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West Texas in general, and Presidio County in particular, may be lightly populated, but Graham Reynolds found an abundance of musical inspiration there for a multimedia trilogy he's launching with Marfa: A Country & Western Big Band Suite.
Marfa -- whose track "The Uninhabited" is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Nov. 20) -- is the first part of The Marfa Triptych: Three Portraits of West Texas, commissioned by the city's Ballroom Marfa art gallery. The Marfa... album comes out Nov. 22, while releases for a live performance Sunset to Moonlight and a rock opera about Pancho Villa are on the horizon. All, according to Reynolds, are designed to capture the unique ambiance of the Chihuahuan desert landscape as well as the uniqueness of the population on the Texas-Mexico border.
"Marfa is an unusual town in that artists have moved there, and you get more collectors as well and there's an Air Force base out there," Reynolds -- best-known as Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater's go-to score composer -- tells Billboard. "You mix the rancher community and the arts community, and you have this strange, special place. In an area where small towns are super small or dying, you have this bustling artistic center in the middle of the desert. It's fascinating."
The 13-track Marfa suite, which Reynolds recorded with a corps of 14 musicians at his studio in Austin -- starting in 2013 and returning to it during the past year -- certainly lives up to its title's description. The project mixes country flavor with brassy arrangements and repeating motifs that swim in and out of each of the songs. "When I first moved to the northeast of Texas in the mid-90s, there was no more exotic music to me than country music," Reynolds notes. "I couldn't imagine how I'd bridge into that musical world, even to my tastes, which are super wide-ranging. It seemed otherworldly to me.
"But gradually, over years in Texas, I got to know country musicians and started doing little project with them until I did this deeper dive that became part of [Marfa]."
Reynolds adds that "The Uninhabited," like many of Marfa's tracks, is designed to evoke the openness of the west Texas terrain and the composer's experience with it. "I spent so much of my time in cities that there's very little time where you're away from people," he explains. "When you're in deep west Texas it's a lot easier to be truly alone and not hear or see any signs of humanity. There's a reason there's these pockets of communities that stay out there and disconnect from larger society. It's a transformational experience that I'm digging into."
Marfa had its live performance debut during November 2013 at the city's Crowley Theater and will be played again on Nov. 23 in Austin. Reynolds isn't expecting to hit the road with it, however.
"It's such a large band it may be cost-prohibitive to do too much touring." Meanwhile Reynolds has "a million things in motion," per usual, including a ballet piece using the works of Texan and Mexican composers and DJs to protest the border wall.
"I've been working with Mexican artists for a long time," he says. "That predates this specific political moment, but it becomes more and more timely -- and I don't expect that to go away any time soon."
Listen to “The Uninhabited” below.
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