A move to Montana — for a band inspired by tales of mining towns of yore —makes too much sense.
But the history of Butte and Anaconda, the Copper Kings and the lynching of Frank Little weren’t what brought Missincinatti’s core duo of Jeremy Drake (guitar) and Jessica Catron (cello) to Missoula. No, it was children.
“We moved up here without jobs,” Catron said. “We just jumped ship. I was about six months pregnant.”
Their drummer, Corey Fogel, stayed behind in Los Angeles, effectively ending Missincinatti after one album and one EP release in 2010 and 2012, respectively.
“So we figured it was done, in a way,” Catron said.
For a while that was that, with Missincinatti’s strange, chamber-inspired folk tunes on the shelf after nearly a decade in the LA music scene, despite early encouragement from Wilco guitarist Nels Cline.
Catron started a music school, Grow Music, and joined the symphony and Drake got a job at Home ReSource. They played together at Zootown Fringe Festival a few years back and both have played solo shows on occasion, but no new Missincinatti music has come since their move around six years ago.
While their first record, “Remove Not the Ancient Landmarks,” was based mostly off of sea shanties and old American folk music, their EP, simply titled “3 Song Demo” on Bandcamp, shifted focus to Appalachia coal mining, with “Dark as a Dungeon” and “Am I Born/Union Song” describing historical struggles and tales with haunting sincerity.
These records had a following, which caught up with Catron recently. An employee at the Casper Chamber Music Society reached out, asking if Missincinatti were still together and would they play a show for the 2019 season?
She said yes before checking with Drake or Fogel, though they were open to the idea. Then, she asked Naomi Siegel if they could do a show in Missoula as well.
“I didn’t want to put this band back together just for one show, 10 hours away,” Catron said.
The idea gained steam and Drake and Catron started bouncing around ideas for new songs, as well as enlisting Missoulians Jon Filkins and Sarah Marker (of Mendelssohn, Arrowleaf and Norwell) to play drums, keyboards and sing.
They now have a five-date tour, along with Montana Public Radio and KBGA appearances planned over the next few weeks.
“Really, we built the tour around that upcoming show,” Catron said. “It was totally weird.”
They also started writing new songs, their first written in Montana. Continuing with the mining theme from their 2012 EP, Catron and Drake started reading and researching the history of Butte and Anaconda.
Catron mainly took inspiration from the book “Goosetown in Their Own Words,” by Alice Finnegan. The book is an oral history of the Goosetown neighborhood of Anaconda, which housed miners and immigrants.
“It’s purely just from the words of people who grew up there,” Catron said. “They’re just talking about their lives.”
That was a great source for Catron, who sketched out lyrics based on what it would be like to live in that place and time.
“The stories are there and they’ve been documented, which to me makes the music mean so much more when you’re in character,” Catron said. “Everything was based in what their parents did … and their direction was basically into the mines if you’re a boy, or the boarding house or grocery store if you’re a girl.”
Although that sounds like it could be plain depressing, Catron was struck by the richness of lives people remembered, surrounded by a tapestry of immigrant culture. She said the tunes reflect that brightness.
The book inspired a couple of songs, one based around a young boy’s first days at the mine and struggle with unionization, while another took the perspective of a young girl.
Filkins threw in a tune he’d written about Frank Little, Drake said and they’re doing a cover of “Big Bad John,” the 1960s country tune about a mine collapse, to round out a small setlist of new material.
"Big Bad John" features sound effects of hammering steel, an idea Drake and Catron use on their originals, which have Foley-like sound effects to place the listener, as well as improvised sections.
“They don’t really follow proper song structure,” Catron said.
As well, the songs aren’t as sad as one might expect. By Catron’s own admission, “mining songs tend to be pretty damn depressing.”
But Drake said they focus on the stories and their original inspirations of sea shanties, nursery rhymes and folk tunes.
“We could probably do a public library tour,” Drake said. “Though some of (the songs) get a little dark … compared to 1960s, '70s Disney movies, we’re super PG.”