Many moons ago I visited a far away land of castles, fairy tales, mountains, beer, and chocolate. Surrounded by the angular beauty of the faded and old Neues Rathaus, the vertical amazement of the Mariensäule, and the 4 story H&M full of fabulous deals was a feast of music which I had never heard before. All of the Marienplatz rung with tones of eastern beauty from a time before. My ears tingled and I stood in awe as these men dazzled the bystanders with bags of shoes, slim fitting pants and v-neck shirts. Their traditional attire provided a striking contrast against the European architecture and well dressed young people.
During a break between songs I asked the vocalist how much their CD costs, threw my money at him, and took the piece of plastic back across the ocean with me. This plastic bore the words “Hosoo & Transmongolia – Gesang des Himmels” on its face.
Long before any of us dirty American pigs existed there was the land of Tuva. Tuva is now part of Russia, but is more culturally similar to Mongolia. Born out of the influence from stringed Chinese music and the use of instruments such as the erhu, Mongolian and Tuvan folk music came to life and with it came the invention of throat singing. The invention of overtone singing as a whole allows people sing up to 4 notes at one given time. How many can you sing? Probably not one. Many countries and cultures have their own variations of throat singing including “yoik” which comes from Scandinavia and part of Russia, but none of these have become as popular as the originals.
To make things even more convoluted, there are many types of overtone singing with Mongolian and Tuvan cultures. The Mongolian types are called Khöömii, karkhiraa, and isgeree. Some Tuvan variations are called Sygyt, Kargyraa, Khoomei, Chylandyk, Dumchuktaar, and Ezengileer. Below is a video that is a good example of several variations.
This throat singing is paired with previously mentioned traditional stringed instruments to create an ancient music that has been a massive influence on many different genres and individuals over a long period of time. There are many practicing musicians of this to this very day and have even been featured on late night shows and stuff like that. Unfortunately, this music still has hardly any recognition on this side of the world.
I’m sure for a while now you’ve been thinking to yourself “what the fuck has any of this shit got to do with so called gothic americana?” A lot actually, so shut up you face and read these words, you plebeian.
Born from the ashes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and all the bluegrass you can dream up, many musicians like the fabled David Eugene Edwards dreamed of a way to turn the country music they grew up on into a more sincere form of expression. With this defiance of what they were raised on, many other genres of music were explored to find new ways to present what they wanted. One of these new influences brought to these pioneers was the aforementioned Tuvan folk. The likes of overtone throat singing and the melodies of the Gobi’s expanse naturally attracted these people brought up on American folk music.
Where does this gothic americana start anyway? Well the Denver area seems to be the main cultivation of this sound. The Denver Gentlemen were interested in taking ragtime americana, and chopping it up with the sensibilities of Tom Waits’ darker and more experimental tones.
The Denver Gentlemen was the first project of many Denver gothic country acts and when they split up formed 16 Horsepower (that later went on to break up and form Woven Hand and Lilium) and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club (which helped launch Jay Munly and his other projects). This interwoven community created the influence for artists across the country to solidify the sound.
The Tuvan influence wasn’t immediately obvious and took the likes of 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand and Jay Munly to express these influences overtly. Banjolins and resonator guitars aren’t exactly morin khuurs and yatgas, after all. ‘Dar He Drone‘ is an more obvious and extroverted example of the influence featuring full on throat singing over a country influenced drone track with swelling builds and wave like sounds similar to how it’s used in the origination of the style.
‘To Make a Ring‘ by Wovenhand also features obvious Tuvan influence with the droning stringed instruments and wooden and natural percussion tones.
Even David Eugene Edwards’ earlier project 16 Horsepower showed signs of this influence on its sleeve, as represented by this track titled after the American name for the morin khuur.
The gothic americana movement is equivalent with the gothic country movement, as many bands portray both sides of this style simultaneously, proving to all skeptics and music nerds that country is an amazing musical scene when you know where to look.
So, what was the point of writing about this on a metal blog? I know this site, for the most part, caters to a particular audience just within metal itself. This is something I’ve always tried to stray from. I want to introduce people to the world of music. There’s bound to be bluegrass and country out there that even the most THALL of kids will enjoy. I want to make sure these Tuvan musicians garner new fans and support, because I love their work. People need to know that just because you play a banjo you don’t molest your sister and drive your truck.
People need to know this style of expression. I believe 16 Horsepower’s album Folklore is one of the greatest releases in the history of music and I want people to listen to it. I want tolerance for different music to be promoted in with metal. I hope this article will give a jumping off point for people to look into new music and discover a whole new world of haunted middle class men and traditional Asian culture and show you how influence has spread across the world. Most of all, I want people to enjoy them, and understand them.
Without diversity, music is nothing.