Building a History
On September 11, 1857, approximately 120 men, women, and children emigrating from Arkansas to California were slaughtered by an unlikely collective of Mormon militia members and local Native American tribesmen in a part of the Utah territory known as Mountain Meadows. A complex amalgam of political conflict and religious fervency set off the Mormon-led siege upon the Baker-Fancher emigrant party, who were forced into a standoff after camping in the valley during their westward voyage. Fending off their attackers for four days, the Baker-Fancher party surrendered in good faith with the promise of safe passage to nearby Cedar City. After being led a mile away from their wagon corral on foot, however, they were attacked by the Mormons and Natives and only 17 young children were spared, with some sent back home, and others adopted and raised in the Mormon faith. While historical accounts vary and nothing conclusive about the reasoning behind the bloodshed has been determined, this brutal moment in American history is still commemorated as the "Mountain Meadows Massacre.”
Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet of Toronto’s electrifying, country-tinged rock trio Elliott Brood encountered Mountain Meadows separately, yet the story immediately resonated with both songwriters. Laforet has devoured books on the incident, while a documentary about the mass murder enthralled Sasso. "At first, they just said ‘Mountain Meadows,’ and I thought ‘Oh, what a beautiful name,’” Sasso recalls, sitting between Laforet and drummer Stephen Pitkin in their favoured Toronto haunt, the Dakota Tavern. "Then, all of a sudden, it turns into this brutal massacre. But at the end of it, they let these children survive who were younger than seven years old, figuring they won’t remember the event. Then they incorporated the children into their society and homes.”As they’ve done before on their 2003 debut EP Tin Type and 2005’s Juno-nominated full-length Ambassador, Elliott Brood continue to obsess over the past, infusing historical events and individuals with a vague sense of revisionist wonder. While Tin Type possessed an otherworldly tone thanks to banjo and guitar-led rural stomps and Sasso’s heart-stopping rasp, Ambassador was named after a lost and then found wallet/workbook, where one man’s displaced identity is pondered and fleshed out in a loose narrative. If there is a concept within Sasso’s songs though, it compels observers to seek out the concept themselves, to conjure the storyline from clues and unconfirmed facts, just as their investigative creator did.
In titling their stunning new record Mountain Meadows, the hard-touring Elliott Brood lead listeners directly to an actual event, yet their songs twist and turn around and within the circumstances of the gory slaying to become a harrowing, timeless travelogue. "Mountain Meadows is more of a jumping off point, as opposed to us trying to describe it historically,” Sasso explains. "That’s already been done. For me, it’s more about ‘Okay, what happens to these kids afterwards? What happens to their relatives or their families down the line? Do they take part in WWII? How did their lives then factor back into life and can we drop in and visit them again?’”
"Because the name’s so evocative and pretty, it reminds me of a line in Casey’s song ‘31 Years,’ where he says ‘We tried to take the mountain/But the mountain got in the way,’” Pitkin adds. "It’s something that Casey often marvels about while we’re driving through some Saskatchewan town like, say, Yorkton. There are always roads that go nowhere — the road that used to be. Like, ‘Wow, people came this far from the Ukraine or Ireland or wherever — why didn’t they go further?’”
Collaborating more together on Mountain Meadows than they ever have previously, Elliott Brood remain committed to curiosity. Drawing from their own shared experiences globetrotting and winning fans over one plane trip at a time, the trio still take cues from anecdotal, historical accounts to craft an enigmatic, uniquely bright musical style all their own. Just as Mountain Meadows refers to a specific moment in time, the band chose it as the departure point in a speculative journey they themselves can relate to. "That’s the best part about it,” Sasso says of the album title and its subjects. "From there you can go anywhere. One of their ancestors might have been a mistress to somebody famous or something but nobody knows. The fun and enjoyment is to create those stories that no one would know or hear.”
Be the first to comment