The Old Ceremony: Second Wind

The Old Ceremony greets a new audience with Fairytales And Other Forms Of Suicide

“Fairytales And Other Forms Of Suicide” (download):

When Django Haskins picks up the phone, it’s less than 48 hours after his return to North Carolina from Europe. He’d been across the pond to play two shows, in London and Barcelona, as a member of Big Star Third, an all-star revue performing Big Star’s Sister Lovers. For Haskins, it was an opportunity to stand among heroes: Jody Stephens (Big Star), Chris Stamey (dB’s), Mike Mills (R.E.M.)—and on this trip, Robyn Hitchcock and Ray Davies, too.

“It just blows my mind to have that kind of opportunity,” he says, shaking off the jet lag.

He won’t have much time to reflect, though. The Old Ceremony, the orchestral-pop quintet Haskins has led since 2004, releases its fifth album, Fairy Tales And Other Forms Of Suicide, this month. The band’s first LP for Yep Roc is also its first to receive a vinyl pressing, as well as its first to be released in Europe. In other words, it’s the perfect time for a provocative album title.

“The decision came because it just seems to really express the overarching theme of a lot of the songs of the record,” says Haskins, “which is trying to really see things as they are, rather then the way that you’d like them to be, or the way that sometimes these idealized versions of things get in the way of that. The band has obviously been around for a while, but to a lot of people, this will really be the first thing they hear about us, and I like kind of coming in swinging a little bit.”

If the title swings, the music lands the blow. Eclectic as ever, the Old Ceremony spends Fairytales’ 10 songs resurrecting the Waits/Cohen “pop-noir” of its earliest recordings (“Star By Star”), toe-dipping in funk (“Middle Child”) and otherwise concocting a sophisticated synthesis of intimate folk, dramatic pop and rootsy power pop. Aside from its guitar/bass/drums (played by Haskins, Jeff Crawford and Daniel Hall, respectively) setup, Mark Simonsen’s vibraphones and Gabriele Pelli’s violin add a stately glow and atmospheric shading to the Old Ceremony’s music.

“Certain bands kind of have a sound, and that’s their sound,” says Haskins. “For us it’s definitely been an evolution. There’s an aesthetic and maybe kind of an atmosphere to our songs that is pretty consistent … it’s a little more abstract than a specific sort of sound, but that’s what ties together what is otherwise a pretty eclectic writing style.”

It also makes them a perfect fit for Yep Roc’s roster, where the Old Ceremony stands alongside rock ‘n’ roll grown-ups like the aforementioned Hitchcock, Sloan, Chuck Prophet, Nick Lowe, John Doe and Paul Weller. When I mention this to Haskins, he laughs. “Right,” he says. “Grown-ass men.”

There’s something to that, though. Like many of the reinvented and rejuvenated performers the band now calls labelmates, the Old Ceremony makes music unencumbered by the ever-shifting demands of new and now. And it does so without forgetting rock’s primal energy. There’s a catharsis, Haskins says, in playing a guitar solo “that sounds like it was damaged in a fire.”

—Bryan C. Reed

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