A group has unearthed unreleased songs from Butte miners to perform in Missoula and Butte.
Missincinatti, a trio built on vocal harmony, cello, guitar, drums and sound effects, began drawing inspiration from mining history several years ago. Their cellist, Jessica Catron, is a self-identified history nerd who followed this interest deeply enough that she began creating original songs based on Mining City lore.
“I started collecting lyrical content from stories of people who lived there or grew up in Butte in the first half of the 1900s. I focused on the children of Butte, in particular,” a- she wrote in an email.
His bandmate and guitarist, Jeremy Drake, took the material and turned it into “Copper Kids” and “Precious Metal,” with an eye for kids’ perspectives.
These songs laid the groundwork for an even more direct connection. In 2019, the band played a show in Butte, where Catron met Cari Coe, the program director at Clark’s historic castle.
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Coe suggested they apply for a perfectly matched grant. Four groups of musicians would spend time in the Butte Silver-Bow County Archives and create new songs from a collection of unpublished butter miners’ tracks.
The opportunity to spend five days immersed in the material was “amazing,” especially for a busy mother of two and business owner, she said.
“I felt like a student, and it was so inspiring and humbling, really, to learn what I was doing. I remember leaving that week ready to make a brand new album of Butte-inspired songs. “, she said.
The band formed in 2012 in Los Angeles — Catron on cello, Drake on guitar and sound effects, and Corey Fogel on drums and percussion.
Catron and Drake moved to Missoula in 2013, to be closer to their family and create their own. Catron performs with the Missoula Symphony Orchestra and has opened a music school, Grow Music.
They’ve done a few tours, including a small one in 2019. The pandemic, meanwhile, has given Catron time to delve into Montana’s history, and specifically Butte’s mining history.
The group has always been interested in historical sources and genres that are technically folk music but more obscure – sea shanties and Appalachian mining songs, for example.
“The call, to me, is history,” Catron wrote in an email. “I’m really drawn to lyrics that paint vivid pictures of a specific time and place. I’m also drawn to stories that have a connection to the here and now. always came naturally, but not the lyrics.
It goes back to a gift a friend gave her – “American Ballads and Folk Songs” by John and Alan Lomax. She was particularly taken with “The Wonderful Crocodile”.
“It has about 15 verses and the story is mystical and imaginative folklore, but also sets a scene the listener can relate to regarding the hardships of life at sea. I took part words, I twisted them a bit with the melody and started completely re-harmonizing new chords on my cello,” she wrote.
Drake added guitar and shipyard recordings to the cello parts. Thus was born the first Missincinatti song. They repeated this pattern with two other tracks from the anthology. Eventually, Catron’s interest shifted to hard rock mining via “Harlan County, USA” and their current project.
“Pride and Trauma”
The grant-specific tunes she chose to work with were not complete, leaving a lot of room for artistic interpretation.
“Solidarity Forever” is based only on a pamphlet with its lyrics, but no score.
It’s a “well-known union song, sung to the tune of ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,'” she wrote. Her research informed her that it was common to put lyrics to popular tunes so that it would be easy for people to sing along.
“Missicinatti made it kind of a Hendrix-esque rock anthem and I decided to borrow the lyrics from the Butte pamphlet version as well as the original IWW version,” she said.
Another song she worked with, “Butte Miner”, was based solely on a 1946 unaccompanied audio recording by George Prescott.
It takes place on “When You Wore a Tulip”, by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. Catron leaned into this arrangement and wrote a barbershop-style trio, complete with field recordings from the mining.
“None of the three of us have trained singing voices, so hopefully the roughness of our voices singing relatively complex harmonies lends itself to a subject full of pride and trauma,” she wrote.
They will be recording at Butte next week – both the grant songs and their originals. Other grant recipients will be as well.