So opens "Stull Pt. 1," Urge Overkill's oblique ode to a microscopic Kansas town. It's not surprising that a Chicago-based band would name a song after an obscure Midwestern burg; such references are common among no-coast acts looking to celebrate their shared culture. However, it was more than a need to understand fellow rockers' highway-sign-speak that led Kurt Cobain and Electric Hellfire Club vocalist Reverend Thomas Thorn to make pilgrimages to the church and cemetery depicted on the cover of Urge Overkill's 1993 Stull EP (which also contains UO's popular rendition of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon"). And fans of the long-defunct outfit aren't the only ones swarming to the site where the photo was taken. Allegedly, evil things happen there each Halloween -- spectacles involving demons, werewolves and Satan's spawn.
Lawrence multi-instrumentalist David Bagsby hasn't actually gotten close enough to observe such phenomena because police patrol the alleged hell's gate constantly, preventing vandalism and keeping the undead in line. But he got within camera range, and in addition to securing art for his album Jethro Stull, he found enough inspiration to provide a soundtrack for the scene.
Jethro Stull is a potentially unlucky offering. Containing thirteen songs, it's also Bagsby's thirteenth release. A spooky symphony filled with skeleton keyboards, chamber-door-tapping percussion and swarming strings, Stull chills and thrills in subtle ways, with no whistling winds, morose moans or rattling chains to force the mood. Its abstract instrumentation recalls King Crimson more than "Night on Bald Mountain" or other Halloween chestnuts. But there's still a sense of claustrophobic creepiness and increasing unease that might have made Stull a suitable score for intelligent psychological horror films such as The Ring or The Others.
"If someone asks me what kind of music I do, the best way I could put it is cinematic," Bagsby says. "At worst, people will think of Kenny Loggins and '80s movies, but I'm thinking more of Fantastic Voyage and Planet of the Apes, scores that can stand on their own two balls, even away from the films."
Until the right big-screen accompaniment comes along, Stull might work well on the sound system at haunted houses. It could also embolden curious occult adventurers to attempt séances, ceremonies and other activities involving candles and wacky wardrobes.
"This album is sold as a novelty only," Bagsby says. "I accept no responsibility for any mayhem or manifestations that result from playing it." No one has informed Bagsby of any plans to use Stull at his or her own fright nights, so the possibility exists that only Bagsby will pay the consequences for whatever savage spirits his compositions conjure. "So far, no weird goats have paraded across my porch," he reports. "If I vanish into the night, I might've hit on something."
Early in his career, Bagsby released Aviary, an album that uses conventional instruments to reproduce bird songs captured on digitized field recordings. On several occasions, he's revisited this approach, using wordless music to express specific concepts or re-create elements of nature. "How do you describe the smell of a sunflower through music without turning it into some vague, new-age thing?" Bagsby asks. "If you want to reproduce the idea of driving through Westport, without using car honks and dumb stuff like that, where do you begin?"
Pondering such questions, Bagsby sought software that enabled him to stretch his sonic spectrum. "People can basically hear anything from 20 hertz to 20 megahertz," he says. "I basically just jump off from there and make clouds of sound that crash into each other." Ignoring conventional understandings of pitch, rhythm and time, Bagsby stumbles upon some strange translating tools that allow listeners to see what he sees. But even with such knowledge at his disposal, it's nearly impossible to convey Stull's mysterious magnetism without including extensive liner notes.