelf Media

Freakwater's Morgan Geer has returned with the best Drunken Prayer LP to date, Cordelia Elsewhere. Filled with hooks and mixed by Mitch Easter, it's the one we've all been waiting for and Geer tells us about it.

Drunken Prayer is the project of Freakwater's Morgan Geer and DP's latest album, Cordelia Elsewhere, arrives on 5 April 5. The record is a culmination of several things, not least of which was Geer's relocation from Portland, Oregon to Asheville, North Carolina. This move is chronicled in part via the (almost) titular song, a hook-heavy meditation on fighting against the tide of gentrification, the luxury apartment boom and the inevitable displacement that comes in its wake. Its lyrics aren't overly complex although the emotions and thoughts expressed throughout are multi-layered.

Geer, speaking to PopMatters on an early spring afternoon from his home base, says that the hook "I hate what they did to my town/so I moved to another town" was relatively early to arrive. "I was just singing the melody and some words without really thinking about it," he says. "The melody married itself to those words. Eventually, I understood that I had a chorus to a song. That's probably the oldest song on the album. I've been able to play it around the world. I had a guy come up to me in Dublin and say, 'You wrote this song for us, lad!'"

He adds, "There's another conversation to be had about what's happened to the middle class. It's the same thing for artists. But I don't tend to write overtly political or topical songs. A lot of people are stuck where they are. It could be about anywhere. Santa Fe. Tucson. Every state has that one cool city, some states have two of them, those places are getting harder and harder to live in."

Geer spoke further about the album's roots and branches, including mixing sessions with the legendary Mitch Easter.

Was Mitch Easter always someone you wanted to record with or was it a matter of circumstances aligning?

It was serendipitous. Brian Landrum, who played drums on the album, had worked with Mitch before and suggested him. He said it would be a good fit for what I do: Guitar, bass, and drums. Everything really clicked. It was a roll of the dice, though, because I've always mixed my own records. I thought, "Why am I going to pay somebody to do something that I can do on my own?" But what I don't have is his ears, his experience, his objectivity. I think that roll of the dice paid off. The record sounds so beautiful and I hope to work with him again.

What was his approach?

There are a lot of things where I couldn't tell you what he did but it just sounds better. [Laughs.] It comes down to working with somebody that you can really trust. If they take a direction that I hadn't thought of, I don't second guess it. I was ready to listen to him. But it was really subtle: Some plate reverb here and there, making things pop out when they're supposed to in the context of the song.

That sounds like an ideal situation.

He was also really fast. The only time that things slowed down is when I started asking questions. [Laughs.] He's an eyewitness to so much music history. It's hard not to ask about this or that. I had to start biting my tongue; I can't pay someone just to hang out. He likes to talk as much as I like to listen! [Laughs.]

The performances aren't over-polished but they're not so ragged that they're hard to listen to. Is that the balance you're trying to strike.

It's important to me that it sounds like what you just described. If it takes a long time to get there, so be it, but it's not usually a good sign if it takes a long time to get there. I hear some things from the past and it reveals how much I can overthink things. That's the benefit of working with someone else, this time Mitch. I don't have the opportunity to tinker too much. But these songs didn't ask for much.

Do songs typically start for you once you have a guitar in your hand or do sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and say, "I hear a progression. I need to get this down"?

A lot of times I'll find myself humming while I'm thinking about something else. I can be at the gym, mowing the yard or doing dishes. Then I'll catch myself. "Hey, I've been humming this for 10 minutes. Maybe I should do something more with it." I think I have more hooks this time out. I think I've been listening to that inner voice a little more. And a lot of Ron Sexsmith last year.

[Laughs.]

Do you know him?

I love that man's music.

I had some people over yesterday and had my iTunes on shuffle. His song "Snow Angel" came on and it almost brought me to tears in a room full of people. It's so beautiful. I think he became an important but unexpected influence on this record.

You're still open to influence.

One of the reasons that I love radio is that you'll hear a lot of things that you would not put on your own playlists. A smart, independent disc jockey can really open your ears. You might not like everything they play but at least you've heard it and it puts the stuff that you do enjoy into more of a context. Without good radio, I would have never discovered John Cale or Brian Eno or Negativland. Clearly, my music doesn't have much to do with any of those artists. At least not on the surface. It's like turning a painting upside down. "Take a look at it now. Good. Now go back to what you were doing."

How much time did you spend on the sequencing of the album?

The sequencing of this record was much easier than some other records I've done. I really enjoy sequencing. I like hearing how other people do it, especially if there's a break in the middle and they have to turn the album over from Side One to Side Two. I'll brood about it. I'll move songs around in just about every way that you can. But I couldn't imagine a better ending than "Time to Go". When we heard the playback to "Into the Water", we understood that it had to be the first. It's such a slap in the face.

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