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Mini-album featuring rarities and unreleased tracks (CD, Digital Download, Streaming).
- A Prelude (1:50)
- Daybreak (3:27)
- Cencibel (3:14)
- Turbulence (1:48)
- Down at Circe's Place (5:13)
- The Avatar (4:18)
- Red (live from VoyagerFest 2015) (5:25)
- Saturn, Lord of the Ring/Mercury, the Winged Messenger (6:46)
Xander's Track Notes
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Xander Rapstine breaks down each track from Peasantsongs.
A Prelude was originally conceived as the opening part of a song cycle based on E. R. Eddison's version of the Viking saga Styrbiorn the Strong. I was listening to a lot of Viking folk metal at the time, and I entertained the idea that I could write an album in this style.
After a few months, I decided that I'd rather focus on the music at hand, and I started working on what I had hoped to be an EP called The Oneiromancer—a meditation on the power of dreams. The music developed quickly for this opening track, and my dreams to make a truly cinematic opening were soon realized as I was able to enlist Henna Chou on the yangqin, also known as the Chinese dulcimer, and Mary "Sky" Skiles of Austin Taiko on the odaiko, the largest of the taiko drums. The dreamlike stage was set as we recorded without our rhythm section, adding electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, a number of keyboards, vibraphone, and flute by Lauren Lyman.
I even wrote a couple of other pieces for The Oneiromancer, but a dearth of time and resources soon convinced me once again to focus on more immediate endeavors. When constructing Peasantsongs, it seemed necessary to include this orphaned yet majestic piece, and it also gave me a natural opening for the album, setting the stage for the variety of sounds to come.
German band Eloy started as a hard rock band that wasn't afraid to move into more progressive territory. As time has gone on, they've developed a more symphonic sound, but their early albums were the most intriguing to me, including their second album, Inside.
Included on that album were a pair of standalone songs from a single, later bundled with this album, since they were recorded in roughly the same period of time. As much as I enjoy the album as a whole, one of the singles, Daybreak, always struck me as a masterpiece of the miniature, with a hundred moods and soundscapes stuffed within a few minutes of music, a spy theme for an outer-space thriller.
I used to daydream about playing in a band that might cover the song, even plotting to try and convince some of my more conventional endeavors to consider it. So when Keith Jones asked us to record a pair of covers for his vinyl-only label Fruits de Mer Records, my first thought was to try our hand at Eloy's classic.
As the first track on our vinyl release Cosmic Sound, this was the first recording to feature drummer Josh Denslow and second guitarist David Houghton, who adds the scorching solo near the beginning of the track. Keyboardist Charlie Campbell joined the band after the release of Flight to assist with our live performances, but he had never intended to stay on permanently, instead opting to leave the band after recording the two songs on this single. His replacement, the talented multi-instrumentalist Millicent Hughes, joined the band as he left, but as Charlie was already contributing keyboards, she added violin to the mix.
The band was joined in the studio by percussionist Josh Peters, who added the final touches to the recording with a variety of percussion instruments. The result is perhaps the most thunderous and driving thing we've recorded, a more American interpretation of a German classic.
Written as a gift for my now ex-spouse, I created Cencibel as a small work of chamber music, using many of the players from the Flight sessions. Recorded shortly after finishing the album, the song took on a quality that reminded me of the more orchestral sections of the full-length, leading me to include it as part of the digital-only single of The Avatar.
The chord changes were written on my acoustic tenor guitar, which has a bright and chiming sound. These parts were recorded first, before adding competing melodies and harmonies from Melanie Morgan on flute, Roy Coon on clarinet, and Phil Davidson on violin, with Brian Butz providing the low end on tuba. Jay Allen added some reed organ sounds on keys to round out the track.
The interplay among the various instruments is something that I'm particularly fond of, and it's something I explored in more depth on A Prelude. The title, a Spanish varietal of grape and wine, was inspired by my ex's Spanish heritage.
