Black Heart Procession with Enon at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (March 23). $12.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
They don't call it the black heart Procession for nothing. Born in 1997 out of the still smouldering embers of San Diego's Three Mile Pilot, Procession came to be when roomies Tobias Nathaniel and Pall A. Jenkins started songwriting through a smoke- and booze-filled depression brought on by girl trouble.
The project born of such heartbreak yields a soundscape of abject melancholia - coupled, thankfully, with a nice dose of sardonic humour.
Through the not so originally named records 1, 2 & 3, the Black Heart Procession have travelled vast mournful sonic expanses, across the delta of Nick Cave's ominous brooding, from the moonlit bat-infested belfries of Southern gothic and vast lonesome arid deserts of twang to the existential cabaret noir of 1960s Belgium. It's all rooted in heavy imagery and storytelling, with experimentally phantasmagoric instrumentality.
Their 2002 album, Amore Del Tropico, is a dark, blues-laden concept album that paved the way for a brand new DVD film of the same name.
"Toward the end of making the record, we started seeing a story, so I wrote it using each song as a chapter. Then we wrote a screenplay," says Jenkins. "It felt like a story so I just translated that."
The silent film, which he calls a twisted noir dreamscape, is a murder mystery featuring a dead girl and her jilted lover. With band members in starring roles, it's a shining example of what happens when you can't afford real actors, but it is an innovative example and amusing nonetheless - moody and stylistically over the top.
I have to wonder aloud whether the current multimedia climate prompts musicians to feel obliged to move beyond simply making music. Is an album enough any more?
"Well, after this I feel like 'My god, I just want to make a simple record.' I think it was more out of curiosity, because now people have home computers and we can do all this stuff ourselves. It's a lot cheaper and easier, so the possibilities are there. People have probably always had the ideas, but nowadays it's just easier to formulate them.
"Myself, I've always been into shooting video and filming stuff, but I've never been able to edit it. So it's not that I feel audio is not enough, but that this story just sort of plopped in our laps and formed itself."
The film's release probably won't change Black Heart's live show.
"We talked about all the possibilities, like projecting it while we play or something like that, and we still haven't decided, but I think we just want to leave them as two different things."
Aside from the film, Black Heart Procession recently took part in the In The Fishtank sessions, an ongoing project of Konkurrent, an independent music distributor in the Netherlands. For Fishtank, Konkurrent gives bands two days of studio time in which to do whatever they like. Past series artists have included NoMeansNo, Tortoise with Ex, Willard Grant Conspiracy with Telefunk and Sonic Youth with I.C.P.
Black Heart Procession teamed up with Solbakken, who are also the guys who run the sessions.
"They're from Holland, and when they asked us to do it we had already played three shows with them, so we suggested they join us."
The result is an eclectic collection of Bad Seeds meets Morricone with fine pianos and a Gainsbourgesque beginning, featuring Swiss artist Rachael Rose on French vocals over a melodic structure reminiscent of Francis Lai's Love Story.
"At first I wondered how we were gonna write a whole EP in two days, but it came together surprisingly fast. We were able to make six songs out of it."
Jenkins is also working on a solo project. "I think It's gonna be called Mr. Tube and His Flying Objects and be like a hiphoppy dance kind of thing."
Black Heart Procession is working on a split EP with Calexico (très fitting). And there's a Three Mile Pilot recording in the near future that will, of course, feature Armistead "Zach" Burwell Smith IV who went on to form Pinback.
"Pinback and Black Heart are so different you'd never think we played in the same band together, but as we've grown apart in a certain way, we've also grown closer as friends."