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Published: October 20, 2010
Black Prairie launch tour, perform in Columbus this weekend
Artful string music troupe Black Prairie is on the road traveling east. The progressive folky
bluegrass quintet recently initiated its 10-city Burn Down The Organ Tour and will perform
Saturday, October 23 in Columbus at KOBO.

The Portland, Ore. band includes three members from indie folk-rock band The
Decemberists: Chris Funk (guitar, dobro), Nate Query (cello, acoustic bass) and Jenny
Conlee (accordion).

Funk and Query formed Black Prairie in 2007 after intentions to start a project with an
acoustic instrumental focus. The band's lineup was made complete with Portland
musicians Annalisa Tornfelt (vocals, violin)  and Jon Neufeld (guitar).

The band released its debut
Feast of the Hunter's Moon (Sugar Hill Records) this year
with producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, Mudhoney, Sufjan Stevens).     

Although the music on the album may vibe like a soundtrack to John Steinbeck's
Grapes Of Wrath
, the diverse spins on contemporary arrangement make the album's
aura far less boring than the book. The band's fusion of American grassroots and
European Balkan styles showcase the member's inventiveness through utilizing its
combined expertise.

Black Prairie founding member Chris Funk recently took time out for an interview.

OOTB: In three or four words how would you describe Black Prairie’s sound?
Chris: Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass. Kidding. I'm bad at that. I have no idea. People ask
and I say it's a string band with an accordian, some vocals from time to time.

OOTB: How did the band meet, form and solidify in 2007?
Chris: Well there is the obvious connection between Jenny, Nate and I as we are all in the
Decembersits. We've all know Jon and Annalisa from the Portland music community,
more specific to the bluegrassers who dabble in rock, and we were looking for people who
could really rip in the bluegrass or traditional acoustic idiom, and they were those people.

OOTB: What were some struggles or challenges while writing and recording Feast
of the Hunter’s Moon and how did the band overcome them?
Chris: Well when we went in the studio, about 80 percent of the songs were half written,
meaning we had the ideas and changes, but really hadn't played them as a group. So the
challenge was, as always in the studio, just getting the track's vibe level high, sounding
like real music instead of a layered pop sound I suppose, just getting the tracks to have
vibe and spirit.

In writing it, it was remembering the arrangements as we are a little lazy and we didn't
want to score or notate all of it. We were forgetting arrangements left and right, which
actually in the end probably made them more free and interesting as we landed on the
final LP.

OOTB: What are some of the band member’s musical or artistic influences and
what role do they play in defining Black Prairie’s sound?
Chris: Not speaking specifics, again, roots music which is old time, bluegrass, Romani
music, jazz, classical, rock, and the willingness to experiment and just be open to as least
try something once.

OOTB: Does the band as a whole or the debut album itself have a goal or message
it would like to convey to listeners?
Chris: Stay in school. Stay off drugs. Help fight Mr. Tooth Decay.

OOTB: Describe the general writing process and arrangements in conjunction
with the various instruments used.
Chris: In the writing process, I know Nate and I go to the piano from time to time. And
Annalisa goes to guitar for vocal stuff, and I leave the dobro and often work on chord
changes on guitar as well. Jenny and Jon both just play their instruments. Annalisa also
draws from fiddle tunes, from just playing I believe.

People just bring in a seed of a song and we go from there. It's very in the moment when
we are creating together, people wing out ideas and we try them. It always feels very
inspired and in the moment, and everyone is up for it all which is great fun.

OOTB: Why did the band choose to cover “Red Rocking Chair” and “Blackest
Crow” and how were the interpretations and new style determined?
Chris: "Red Rocking Chair" came from us wanting to try some vocal tunes at the urging of
Sugar Hill. Annalisa had sung it on her own, an arrangement similar to the end result and
we just loved the haunting quality. "Blackest Crow" was my idea, I loved that song, but I
wanted to try a traditional song over a sound scape of sorts, an improv and just see where
it went. We love doing those sound beds, it's creating a real mood or color instead of just
a song which is Interesting to us.

OOTB: In terms of Black Prairie, how would “success” be defined? What goals
does the band have and how far would you like to see it “go”?
Chris: I think we defined it as getting on a great label, which we did and getting the record
done. That simple. None of us have expectations, we just like to hang out and write and
now play shows which we hadn't done until our record came out.

OOTB: How did the tour’s name “Burn Down The Organ” come about?
Chris: In the video for "Red Rocking Chair" we burned an old pump organ Jenny owned,
so it started there. We play a bunch of song that are instrumental so we are always
kicking around names for things, I don't remember who called that one out. It really means
nothing, sorry.  Maybe it's how my stomach will feel after the fourth day of shows or

OOTB: What’s next after the October tour?
Chris: Three shows in the Pacific Northwest and then we are going to focus on two
different releases.

OOTB: Hypothetically if you weren’t involved in music, what would you be doing?
Chris: Washing dishes.

OOTB: If each band member were to ride a fictitious horse across a black prairie,
what would each horse’s name be?
Chris - Grumpy
Jenny - Rainbow
Annalisa - Irriadessa
Nate - Never Lost
Jon - Always Lost

OOTB: Anything else you’d like to add for readers and fans to know about?
Chris: We will be performing all of our shows in "the buck" as they say.

Black Prairie will rock the folk out at
KOBO in Columbus on Saturday with Portland's
Nick Jaina and Columbus local group Alwood Sisters.  
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An interview with founding member and guitarist Chris Funk
Out Of The Blue
Black Prairie (feat. members of The Decemberists) play this Saturday at KOBO, 2590 N. High St. in Columbus. Publicity Photo.