Murder on the high desert
Jasper Brown picked up an acoustic guitar to appease his mother.
She got upset that he wouldn't give her a copy of his punk band's latest CD. "I told her, 'You won't listen to it and you won't like it, so I'll make you an acoustic CD of songs I wrote,’ ” the Hobbs native recalls.
From that point on, Jasper Brown's sound changed. "I was doing a lot of heavier music, and it got to the point where I just wasn't feeling it anymore," Brown says. "I started doing this acoustic stuff and found out I could still be angst-filled and people would actually pay attention to you if you whisper instead of scream."
Brown says what he plays now has been characterized as suicide country, gothic Americana and desert folk. "My favorite description is, somewhere between Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd."
Brown knows how to put you in a trance. His guitar chords roll across verses describing death, addiction and deep regret. Brown has what might be called a calm metal voice. It's deep and gentle, with an ominous texture that lets you know Brown could bark all day if he wanted to.
The acrimonious lyrics are inspired by brutal honesty. "I've been through years of self-induced abuse," Brown says. "The truth is not always pretty. A lot of people take it as dark; I take it as realistic."
Brown's new album is inspired by the most heinous of human atrocities. Murder is Brown's second release on the Albuquerque-based Little Kiss Records label. Brown got the idea for the record after he learned a couple of his former high school classmates had been convicted of two separate murders. "It made me think, What possesses somebody to do that?" Brown remembers. "What really motivates people to kill one another?"
"I started doing this acoustic stuff and found out I could still be angst-filled and people would actually pay attention to you if you whisper instead of scream."
The recording process sprawled over three years; for almost four months of that time, Brown was often in the hospital visiting a relative. "I was spending 10 hours a day in the hospital and then walking over to the studio late at night," Brown says. "It was like, I need to do something to get my mind off of where I've been all day long."
Brown makes sure his lyrics are heard, but the backdrop to the words is just as important. "The story of the song is really what it's about—but if it doesn't intertwine with the music, then what is it?" Brown asks. "I really don't want one to dominate the other."
Two years ago, a handful of Brown's songs wound up on the soundtrack to American Meth, a documentary made by Farmington director Justin Hunt. The film exposes the effects of methamphetamine on American society. "I knew a lot of people who fell behind meth," Brown says. "Years ago, I fell behind it. I wrote about the truth of those times."
Live, Brown says he and his backing band throw in some cheerier tunes to balance out the gloom. Listening to an hour of "murder music" can be tough on a crowd, Brown explains. But the caustic qualities of Brown's work have attracted unlikely fans. At one gig, metalheads tuned into the singer-songwriter's words and liked what they heard. "It wasn't that they were real crazy about the music we were playing, but they actually started listening to the lyrics," Brown recounts. "They figured out, Hey these guys are pretty morose."
In another unlikely twist to the Jasper Brown tale, his band ended up playing in front of the news media during one of Mayor Martin Chavez' press conferences. Chavez was promoting his role in getting Little Kiss Records to the South by Southwest music festival and Brown provided the entertainment. "It was pretty neat," Brown says. "A guy who grows up in Hobbs and makes music about whiskey and suicide? You wouldn't really expect him to be playing in front of the mayor, sort of representing the city of Albuquerque."
Jim Almand • blues, singer-songwriter at The Cowgirl BBQ
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