If Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver had a cornfed Kansas baby, it might make music a little like that of David Burchfield and the Great Stop. The band's music is spare, lovely and interested in the mystical — and now that we've come to appreciate it, Burchfield and his bandmates are all headed in different directions across the country for graduate school. But, thankfully, they're not out before the band's debut album, Perseids, a beautiful collection of Americana, is released at the band's farewell/record-release show this Saturday at RecordBar. We recently caught up with Burchfield over a beer at the Brick.
The Pitch: Your band started out with you and Leslie [Hammer]. How did you two meet?
Burchfield: We met at a house show here for a band named Soil and Sun in Kansas City. We had some mutual friends, and I found out that she played banjo. I had just moved back to town, about three years ago. I liked her from the very beginning.
Where were you living before?
In Guatemala. After I graduated, I moved there to work for a human rights organization. We started playing that August. I had written all these songs while I was living in Guatemala and I wanted to make a record, so I recruited a bunch of musicians from my community and recorded these songs with a pretty big band.
What do you mean by community?
Specifically Jacob's Well. It's a church in town. It's a pretty progressive, pretty artistically vibrant community. There's like 50 semiprofessional musicians who go there, so it's pretty easy to find people to work with.
Could you explain to me what infrasound is and how that relates to your band?
Infrasound is just subsonic frequency, just below the range of human hearing. So it's out there, and you can actually feel it, like the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up, or like a shaking or a rumbling in your chest, but you can't hear it. It exists in things like — for instance, elephants use it to communicate over great distances because the wavelength is so long that it travels far. It's also a sound that we can't hear that occurs in natural disasters like volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. And on some organs, if they're big enough and they pull all of the stops, then the organist can achieve infrasound. It was used, and maybe still is in some places, to create this experience of the Holy Spirit.
Like a physical experience.
Yeah. This thing that's kind of unexplainable but very real. I feel most inspired by mystery and grandeur and wonder, and those kinds of ideas. That's where that song ["The Great Stop"] comes from.
How does it relate?
On an organ, when you pull all of the stops, it's called 'the great stop,' when infrasound happens.
Showing my musical ignorance, what does it mean to pull a stop?
On a pipe organ, there are these pegs that you pull out. If they're all pushed in, you're basically limiting how much air is coming through the organ. The more stops you pull, the more you're opening up. It's like a lung that you open up.
Ah! So that's what it actually means to pull out all the stops.
Yeah. That idea is really appealing to me. It's a musical thing that you can't hear but you can feel. This new album, especially more than the first one, a lot of it is related to grandeur and mystery.
Your first record as a band is coming out right before you make a big life change. But this is not the end of the band, correct? Did you want to release this before you left?
Yeah. The way this process began was, my bandmates and I just loved each other and loved to play music together. It was a really sweet time for us in a lot of different ways. One of us just came out of a breakup and needed community, and it was great for us to provide that. Another hadn't been in a band in a long time and really was missing that. It was just a great thing for all of us, and as Devon [Russell]'s time was ending, we thought, "We have to do something." There's this Ani DiFranco quote, "A record of an event of people making music in a room."
A mark in time. Like a photo album.
Yeah. The original idea was just to do it really fast and just have it for ourselves, but I'm just not really capable of thinking small, so it's just become a full-fledged thing. I'm working with a friend of mine, a budding producer and also a musician: David Bennett from the band Akkilles. He has built a great home studio and is probably my best friend in town. It was a good opportunity to work with a good friend and support him. I think it sounds pretty good for how we've done it.
What was the best part of recording this? Spending time with your bandmates?
It was such a collective experience. I just have so much love for David and Leslie, and my other bandmates.
It would be really nice to have something like that, where you could just put a nice bow on the end of an experience or a time period and then usher in a new experience.
Yes, and that is exactly what'll happen. But then it'll become its own thing. My first record, The Beginning EP, was all about my first girlfriend. But when I made it, I was with someone else, and now when I listen to those songs, I don't think about the first person. I think about the person that I loved when making it.