Call: Stephen Jenkinson
My gig has been a solo one most of the time. It suited me. Still does.
In the early going it was all I could do to conjure some event that people might find compelling enough to attend, and then get there myself, and then do it. And do it again. For years.
And along the way I met Gregory Hoskins, and something seemed possible, some kind of collaboration. Possible, and no more. For a few years we nursed it, took it out on the road, made a record. The whole thing was skittish, though, and never did settle into a genre or a style.
I knew that his wife Lisa Hodgson had played with him occasionally over the years. We talked about the idea of her joining us. That’s like having kids: if you talk about it at all, they’re half way to you almost at once. We put together a little combo that included Lisa on keys. The sound was scarey-big to me. It was good, though. We toured, and it started to feel a bit like brigands having at havoc, like we had an idea we knew what we were doing, that there was something nervy and a bit dangerous about the whole thing.
Finding out that someone you know can sing, I mean really sing, is like finding out they have a child you’ve never heard about. On tour I found out Lisa could sing, really sing, live. And she could listen, which might be three quarters of being able to sing, especially in a band. Especially in this Grief/Mystery thing we were calling into being.
I had this piece that we did, that I called The Invocation, that we started every show with. It had come to me whole and adamant. It was a prayer, a calling out and a calling down. It was plea, it was fair warning about what was at stake each and every night.
Gregory and I ended up in Mexico recording this spring. We had a 4 continent/70 city tour in the works, and we were working up some new ideas. Very gingerly, we recorded a straight, quieted version of The Invocation, and reimagined it as a duet of some kind. I started writing an elaboration of what The Invocation was, what it meant to me, what it asked of the audience, what it did to me to intone it every night. It was going to be him and I maybe, some kind of call and response …
The tour was killed, and the recording continued, and by the time we came back to Canada one of us imagined asking Lisa to consider doing the ‘call’ part. And a few months went by, and I heard that she went into the studio with Gregory and did a whispered reading of The Invocation. And then she got some nerve, I guess, and she sang all the pieces that make up the call. In the first five seconds of hearing what they’d done I knew that she’d found it. She found something new and something grand in what I’d been doing for five years, something that I didn’t know was there.
And what she found is what made Exegesis on Rough Gods what it is. It’s a full throttle spirit opera of a thing, solemn and funky and mandatory and an utter collaboration , the kind I wasn’t capable of without her.
Listen to how she sings it. Then listen to how she listens.
Response: Lisa Hodgson
Let there be no doubt.
Some opportunities invite you to be capable, maybe go so far as assuming you are until you prove otherwise. When the idea of adding my voice to The Invocation was floated, it meant unravelling what I’d aspired to as a singer in the past: an evocation of beauty of a personal kind. But from the get go I knew I was up against something far more transcendent than my own expression. This wasn’t about me at all. So, what did I do? I got worthy.
Sliding the headphones over my ears, listening. Ready? Hell no. I got into the practice of muttering a quick but direct plea beseeching my Old Ones for direction. Something like, “Conduct me, please”. Whether it worked is not for me to say, but it did take the edge off my foreboding willies, and helped calm my meddlesome mind.
Here’s an example. “Welcome, friends …”, the first words that I sing. “Friends” hangs as though it’s made up of pieces of note shrapnel suspended in the air. Technique wise, it’s off kilter, but it has in it the intention of extending a sweaty-palmed hand to the Ancestors with humility and sincerity. During a break in recording, Stephen and I walked in the mostly deserted downtown, talking about the approach to the words, how they weren’t what they seemed at first blush, and who they were aimed at: not the crowd, but the Ancestors, giving me access to a way to properly address them. Back at the studio and in front of the microphone, the shrapnel flew and he was the first to throw up his arms with a jubilant YES!!
The place at the table has been set. Now let’s see if they come.
I am beholden to Stephen and Gregory for this opportunity, for sowing the seeds, for excavating and unearthing something so bewildering and astonishing. They are both impeccable in their craft, the same deliberation from first word to last note.
Encountering the Invocation came with initiation, as anything worthwhile does. Every word is a plea that comes with responsibility and weight. For me, the spirit work of it gave rise to as many ‘throw down in the dirt tempestuous brawls’ as it did a ‘soaring on the wings of enchantment’ kind of deliverance. Phew.
Grief and Mystery. There it is again.