When Britton Powell, of D.C. psych-rock band Hume, returned home earlier this summer after a sojourn in India, he wanted his band to come back with a punch. So he composed "Mirroring," a thirty-minute, two-movement, piece for seven musicians and made plans to drag it caravan-style up and down the East coast of the United States. The ensuing three-week tour–which has stretched from Montreal, Canada to Athens, GA–hasn't been easy on the pocket book or on Powell's psyche, but it has given the group a chance to tighten up the chance to road-test the piece before heading to the studio. Saturday the group will splash down in D.C. and hopefully find time for a final performance before the members head their separate ways. Powell spoke with Washington City Paper about the tour, the composition, how to write a 30-minute piece of music using your cell phone.
Washington City Paper: You’re touring with a seven-person band. Is that a little hard to handle?
Powell: It’s just really intense. I’ve never traveled with such a big group of people. Dealing with everybody night-to-night—figuring out where we’re all crashing– is a lot to handle. Also, we have to talk about the music a little bit, talk about eating together, traveling together. It’s hard to keep everybody the same page when you’re doing 80mph down the highway.
WCP: So, what is “Mirroring”?
Powell: Well, I got back from India and I was full with so much musical energy. I wanted to get right back into swing of things. I knew that I wanted to work on a new composition in same vein as The Fat Daughter String Quartet. But I wanted it to be a bit more full, more lush, and less introspective. So I figured three saxophones (two tenor one alto), two electric basses, and two drummers could conjure that energy.
Anyway, the piece is “Mirroring.” When I was living in India and the Ganges and the river was a huge part of my life. Then I came back here and the second day I got a job at Jack’s Boathouse, working on the Potomac. I got this image in my mind of these two rivers flowing with very different purposes–separated by mindsets, religions. I felt like I was at the point between these two rivers running into each other and becoming one. You know, a balance between these two perspectives. So, I wanted to associate that with music. I titled it mirroring. It’s a 30-minute long piece and at 15-minute mark it goes completely retrogrades so that energy, it hits the mirror/water and is reflected back and is kind of distorted in a way.
WCP: Where did you find musicians that were qualified to play this stuff, but were willing to do a D.I.Y. tour?
Powell: They’re all from the Northeast. They’re all conservatory students or music students of some sort. I had friends who were up in the area and I started calling them and asking them to hook me up with goodhearted musicians.
WCP: But why do a whole tour with 7 people? Surely there had to be an easier way to conjure the spirit of the Ganges?
Powell: I wanted to come back with a punch. I wanted to connect with people on a very deep level and explore some options that I had never approached.
WCP: How did you go about composing “Mirroring”?
Powell: I had a recording device on my cell phone. During the day, all these melodies and rhythms streaming through my mind. So when I was out walking around, any time I had an idea or a theme I would record it into my phone. Then, I came back and sat down with a piece of graph paper and listened to all of these melodies. Using those, I started mapping out ideas and approaches and dynamics. But it began singing into a phone walking down the street.