Okay, I like curious people and you are correct to ask me because I have been directly involved. What is swampgrass or swamptrance, this music? I’ll answer your question with some more questions: Have you ever seen a frog explode? Have you felt the need to sing a beautiful song when you sink in something slimy up past your knees? Have you met water with a dehydrated, cracked and furrowed tongue? If so, then we are getting closer to the meaning behind this music.
There are ingredients, there is a recipe, not secret, but hard to come by. Equal parts catalystic banjo, born again harmonica, inside out ukelele, over-traveled guitar, random mandolin and historic fiddle, all roosting in a collective drum.
There is preparation: musicians first situate themselves without their instruments on a starlit prairie moonscape of crunchy pale grass by a pond. Mosquitoes have been partying there all day and stop for no one, but in the evening things are calmer.
This sitting, this huddle forgetting the morning’s hangover, is an important part for the befriending of a frog choir in the dark. How is this done? In the spaces between the human’s laughter, amphibious resonance is given informal bows. The human’s make an offering to their stomachs of rum and ginger. Acknowledgment is murmured that the 100 odd frog sound may be sinking, appreciative and/or alien in nature.
Their endless croaked messages blanket the ears on the hearts of the humans and incite mediation on metal strings with itchy fingers. It is all sustenance, the players return to the trailer porch, their stage, as full and inebriated as if they had each swallowed a hoary and fermented moon.
Ukelele, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo exchange between players, between songs. Instruments must be held steady enough to transmit the heat still coming off the porch into the evenings coolness. It’s nice to do. The funk happiness and soothing raunch of the humans is an open sound. Tobacco floats through pauses. Talking diminishes.
If you hear it from far away, you might hear equal parts hoardes of strangely inviting, demented mosquitoes and the siren-thin chuckle whine of coyotes, demurring but demanding that you spend your time at your leisure. If you hear it from up close the sweetness of it might make you want to immediately copulate and conceive a child, where it’s stench and caterwaul might make you think some asshole bear has gotten insanely drunk.
Swamptrance, a music you will find when you travel far enough, where friends and nature and beer become surprisingly and/or luckily accessible. Hearing it, you might think of beet wine, the making, the drinking. Swampgrass is sure to cause female erections and bumblebees to fly at night; a simmering honey pot where burnt basil drowns.
If you could be on that porch with me you would understand that James’ rhythmic plucking of the banjo is an understanding unraveling. See him pour beer down to his insides and hear him burp again.
Where did Dave go? He sat just there, a human magician silhouette cranking out inspired gypsy melodies, crispy beautiful bright clarities into the night’s humidity. He arrives suddenly behind us, tall and slim, licking the frog he holds in his hands. The music that didn’t stop welcomes him back surely, it is mad as well and it triumphs.
This is the time in this frantic jam I am so drunk I can only rest my head against the back of the chair, gaze to the stars and enjoy the trip. Dave sits again and our song river floats down a new channel gurgling percussively.
Swampgrass attracts skunks and makes them think they can wrestle anything. They eye Brendan’s feet from afar as he breathes his harmonica into a life where it singes. He barbeques that poor instrument, sacrificing it to swampgrass, jungletrash, trancemash, to the slurring. There are rules to this genre, like vines that wrap our ankles to the porch and ourselves to the sound: you can float away, you can come down.
On this flat land under the big sky, swampgrass stretches leafy and bushy and spreads like a flatulent jam. You cannot put your thumb down on a definition, friend, or you would be cleaning that thumb for a long time.
From ancient picnic table wisdom, swampgrass or swamptrance, like Dave, smokes and disappears without warning, reappears and burns the evil out of souls.