Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra play Glasgow
The post-rock sound of Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra has the spirit of punk, the backbone of politics and the history of folk, to keep things interesting, as Stewart Smith discovers.
Initially conceived as a side-project to Canadian post-rock heroes Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion has blossomed into a great band in its own right, evolving from a purely instrumental concern into an expansive rock group characterised by chamber strings and group-singing. Their latest album, Kollaps Traditioxionales, is perhaps their most powerful statement to date, combining old American and Eastern European folk elements with ragged rock and elegiac string arrangements. The title may allude to the global economic situation, but guitarist and main songwriter Efrim Menuck has always been keen to play down the idea of Silver Mount Zion as a political band.
‘We say this all the time, but politics are for the politicians and we have no interest in that. We’re not mandating for certain types of legislation, nor are we demanding that everybody organise themselves in communes, we’re just looking at the world we’re living in and trying to map our place in it. We have the feeling that there are people like us all over the world, an unrepresented community of folks trying to do stuff in this life who don’t often have a platform to speak to one another. We really feel like we’re part of a global community.’
That community is addressed in the new album’s centrepiece ‘Thee Olde Dirty Flag’. ‘The old dirty flag is this thing that we all rally behind, this pathetic little papier maché flag. I’m not being negative, we like that idea,’ explains Menuck.
Their ethics may be punk DIY, but thematically and in their use of folk elements, Silver Mount Zion share certain affinities with the avant-garde free jazz of Albert Ayler and Charlie Haden’s jazz ensemble, Liberation Music Orchestra.
‘That first Liberation Music album, I think everybody in the band would agree it’s one of many records that are a big deal for us. We’re interested in tracing old folk songs through jazz, blues and a lot of rock and classical music as well. We like the idea of the way that certain melodies, certain scales, certain musical ideas replicate themselves through different genres of music at different points in history. We don’t operate under the mistaken assumption that what we’re bringing to the table is unique or new or special, we don’t see ourselves like that at all. The way we make music is really grounded in a history of musicianship that is ongoing and has been going on forever. We’re just a link in that chain.’ Menuck pauses for a moment, laughs, then adds, ‘Maybe that sounds more pompous than it is. But it’s a humble idea.’
Silver Mount Zion’s name has been modified with each line-up, and the departure of three members in 2008 was, Menuck admits, difficult to adapt to. ‘We did one really long, lengthy, Eastern European tour last year with this new quintet line-up and getting ready for that tour was definitely difficult, feeling the absence of a second guitar mostly, and some of the group singing parts. I think now though we’re feeling pretty stoked and comfortable with the way it’s sounding. We’re much louder live than we are on record and we’re a lot more sloppy. At the end of the day we’re a rock band and we’re most comfortable on stage.’
Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Fri 19 Mar.