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New Bums @ Johnny Brenda’s Tonight (CANCELLED).

March 25, 2014

newbums1Text by Michele Zipkin. Image by Jason Quever.

Donovan Quinn of psych-folk group Skygreen Leopards and Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance have found in each other a surprisingly rewarding collaboration, making music as a new entity under the moniker New Bums. As part of a tour supporting their debut album, Voices in a Rented Room, they were supposed to sing and strum at Johnny Brenda’s tonight, with Nick Millevoi opening.

The show, however, has been cancelled due to travel issues.

Quinn and Chasny first met in San Francisco in the midst of musical gatherings facilitated by an older, more seasoned musician friend, Willem Jones. Though the two had initially gone through a rocky start to their creative collaboration, they warmed to each other throughout the course of their songwriting journey.

“It takes a bit of trust to become friends, but sometimes making music is itself a trust-building exercise,” Chasny said.

It stands to reason that an art form as intimate as music, especially when creating it with someone else, requires some easing in. They slowly became acquainted with each others’ musical approaches and then wrote songs together.

“It began to feel natural, which is what you always want from a collaboration,” Quinn added.

Voices in a Rented Room channels the sounds and stories of living by the skin of your teeth in some instances,

“That is what we do, basically,” Chasney said.

The title of the album refers to the countless rooms the two artists have separately inhabited, and the temporary living quarters that they will encounter in their travels to come.

“There’s a big difference between a room you rent and one that you own or grew up in,” Quinn said.

Though born from the songwriting know-how of two well-established musicians in their own right, New Bums is a new, separate project, not a combination of Chasny and Quinn’s individual artistic tendencies.

“We’re trying to make a new thing and craft a new thing,” Chasny said. “It takes more work, which is funny because a lot of people seem to think we don’t spend any time on writing. The fact is, we love records that sound very easy and natural, like [those] from Nikki Sudden or Kan Mikami.”

The tunes in New Bums’ repertoire do not lead the listener by the hand in terms of their meaning, but present themselves such that the listener can untangle them in their own way.  As far as Chasny is concerned, music conveys ideas in a way similar to how people might communicate through gestures,

“If someone is standing too close to you, you can tell them to back off, or you can subtly move away,” he explained. “Our music subtly moves away. With that sort of communication, it is really up to the listener to decode it.”

For Quinn, the relationship between music and language is at the heart of this kind of harmonic and melodic communication.

“Maybe because I’ve always been drawn to songwriting and songwriters more than anything,” he said. “What I’m trying to communicate changes from line to line.”

Working with others can sometimes be the most enriching, eye-opening means of making music. The more people an artist works with, the more stylistically versatile their way of playing and composing can be.

“I think that every combination of people brings out something new that is not a sum of parts, but a third, separate entity,” Chasny said. “If things are done correctly, that is the goal.”

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