JPG: The next thing you did together as Cedar Sparks was the holiday song, “Gathering Song.” When that was released there was talk of a forthcoming EP or full album. Neither came out. Instead, it brings us to your current single, “Maggie” with “Blood on the River.” There was a break for two years in real time between those releases. Was it a matter of life and other things coming up and you realized it’s 2020, might as well finally put this out?
TC: Life interrupted. Lou got married. Lou had a child, well, not personally, but his wife had a child. I’m touring a hundred shows a year and producing two or three records a year, which is something that takes a minimum of a hundred hours for each record. Most of the time I’m traveling to do that. So, we’ve been doing it when we can.
We have the genesis of probably a dozen songs. We have one song that’s pretty much finished but we’re going to rerecord it. A couple of other songs that are…we know that they’re going to be really great and they’re in various stages of completion.
When “Gathering Song” came out we were more frequently working. So, with confidence we said, “Oh yeah. We’re going to do an EP or an LP. That’s coming up.” Next thing you know the time-space continuum wrapped around us.
LR: Yeah, commitments to other projects.
JPG: Because life has been on pause for while now–no touring, for example–have you been able to concentrate more on Cedar Sparks?
LR: That’s why we’re here. (laughs)
TC: We finished the single and we finished the video, which I thought was really important. We had filmed elements of the video that included Lou and I. The whole video was going to be a charcoal animation but we could never make that happen. In fact, for various reasons, not the least of which was the first fellow that we were working with on it, he got really bad carpal tunnel and, unfortunately, he had to give up that part of his career because he can’t get his hands to work anymore.
So, we were stuck. Looking at that video, we were like, “Some of it’s pretty good. Some of it’s…” Then, Lou came up with the idea of let’s talk about what happened to Maggie after. Let’s have her version of it interspersed with our playing and singing the song, having her journey in life and the afterlife juxtaposed with the lyrical content of the song.
LR: We finally had time to put that together and a lot of time to talk about it. Midway through the pandemic, Tim and I would mask up, go for a walk, talk about this stuff. We figured out some ways to make that happen whereas before we would both be busy with other things and we couldn’t nail down that time to do it. So, the whole pandemic moment or episode has allowed us to think more carefully and more clearly about what we’re working on and how we want to proceed. For live shows and for recording together, it’s not the best setup but for releasing and talking about the work, it’s been really good.
JPG: I didn’t know if the single was a preview or more to come in 2021.
TC: That’s the goal. I’d like to see that happen. We’re going to work out a way to finish writing the material. In our area and I’m pretty sure in your area too, everything has gotten very much worse. My wife works in the local hospital. She’s a speech pathologist. She’s not a nurse, but she’s still frontline because anytime anybody gets extubated (getting the breathing tube taken out), when they came off the vent, she has to be present. So, she’s works with COVID patients every day. Their precautions are extraordinary. I’m not that worried that anything’s going to happen to me because they can’t afford to have anything happen to them. But the fact of the matter is, they’re full up. They’re starting to put intensive care people in emergency room rooms now.
Also, amazingly, because it seems like this isn’t the way it is nationally, but the percentage of people that are actually passing away from COVID is greater now than it was in the spring.
LR: It’s not the best time to let our guard down and relax enough to try to get together with no caution. We have these tools. We have the best technology anybody’s ever had. So, we’re going to try to make the best of that and trade files down the hallway for now.
TC: When it calms down a little bit and the vaccine gets distributed, we do have a large space as part of this facility, the Castle Inn, and there’s a large building alongside of it that was the old dining hall. It’s theoretically possible for us to set up [instruments and amplifiers] and be well far away from each other. We would mask up and still be in the same room but like 15 feet away from each other. That’s a possibility down the road when things get a little cooler. My wife is like super even-keeled and she’s freaked out.
JPG: Sorry to hear that…Back to the single, how did you end up going in this direction, chronicling this murder and hanging?
TC: I read this book, maybe 25 years ago, called Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River written by Frank Dale. He was a New Jersey historian writer who lived in the area where I was. At the time I had a radio show on a local community radio station and I interviewed him on the radio ‘cause I read the book. The book is amazing because there’s dozens of really, really cool stories. You could probably write another half a dozen songs out of the book because the Delaware River, it’s filled with these amazing stories, and the one that really struck me was the story of Charles Getter and the murder.
From that point forward, I always had in the back of my mind, “Wouldn’t it be cool to write a song about this?” and I never did. When we were messing around and playing…I can’t remember how the idea came up. Do you remember Lou
LR: I think we were talking about canoe trips and the topography and have you ever been to the rapids by Getter’s Island? And it was, “You know how they came up with that name? That’s named after the murderer…” I had seen that Getter’s Island was for sale and I was like, “Let’s buy the island.” That’s south of here down river, maybe 20 miles in Easton, Pennsylvania.
We had also been talking about Harry Smith’s folk anthology (“Anthology of American Folk Music”). I’m not a bluegrass player or anything but I love the oral tradition of those stories. We talked about, “Let’s write a song about that.”
