Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter are
Society of Broken Souls. 2016 saw fans’ first taste of the duo with the release of their full-length debut, Things Still Left Unsaid, and their often profound folk noir has just kept on chugging from there. Integrating a bevy of instruments into their music between just the two of them, their take on roots is the type of dusty, darkly, and naturalistic folk that one might inherently associate with the American West. Between their vocals, fiddles, guitars, drums, bass, and keyboards, they have plenty at their disposal to paint a convincingly windswept picture with their sound.
Such is the case with
Society of Broken Souls’ latest single, “A Hundred Miles”. The song is a plaintive number with a tinge of mystery, ruminating over a melange of western imagery across its nearly six minutes of atmospheric display. It’s from off of the duo’s forthcoming album, Midnight and the Pale, set to be released on 13 April.
James and Shapter had much to say about the song in a Q&A with PopMatters:
What is the story behind this song? Did something specific inspire its creation?
Dennis: It’s something of a changeling. I was binge watching the first two seasons of Hell on Wheels when I first started this song and found myself completely enthralled with the storyline, the writing, the music — everything. I had this sonic image of the sun beating down with no cover for shade and this sense of isolation and journey. Initially, the song had a different arch to it and was more a narrative on revenge which I’m sure was from the show. However, it never quite came together that way and later wandered into more of an intimate meditation where the narrator confronts some personal demons.
Any fun stories about how this song came together in the recording process?
Dennis: Oddly enough, yes. Lauryn had the idea to add the harmonica part and when we were arranging it, our dog Maisie took a keen interest in the harmonica and we managed to capture some of it on video.
Lauryn: While I don’t think we set out to record the song without any electric instruments, once we realized it was leaning that direction, we decided to keep it that way. We started out years ago as a completely acoustic duo — no pickups, no electric anything, just two instruments and two voices. It’s been awhile since we’ve recorded that way, now that we integrate bass and electric guitar, so it was fun to revisit a purely acoustic sound, and to know that the song can still have a lot of bite and intensity while we’re at it.
Do you have a favorite lyric line or two from the song? Which one(s) and why do they really resonate for you?
Dennis: Songs usually come to me when I’m quiet. When I’m not trying to steer them but rather let them tell me where they’re going to go. However, I have a thing for corvids – ravens, magpies, crows – and I felt strongly that they should appear in this song. So, I found a way to work them in:
Sing the song of the corvidae while the road gives up her bones
One for sorrow and two for joy
On hallowed ground I raise my voice
Lauryn: Dennis seems to have such a gift with imagery, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite line. But since I possess some strange love of having my heart broken open, I have to say “A fevered night of fitful sleep lying next to your ghost/The song of you it strips me clean and burns these earthbound clothes” would be the clincher for me. There’s just such a profound sense of longing and loss in those lines.
You two tour a lot and go from town to town in an RV. What is your favorite place 100 miles from home?
Lauryn: We live in a small town in the middle of nowhere and 100 miles in most directions is also the middle of nowhere. But if we’re talking a hundred miles as the crow flies, well then the area outside of Dubuque, Iowa is easily one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It’s part of the Driftless Area that covers Northeast Iowa, Northwest Illinois, Southeast Minnesota, and Southwest Wisconsin. It’s called that because the area was never glaciated; the terrain is more rugged because there is a lack of glacial deposits. We’re not sure we understand the geology behind it, but we do know we adore that part of the country. It’s truly stunning.