For 3HATTRIO, the Southwest desert has an almost spiritual significance. Rooted in the natural world of their sacred homeland near Zion National Park in Utah, they say that their genre is “American desert music,” a simple idea for a complex sound. The music 3hattrio are making on their new album, LORD OF THE DESERT, sounds more like extended landscapes of sound, bare mesas that ring with electronic echoes of acoustic instruments, twisting and turning as the wind shifts. On Lord of the Desert, to be released February 23, 2018, 3hattrio mix the routine with the unusual, fusing American folk music with outsider elements like autotune, psychedelia, and minimalism. It’s a wildly unusual sound, but the product of three very different musicians coming together to form something new.
HAL CANNON is the resident folklorist of the band, known for his seminal work studying and performing the musical traditions of Utah with the Deseret String Band and founding director of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. A lifelong scholar of the desert, he brings his background in traditional music to his explorations of the banjo and his cowboy poet-inflected songwriting.
GREG ISTOCK is both a respected visual artist and a powerfully creative bassist and songwriter. He cut his teeth for decades in Florida producing Caribbean albums, much of which filters into his deep groove songwriting, vocal percussion, and ingenious use of autotune. Today he lives on a ledge above the Virgin River. All three 3hattrio albums were recorded in his painting studio.
ELI WRANKLE is the wild card that brought the three artists together. A prodigiously talented young violinist, his first experience jamming was with Cannon and Istock for a recital benefit for his high school. The three clicked immediately, and since Wrankle has been able to expand from his initial love of classical violin and fiddle to more spaced-out cosmic violin jams. Now twenty-one years old, Wrankle is a junior at Southern Utah University.
As you may expect from a band so closely tied to a desert landscape, texture is one of 3hattrio’s key aesthetics. You can hear this in the swoop of Wrankle’s violin, the ring of gut strings on Cannon’s banjo, or the electronically augmented grit in Istock’s vocals. This is a band that looks to a larger vision for their songs, that creates on an improvisational level. 3hattrio strive to acknowledge the cultural traditions of generations of people who have worked and lived on the deserts of the American southwest.
They don’t attempt to perform the music of the nomadic Native peoples who have lived there for centuries. They are modern day settlers in a place where settlement is not all that old. Cannon says, “From our vantage we are not all that different from other pioneers who came from diverse places to make community. From our varied musical backgrounds something truly American can be made out of the necessity to find sociability in an isolated place and to come with the intention to create something new.” The subject matter of the songs is often desert oriented, sometimes not. Mostly, they express the desert experientially from a daily-ness of watching light off distant mesas and hearing the way sound plays off sheer sandstone cliffs. Then they play music. They don’t over-think it.
Lord of the Desert (2018)
Dark Desert Night (2015)