Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Fight the Early Grave Blues
Published Feb 11, 2014On what is arguably their most direct, accessible rock record, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra are no less compromising in their stirring sound or their confrontational content with Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything. A general survey of their catalogue reveals songs infused with a rightful cynicism, but also an almost militant allegiance to hope, as if the band are willing themselves to fight against being snowed under by life's unending avalanche of hardships and horseshit.
This time round though, a central obsession with premature death and economic challenges, particularly among musicians, pervades their ideas. "It's been an unhealthy obsession since my son was born," vocalist and guitarist Efrim Menuck explains from his Montreal home. "It's a natural thing to dwell on, as you get older.
"I've also always been aware that musician's lives generally don't end very well. Either people manage to get out or they die on the road. That's just a fact. That's a fact that angers me and fills me with anxiety and dread but mostly it angers me, so I think it's a good site for a particular type of song."
In particular, late figures like Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5 (and husband to Patti Smith) are represented here by brief interview clips in which they discuss their artistic practice and how it reflects their (sadly truncated) lives. Tellingly, the only other guest voice is Menuck's four-year-old son (with bandmate Jessica Moss) who opens the album by stating, "we make a lot of noise because we love each other," like some youthful beacon of light.
So the tension throughout is complex. A song like "Rains Thru the Roof At Thee Grande Ballroom (for Capital Steez)" laments a dilapidated, abandoned Detroit venue the MC5 used to play and also a 21-year-old New York rapper who committed suicide on Christmas Eve, 2012. And yet, these words transcend music lifestyles; almost anyone could relate to the underlying sentiments here.
"There's this cliché with musicians and dying young and everything where people say, 'Oh, it's a cautionary tale,'" Menuck says. "People say that and so there's all these fucking cautionary tales out there. But then there are these tales that aren't cautionary at all. They're just things that happen when you are living a life where you have to scramble to get by — when you're leading a stressful life.
"That's not just musicians, that's most of us in this world who weren't fortunate enough to be born into wealth or fall into wealth," he continues. "This is how most of us live in the world. So, both Poly Styrene and Fred 'Sonic' Smith — [the MC5's] Rob Tyner too — they are all people who died young, not because of excess. They died young because they had hard lives.
"So yeah, they became these little signposts," he concludes. "The record weirdly is — you said it already — a lot if it is about dying young."