Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light features its frontman’s fantastical folk lyrics and perfectly imperfect musical arrangements. “There are wrong notes on the album,” says Sehorn, “but there are good wrong notes. Sometimes the wrong notes are the best parts.”
Local musician Travis Sehorn writes songs about everything from agriculture to the apocalypse using imagery often inspired by his dreams. And those dreams happen a lot.
“Because I have narcolepsy, I’m pretty excited about dreams,” he says. “I can dream with my eyes open for a few seconds, so I remember a little bit of what’s going on before I fall asleep. It’s weird.”
For one such track, “The Dead & The Harvesters,” Sehorn scribbled the lasting images from his dream onto a large paper bag he had taped to the wall of a beach house in North Carolina. In its original form, the song extended 17 minutes long with the sort of rich, prophetic lyrics you hear from poetic folk bards past and present—think Dylan or Bright Eyes—who regularly expose human folly. In it he sings: “And the night will suddenly discover the day/reveal those who, unchanged, have kept their faith/the non-believers will cry to the others outraged/cry to the others outraged.” But when Sehorn finally recorded “The Dead & The Harvesters” for his new album, Ovum Bloom, it was shaved down to just under six minutes.
“I forgot half the lyrics,” he explains, “which is good because then it was a normal length.”
Sehorn is a Missoula-raised guitarist whose thoughtfully anarchic approach to music appears to feed his creative abilities. His musicianship really began, he admits, after watching a 1993 video about the punk band Half Japanese. In the documentary, titled The Band That Would Be King, Half Japanese explains their guitar technique as simply recognizing that fat strings play low notes, skinny strings play high notes, and to play faster you just move your hand faster. To Sehorn the explanation seemed basic enough to try, and together with some fellow classmates at Hellgate High he started the Hills Bros., a lively group that could often be seen exuberantly jumping up and down and belting out lyrics at the Missoula Farmers’ Market.
By 2002, Hills Bros. started landing gigs at inside venues, and Sehorn began to play in other side projects. He eventually went solo, often playing with a revolving group of local anti-folk musicians under various band names, including Travis Sehorn and the Cold, Cold Souls of Ghost Folk, Travis Sehorn and the Wartime Blues, and his current iteration, Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light. Ovum Bloom, which the band will release with a show at the Badlander Saturday, March 1, is the first album under the Pebble Light name. Kier Atherton, a member of fellow locals The Pillar Saints, decided to produce the album after meeting Sehorn at a potluck last year.
“I had started spreading a rumor that [The Pillar Saints] were a Christian band,” Sehorn says sheepishly, “and I finally asked them if they were and, uh, they were not. I had to tell them that it was me who had started that rumor.”
Now good friends and frequent collaborators, any awkwardness about the situation seems quashed. “The funny thing is,” Atherton adds, “there actually is a Christian band called the Pillar Saints now, in New York.”
Atherton is one of nine musicians who accompany Sehorn on Ovum Bloom. The others include cellist Bethany Joyce, harpist Kate Olp, banjo player Lisena Brown and a number of back-up vocalists. The musicians, all of whom met Sehorn through Atherton, meet once a week along with other players who don’t perform on the album, and they call themselves Domba Minor. Even though he frequently collaborates, Sehorn admits that adapting his own songs for accompaniment and for the recording of Ovum Bloom was difficult at first. Part of that, he says, has to do with his inclination toward irregular strumming patterns, which render even the same song different each time he plays it. Also, he tends to be impatient during recording sessions.
“I’ve always tried to flesh out my recordings by myself,” he says. “I’ve had a four-track and I’ve tried computer reel to reel or tape, and I’m very fast with it. I won’t even plan the song. I just write it and pick some chords really fast.” But Sehorn and the Domba Minor musicians worked together on Ovum Bloom, talked it through, and in the end the recording came out as a solid composition. There are certainly imperfections, but boosted by Sehorn’s unique storytelling—he points out that he’s on medication now for his narcolepsy— both Sehorn and Atherton are still undoubtedly proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“There are wrong notes on the album,” Sehorn says with a confessional air, “but there are good wrong notes. Sometimes the wrong notes are the best parts.”
Travis Sehorn and the Pebble Light perform a CD-release show for Ovum Bloom Saturday, March 1, at the Badlander at 9 PM. Fredrick’s Teeth and Zen Saloon open. $5.