CRIMINAL + ELEPHANT MICAH
DOWNLOAD “LAWSON FAMILY”
DOWNLOAD “PEARL BRYAN”
SEE THE BALLADS PERFORMED LIVE
HOW TO BRING A MURDER BALLAD BACK TO LIFE
A Technical Guide by Elephant Micah.
1.) Avoid acoustic instruments.
- Keep the antiquarian impulse confined to song selection.
- As Tom Scharpling of The Best Show once observed about the concertina, “there is a reason why we replaced those things with electric guitars.”
- Updating to 20th-century instruments will make a 21st-century audience feel slightly less safe from 19th-century killers.
2. Strike a chord.
- But preferably not more than one. Chords, while useful, are sometimes distracting. We’re trying to tell a story here, so just chill out with that other stuff.
- Noodle, if you must, but don’t choogle.
- And please play no more than three strings at a time.
3.) Turn spookiness up to 11.
- For best results, use broken effects pedals that behave in completely unpredictable ways. If people see “blobsquatch” in fuzzy photos, who knows what they’ll hear in that weird delay noise?
- Also employ at least one toy instrument from the 1980s to unsettle any sense of conventional musical beauty.
- Finally, detune all stringed instruments to the point of blatant, unmistakable “floppiness.”
Following these three simple steps will transform even the most gruesome creations of history’s “hack” songwriters into instantly enjoyable, modern entertainment!
Elephant Micah is available for workshops in time travel and cultural forgery.
We were so excited to collaborate with Elephant Micah and Sarah Bryan on two special “murder ballad” episodes this month, Pearl Bryan and The Portrait.
Sarah Bryan is an old-time fiddler and 78 rpm record collector. A UNC-trained folklorist (MA, 2003), she’s worked in the field of folklife documentation for more than a decade. Specializing in the cultural heritage of the American South, she has conducted documentary work for a variety of organizations including NC Folk, the North Carolina Arts Council, South Carolina Arts Commission, and Levine Museum of the New South.
You might also be interested in The Old Time Herald and the songs of criminals and tragedy collected on this record from Smithsonian Folkways.