Dirges In The Desert: A Practice Session With Hurdle

A Practice Session With Hurdle

Mark Lopez
6 min read
Dirges in the Desert
Guitarist Matt Corson (Photo by Mark Lopez)
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They’re called Hurdle. A folk, pop, rock ensemble that takes their time practicing and perfecting nuanced noises in a lush rehearsal space in northwest Albuquerque. It’s drummer Karl Wulffraat’s property, a garage converted into a beautiful guest house; beamed ceilings, couches with flannel throw blankets, numerous plants, kitschy objects (a sewing mannequin covered in pins, a globe) and artwork in the corner. Hurdle consists of a drummer, aforementioned Karl, guitarist/singer Matt Corson and bassist Peter Lisignoli. Their acoustic sound is basic, no trickery, just a trio of dudes who enjoy writing and playing.

Formed in February or March of last year, the band has sustained a comedic camaraderie that gives somewhat of a casual feel to their music. Though they’re skilled musicians, they don’t take themselves too seriously. No mics, no recording equipment, just the acoustics of the room guiding them along. All they need are the drums, a stand-up bass, a guitar and a touch of tambourine to add a whimsical flair to their brand of folk. As they jump right in on the first song (“Hollywood Happy”), I notice their sound is like a spaghetti Western film, bits of saloon debris collecting like mounds of dust, messy but calculated.

After the song is over, Matt asks Peter, “Wanna break out the bow?” “Rosin up your bow!” Karl calls out, his voice echoing from the high-beamed ceiling. Peter talks about taking his bass into music stores where people refer to it as a POS (piece of shit, for the unfamiliar folks). “Only I get to talk about my POS!” he says with a laugh. They start on the second song, which reminds me of the album
Feast of Wire by Calexico. A calling of the desert, wisps of sand blowing into a lovely room, hospitable meets the inhospitable. The bow adds a sinister quality before uptempo notes and crashing drum cymbals pound a lovely, uplifting rhythm into the hymn’s somber tones.

After the piece is over, Karl asks his bandmates if they’ve seen “The Grapes of Wrath” on Netflix. They make jokes about modified grapes and “grapo-plasty” before Matt calls out the next song to practice. They go into another tune that sounds similar to the previous songs. It seems to me that it would be easy for songs played on only three instruments to sound exactly the same, but as songwriters, these guys know how to make individualized ditties that don’t necessarily rely on predecessors to relay their poignant messages. They stop midway through, with Matt laughing.

“I can’t stop looking at you [he motions to Karl] because it looks like you just got back from Ash Wednesday. You have stuff on your forehead,” he laughs. “Which is appropriate when we’re doing the atheist song.”

After Karl cleans his forehead, it’s time for the board. The board has a list of songs in dry-erase marker that the band is currently working on. Names like “The Sheep,” “Someday,” “Bitch” and “Forbidden.” Before going into the next tune, Karl comedically regales the group with stories of a friend’s cocktail parties with “erudite people getting drunk and not making sense, saying things like ‘if we’d just admit we’re an oligarchy.’” They laugh before going into the next number, which has flamenco guitar elements, giving a Latin flair to their already-Southwestern sound.

I’m captivated by this one; lyrics like “It’s alright if nobody finds us. It’s alright if nobody cares” provide a romantic sentiment to the end of days. It’s haunting, beautiful; Matt’s vocals like a countrified grandpa without the twangy inflection. His voice deep and eccentric; it goes perfectly with the music’s tone. Only when the song is over does the band display somewhat of a perfectionism that wasn’t apparent at first listen.

“It was a little too fast,” Matt says. “Something was off at the beginning, and I think we tried to fix it by going fast. I don’t like doing it twice, but let’s try it again.” As they slow it down, Matt nods his head, smiling; he likes this rhythm better, though as a listener, I can hear moments where it’s still a little off. They’re trying to stay on the same wavelength, like a boat trying to right itself on harsh tides. Then the tune is over. “It was a lot better,” Matt intones. “God, that one is a pain in the ass, but I made it through. I need a break,” he says as he grabs a drink in the back.

Before tuning up to play the next one, the band fucks around a little by playing the “Mission: Impossible” theme, while Matt listens back on a previous recording of their song “Phone” on his laptop, trying to map out the instrumental transitions. “I thought that was the verse,” Karl says. “No,” Matt answers, “this is the bridge, but I’m not gonna sing it. We’re just putting it at the beginning of the song. Let’s just give it a try.” “Let’s do it!” Karl says. As the band plays, it’s noticeable how intuitive a drummer Karl is. Just looking at Matt, he can feel the notes, notice the cadences, able to predict what’s coming next.

It’s nice to see the acknowledgment of gratitude the bandmates give one another when the song is done right, when they’re all in sync with one another, a sliver of promise embedded within hitting the right chords, at the same time, together, a beautiful comfort, a righteous moment.

“I’m really psyched about this song,” Peter says, once it’s over and quiet.

Almost two hours in, the band is about ready to call it quits. They decide to play one last tune (“Better”), boasting lyrics like “getting older is better than dying young,” dismantling the rock and roll myth of living fast and going out in a blaze of glory, all within the span of two to three minutes. It’s appropriate since two of them are in their forties, and are clearly tired of the standard clichés of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Then it’s over. Peter packs his stand-up bass. Karl’s wife comes in with their 11-month-old son who takes the sticks and starts pounding on the drums. And Matt’s headed home to shower and change to go see a free show at Stereo Bar. Just another Sunday at church … well, a band’s church.

Hurdle with Danny the Harp

Low Spirits

2823 Second Street NW

Saturday, June 6, 9pm


Dirges in the Desert

Bassist Peter Lisignoli

Photo by Mark Lopez

Dirges in the Desert

Drummer Karl Wulffraat

Photo by Mark Lopez


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