Album embraces literary influences from Poe, Lovecraft, King;
blends history and fiction into songs in Southern gothic style
Announced in a press release earlier this month, Husband-and-wife duo Grace & Tony are set to release their next album,Phantasmagoric, on September 25, 2015.
From the release, the album Phantasmagoric (a favorite word of Edgar Allen Poe’s meaning “out of this world”) features 10 tracks that sound as if they belong in a macabre Broadway musical, the album is rife with dramatic tales of plagues, serial killers, mass suicide, Frankenstein’s nameless creation and similar subjects so inherently theatrical that they’d be right at home in a Sondheim or Brecht-Weill classic.
The Loretto, TN-based pair recorded Phantasmagoric at Sheffield, AL (aka Muscle Shoals) recording studio Jimmy Nutt’s Nutthouse. Nutt, who co-produced the album with Tony, was recommended by Tony’s brother, John Paul White (of Civil Wars fame). “Jimmy really pushed our limits and got the most out of us,” says Tony; that included putting the whole band together in the studio to give the album its very-much-live feel.
RELATED STORY: Interview with Grace White of the Duo Grace & Tony
Embracing literary influences from Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft to Stephen King, the duo blend history and fiction into songs that share equally vivid plot and musical twists. They call their current style “Southern gothic,” and it’s the next logical musical step for a duo known for mixing punk and bluegrass on past releases, most recently on the band’s 2013 album, November. Their current sound finds the pair exploring a classically based, yet rootsy sound; they describe it as “theatrical, dark and epic.” Their friend Andy Baxter, of Penny and Sparrow, quipped, “It’s like if Tim Burton had a folk band.” Except Phantasmagoric is far more orchestral than folk, even though it owes its storytelling sensibilities to folk and bluegrass traditions.
“I think a lot of that comes from Grace being such a fan of English murder mysteries and getting in that mindset, that regal sound,” says Tony. “When you’re writing a dark story, pairing it with something classical and proper makes it even darker.
Grace’s mother read Poe to her as a baby and introduced her to mystery books, and then murder mysteries – Nancy Drew, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels), Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and old horror and monster films. This influence is clearly evident throughout Phantasmagoric. Take “Invitation to an Autopsy,” for instance. Grace’s crisp, distinct lyrics and mandolin enfold cello and other strings as she narrates the “Sweeney Todd”-like true story of Messrs. Burke and Hare, a pair of pre-Victorian-era gents who sold corpses for use in anatomy classes — corpses they created from living humans.
“Adam of Labour” takes the perspective of Frankenstein’s nameless creation. Tony’s clear baritone drives that melody (he also plays guitars and keyboards), aided by Grace’s mandolin and strings by bandmates Kimi Samson (first and second violin and viola) and Chris Wilson (cello, basses and sitar), who arranged the album’s intentionally dominant strings.
Tony says the dramatic “Lullaby of the Red Death,” influenced by Poe, suggested ebola to Grace, while “The Marsten Prologue” and “A Lot Dies Today” are based on King’s book, “Salem’s Lot.” The album’s first single, “The 1,” tells a story of their own imagining, about a girl and her stalker, whom she decides she wants to meet. “The 2” revisits the 1997 mass suicide known as Heaven’s Gate. There is some leavening, however. They tell their love story in “072713,” their wedding date.
“We wanted to make something that was truly different,” Tony says. “Something memorable. We really wanted to blaze trails — and make music that we would enjoy, with lots of layers, that would be as pleasing to the mind as it is to the ear.”Phantasmagoric is full of songs intended to make listeners question everything they’ve ever known, and to remind them, says Grace, “to think, smile, laugh and even cry,” and most of all “to dream — the wonderful way you dreamed when you were a child.” The album will be available in the digital format; CDs will also be available via the group’s website, at shows, and at select retailers. A limited-run vinyl version will be available in November as well (via website, at shows, at select retailers).
Next up? A book, “Grace & Tony’s Phantasmagoric Stories,” which will feature tales from each song illustrated by U.K. tattoo artist Nick Devine. The duo plans to tour in support of the forthcoming album as well; most of the time these days they perform as a quartet (rounded out by Pete Teselsky on drums and percussion and Chris Wilson on cello). (See tour dates below; more dates to be added soon.)
Grace & Tony Tour Schedule:
10/10 – La Grange, TX – The Bugle Boy
10/14 – The Woodlands, TX – Dosey Doe
10/16 – Conroe, TX – Red Brick Tavern
10/17 – Dallas, TX – The Rustic
Phantasmagoric Track Listing:
Adam of Labour
Invitation to an Autopsy
The Marsten Prologue
A Lot Dies Today
Lullaby of the Red Death
A Fever on the Cthulu Queen
This Is It…