I am an avowed metalhead at heart, even though a lot of prog metal leaves me cold and uninterested. Heavy music is always in the mix for me, though, and I especially love the contrast that can be created by juxtaposing heavier sounds with flights of fancy.
The recording of Flight was a massive undertaking, and there were often long waits between recording sessions. Never one to stay in one place, I started thinking beyond album-centered songs, and decided to try my hand at shorter pieces. At the time, I was immersed in Mike Oldfield's 4th album, Incantations, and I was fascinated by the circle of fifths.
Messing around with power chords while cycling through the circle gave me the idea to try and create something with heavy metal guitars and a shredding guitar solo, but restricted to roughly 2 minutes in length, built around this chord progression. The band re-entered the studio to record the song, adding Mark Poitras on vibraphone, which led to him joining the band.
My inspiration for the title came from my very real fear of flying—something I've spent a lot of time to overcome. The result is the piece that is probably my favorite thing I've ever created: a miniature of madness, where every chord change holds consequence, and each melodic phrase points towards a dramatic finish. And that guitar sound at the end is pretty sick.
Down at Circe's Place
A couple of years after we released Cosmic Sound, Keith from Fruits de Mer Records reached out to ask if we'd be interested in recording a cover for a compilation he was releasing. I of course said yes, but he had a very specific band in mind for us. He was putting together a three-LP compilation called The Three Seasons—a tribute to the psychedelic era, first starting in 1966, followed by the summer of love the next year, and ending with the comedown in 1968—and asked what I thought of us covering a song by the American proto-prog band Touch.
I'll admit that I was only vaguely aware of the band, seeing their name appear in this book or on that online forum, but I remembered that they were considered one of the progenitors of what became known as progressive rock, and I of course said we were interested. Keith told me to listen to the album as a whole and see what jumped out. After listening through a few times, I kept coming back to one track over and over: Down at Circe's Place. The driving piano riff, the otherworldly vocals, and the frantic ending all had me hooked. I went back to Keith with my choice and he seemed overjoyed. I only learned later that this was one of his favorite tracks from the whole album.
The band was in a weird spot at the time. Bassist Kyle Robarge had left the band right before we played the second VoyagerFest in 2016, and we were lucky to find our new bassist Clif Warren. We attempted to play a number of shows that next year, but we had several of them fall apart. Drummer Josh Denslow's family was starting to grow, as were his obligations outside of music, and he made the difficult decision to leave the band. We eventually found a replacement in Dave Irish and worked towards playing shows and recording.
Unfortunately, my personal life had started to get more complicated, and I was also in the middle of a major career change. This led to a final recording session in early 2018, which produced our cover of Down at Circe's Place and some more backing tracks for what will eventually be released on the album Communion, before I had to put the band on hiatus indefinitely. In spite of the personal strife I was enduring, I listen to this track in wonder. Polyrhythmic guitars, interlocking flute harmonies from keyboard and guitar, meandering bass lines from Clif, battling solos between Millicent and David, and Dave's thunderous drum performance make this one of our headiest songs, and an appropriately chaotic sendoff to a challenging time in my life.
After I had written Awakenings, the second song off of Flight, I would often listen to the demo and then the early recordings and think how much that opening section of the song seemed like it could be its own song. As the ideas for Turbulence began to form in my head, I started to envision that it could serve as a B-side to a single from the album. As Flight only contains 3 songs, each over 10 minutes in length, I knew it wouldn't be possible to release any of the tracks in their entirety.
While I had no delusions of getting any airplay outside of internet stations devoted to our chosen genre, I did think it might be smart to have a smaller piece that I could showcase, and The Avatar—featuring the first 2 sections of Awakenings—had the energy, flair, and complexity to show what we were capable of. It also gave me a vehicle to release Turbulence and Cencibel.