LR: It’s interesting. We were listening to this podcast recently where Dolly Parton was talking about her songwriting history and so many of her songs were these passed-down Appalachian songs and murder ballads and really dastardly songs of bad things happening to women by crazy men. We thought what if we got inside the head of this character and tried to paint a picture of who he was, why he did it and let people know that this happened and that the island is essentially named after a murderous cad.
We went back through all the historical society files. This guy was insane. He wore a white suit to his execution and he was glib and had all these crazy one-liners. So, we thought, “What a crazy character. We should do a psychological profile of him and inhabit it and speak in his language, so to speak.”
JPG: The two songs work very much as individual songs as well as being linked together due to the atmosphere and the emotion of them. “Maggie,” you sense a little darkness but then “Blood on the River,” from the very beginning, it’s just very dark and brooding. On your website, it says “recommended if you like” and one of the artists mentioned is Nick Cave and that makes a lot of sense. It seems like there’s more to be had with this. Have you considered expanding it? It almost seems like it should be a musical, like Sweeney Todd.
LR: We were talking about that with the video. This could be an actual film not just a short film for a music situation. It could be some interesting. Know any screenwriters?
TC: There is more to the story. He apparently was a man about town, if you know what I mean, got Maggie pregnant. She was young. Her father was good friends with the sheriff. The sheriff basically came to him and was, “Here’s the deal. Marry this girl or we’re going to string you up for a shotgun wedding without the shotgun.” And he did. From that point forward, he apparently proceeded to go on his merry business, just being a gadfly and a womanizer. Never really spent much time with her. I don’t know that he actually even moved in with her.
LR: There are differing accounts. So, we couldn’t quite figure that one out. But, there was another woman named at one point and it got so muddy that we took the liberty of saying, “What if we just make him so psychotic that he commits these horrendous acts out of love or what he thinks is setting them free eternally so that the pressure of what other people think or her father’s wishes are not a concern any longer?” So, we invented that part of it just to have some continuity for ourselves and some excitement for the story.
TC: If it was going to be pure fiction, that’s the origin story or it’s the first time anyone becomes aware of this, something has taken over this guy. It has happened before in history and it’s happened before that and you can go all the way back to Mesopotamia. There’s some sort of entity that takes over, if you want to get into that kind of pure evil thing that goes on, that lives on.
LR: It’s like the Red Violin: Murder Edition.
TC: Right. Exactly.
JPG: Sadly, it has gone on before and…
LR: It does go on. It’s the male ego and the caustic, dangerous nature of the patriarchy. These are things that are real. My friend just released a song dealing with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and, man, these guys were singing some really gnarly lyrics against women. Misogynistic shit. This is a way to bring that stuff to light and that could be this dark if we were talking about the screenplay. That could be the dark entity that possesses.
TC: It’s not just this one guy. It’s men in general.
LR: Mankind. It needs to be talked about because we’re evolved enough as a species to deal with this subject matter…I hope.
JPG: Finally, you put out a taste of what Cedar Sparks can do. Do you have any other plans for the future of the project?
TC: We have the raw materials for two LPs if we were going to press vinyl. We just have to finish the songs and then record them. We have the assets to record them. I have a recording studio. There’s a full-service recording studio on our floor. If we just get past this virus…This is what I really would like to do is make a Cedar Sparks record and follow it out.
It doesn’t have to be a through-line from Charles Getter because none of the songs from this point forward…
LR: …There’s no murder ballads. We’re not doing a new genre. We have songs that don’t deal with deadly situations or historical fiction. That’s not our corner but this was a good starting point because we had this and initially it was, “Let’s press a seven inch.” We worked really closely with this fabulous artist, Dylan, Garrett Smith, who we went back and forth with on everything, every little detail for the two songs. The intention was to have it pressed on vinyl with a poetic metaphor so that we didn’t spell the story out for people but they could hold the vinyl and really enjoy the seven-inch.
But because of the pandemic and the pressing scheduling and everything like that — the lack of touring — we decided to not do the vinyl. That was the whole intent. We were trying to find a window of time where we could tour on this. We have the players who’ve done gigs with us that we’re really close with who were gung ho about doing it. Now, we’re in this situation. So, we thought, “Let’s just get it out.” We can’t sit on this any longer and it’ll be a little morsel.
TC: It is what it is. Once again, Cedar Sparks works exists in a slightly different time and space continuum where our real time of one year equals three years in the real world. (laughs)
LR: Does that sound like dog years or backwards dog years?
TC: Backwards dog years. (laughs)
LR: (laughs) I like it though. It feels right that way.
TC: It’ll go faster. There were some things that came down the pike — not roadblocks, and I’m not even talking about the pandemic — but life interrupted. We’ve figured out the road around those obstacles. Putting out this single, just the act of it was, “Okay. We’re on the map now.” We put out the “Gathering Song,” which was great. I love that song. In fact it is my favorite Christmas song, if I could say so myself. We did zero publicity for “Gathering Song.” So, we’re trying to get people aware of who we are. That puts us on the clock in a way. We need to put something out in a more timely fashion now. Otherwise, what we’re doing now is, I’m not gonna say it’s wasted, but we wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of what we’re doing now and the work we’ve already put in.