“Folks on the West Coast and folks on the East Coast are not into the same music. The scenes don’t necessarily cross over,” says singer-songwriter Morgan Geer. The leader and core member of folk-rock-noir outfit Drunken Prayer considers himself to be bicoastal these days, with bases in Portland, Ore., and Asheville. He’s also playing guitar for alt-country band Freakwater and currently hangs his hat in Winston-Salem when not on the road. “For me, it’s nice to have a foot in both worlds,” he says.
Geer returns to Western North Carolina on Friday, July 10, for a pre-album release show at The Mothlight. While Drunken Prayer’s new effort, The Devil & The Blues, officially drops in August, the local show promises not to be just a homecoming but a reunion. More on that in a minute.
While on tour, Geer prefers to log the miles alone, picking up accompanists as he goes. “I know a lot of great musicians,” he says. “It might not be the tightest band in the world, but I like loose music … this is not classical music.” He adds that in Portland and Asheville, he purposely under-rehearses: “A lot of it, for me, is the chemistry and electricity of being a little unsure.”
But this time around, Geer will take the stage with drummer Lance Wille and bassist David Wayne Gay (also of Freakwater) — the threesome formerly known as The Unholy Trio. That band boasted a loyal Asheville following and was the predecessor to Drunken Prayer (Wille and Gay went on to join Reigning Sound and The Krektones). The Unholy Trio started out playing covers and gospel songs, and over time, Geer’s originals — some of which can be found on The Devil & The Blues — seeped in.
Wille and Gay also performed on the album, along with Aaron Price on keyboards. “It’s a mix of an Asheville sound,” says Geer, referencing The Krektones and a certain era of Greg Cartright-led Reigning Sound. There’s also a hint of the Canadian country-rock of The Sadies since Dallas Good of that band also plays on The Devil & The Blues.
“It’s a party record,” Geer says. Geer says sophomore effort Into the Missionfield was introspective at points, and last album House of Morgan was off the cuff. This record, the fourth from Drunken Prayer, “is a lot more focused and a lot more fun,” he says. Lead track “Hellraiser” is adrenaline-fueled and takes no prisoners. The drums stomp, guitars gallop and Geer’s stand-and-deliver vocal style verges on violent. Wisps of smoke issue from the speakers — and there are still 11 tracks to go.
Some offerings are not so aggressive (“597 Guerrero Street” is a ne’er-do-well two-step, final track “Unicorns” divides its inclinations between teary and snarky) and some are more so (“Any Other Way” is no slam dance, but there’s a palpable snarl; “The Captain and Tennille” is boozy and raucous with thundering percussion and loose boogie-woogie piano). If “Love Looks Like a Master” waxes romantic, the raw emotion and dynamism of Geer’s vocals prove that even a love song can be brutal.
Don’t expect the stage show to directly reflect the album, though. “For me, recording and performing live are such different things,” says Geer. “It’s like the difference between taking a photo and painting a picture.” The musician further stretches his artistic reach by making music videos for his songs, a project that allows him to play both with software and imagery — though he says he rarely attempts an exact reading of the song.
The album art for The Devil & The Blues, however, is a perfect fit. “For once, it looks just like it sounds,” says Geer. “The iconography in the artwork [by Jon Langford of punk band The Mekons] matches the music.”
Maybe art and music are not the only forces united by the new Drunken Prayer project. Recorded in both Asheville’s CollapseAble Studios and Portland’s Fluff & Gravy Studios, perhaps The Devil & The Blues is the link between East Coast and West; the place where those disparate scenes do intersect after all.