Jay, Kyle, and I, together with original drummer Dave Hobizal, recorded all of the rock instruments for the track, but we were joined by Phil Davidson on violin, Chris Pickens on French Horn, Shauna Satrom on Trombone, Tony Rogers on cello, and recording engineer Chico Jones on percussion. This track, above all others, represents what Proud Peasant is all about. It's majestic and sophisticated, yet brutal and authentic—full of rhythmic and harmonic complexity, but at its core, built around simple yet elegant melodies.
Red (live from VoyagerFest 2015)
My favorite band of all time is King Crimson. Hands down. No questions. I own almost everything they've ever released, and I've been fortunate enough to see them twice as ProjeKct Three and twice more as the mighty Crim. I love every lineup and every era. Chances are that if you know me, King Crimson has come up in at least one conversation.
A group of local musicians and progressive music enthusiasts in Austin started talking about putting together a progressive festival here in early 2014, right before Flight was released. Daniel James became the driving force behind the event, which eventually morphed into a full-fledged local arts foundation, known as VoyagerFest. The inaugural festival in 2015 featured bands almost entirely from Austin. The second festival expanded to feature bands from other cities in Texas, and VoyagerFest continues to produce content and hold events dedicated to showcasing local progressive talent.
When Proud Peasant was asked to play the first festival, we knew we had to take part. Scheduling issues pushed our performance from later in the day to an early afternoon performance, where we performed The Precipice and, for the first time, all 20 minutes of Awakenings. But as this was a celebration of progressive music in our fair city, I felt inclined to throw something unexpected at the crowd.
Which brings us back to King Crimson. I had daydreamed about playing Crimson covers for years, but none of my previous bands presented the right avenue. Additionally, Crim isn't exactly easy music to learn or play. Which song could I throw at this lineup of musicians and hope to pull off within an extremely short time leading up the festival?
Red is the infamous opener to the album of the same name, the swan song to the early 70s version of Crim, and essentially, to bandleader Robert Fripp's original run with the band. It's perhaps the most riff-oriented song on the most riff-oriented album of theirs, and while not an easy song by any means, it presented a less challenging song to learn over a short period of time.
The live recording was raw, noisy, and gritty. It had character, but needed room to breathe. Our engineer Chico Jones brought the track to life, giving it the studio treatment while maintaining the raw quality of our performance. In the end, no one can compete with Crimson—so we just made it our own thing.
Saturn, Lord of the Ring/Mercury, the Winged Messenger
When determining the second selection for Cosmic Sound, our vinyl-only release on Fruits de Mer Records, I originally suggested the track Broken Dream by the obscure American psychedelic progressive band Pookah. Keith thought that the track could work, but worried about the way the vocals might turn out. At this point, we hadn't recorded any tracks with lyrical vocals, and the originals are a bit harsh in that way that Roger Chapman's are.
I immediately pivoted to an album by one of my favorite bands and suggested something off of Solar Fire, the most progressive offering from English (by way of South Africa) band Manfred Mann's Earth Band. While Mann's keyboard wizardry is certainly something to behold, I'm a bigger fan of vocalist/guitarist Mick Rogers and count him as one of my bigger influences in terms of guitar playing.
Solar Fire had long been a favorite of mine, and I suggested 2 songs: Pluto the Dog and Saturn, Lord of the Ring/Mercury, the Winged Messenger. Keith opted for the latter, and in retrospect, it was a wise choice. The dual nature of the song allowed us to explore a number of new textures, including a more stately solo from yours truly, vibes from Mark, and vocalise from Millicent for the first section, an ethereal mix of guitar sounds, Millicent's violin, Mark's brushed vibes, and David's classical guitar during the middle section, and a thunderous final section, with hard-driving drums and bass from Josh and Kyle and traded solos from me and Charlie.
It was epic in nature, providing a perfect foil to the brevity of Daybreak, and it serves as the ideal ending to Peasantsongs, a collection of orphaned songs that somehow cohere into something greater.