The song “Thundersnow Road” started out as a road trip.
Last summer, New York artist Xaviera Simmons explored North Carolina from coast to mountains on a quest to find landscapes she could populate with characters from her imagination. She made photographs of the scenes, one of them an anonymous hooded figure holding up boxing gloves in a field.
Xaviera sent the photograph to two musicians in North Carolina. Harrison Haynes, drummer for the band Les Savy Fav, and Mac MacCaughan, frontman for Superchunk, were friends but had never played music together.Think of the photograph as instructions for writing a song, Xaviera told them.She and Mac talked about the resulting song today during a live interview on WUNC-FM’s “The State of Things” with host Frank Stasio.
It was fun to work from a photograph rather than construct a song from air, Mac told Frank. “It’s a unique way to start the process.”
It was also cool to collaborate with Harrison and Xaviera toward an outcome no one could predict, he said.
“I was lucky enough to get to work with Harrison Haynes,” Mac said. ” … and I was even luckier that Harrison took to the task of writing the words … that’s my least favorite part of writing a song.”
Mac and Harrison were among about 15 musicians from New York and North Carolina who wrote songs for Xaviera’s project. The project was commissioned by the Nasher Museum for the exhibition “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl.” Read more about it here.
“They so beautifully responded to the photographs,” she said. “And I feel so excited … I was lucky to have a multitude of musicians working.”
The record is not for sale anywhere. It is available for free with the purchase, in the museum or online, of “The Record” catalogue. Another way to hear the song is to come to the exhibition, where music from the record plays on a loop that accompanies the installation of Xaviera’s photographs. Frank played a fragment of it on the air today, with the help of a borrowed record player.
“Luckily Chrissy is here with an actual record player and she will now put the needle on the record,” Frank said, referring to one of the Nasher Museum’s Duke student interns.
Everyone waited during a brief silence, then fffftt as Chrissy dropped the needle mid-song by mistake.
“You haven’t done this before, have you, Chrissy?” Frank said, clearly amused.
Listen to a podcast of the entire episode here.
Xaviera will give a talk Thursday, September 16, at 7 p.m. at the Nasher Museum. Afterward, at 8:30 p.m., Superchunk will play a concert on the museum’s front lawn. Buy tickets here.
This Sunday afternoon, from 1-4 p.m., Xaviera will play her 12-inch record and other records with friends at a BBQ and Vinyl Listening Party, open to all, on the museum’s Northeast lawn. Bring a blanket. Details here.
Photo of the WUNC-FM studio from Wendy’s iPhone.