Recently, NYC experimental rock outfit The Mortal Prophets (helmed by the formidable John Beckmann) announced the forthcoming release of their sophomore LP, Dealey Plaza Blues.
Today, the band unravels their third single from the album, a reinterpretation of the venerable blues classic, “Down on Me.” Echoing the transformative spirit of Janis Joplin, who gave the song a fresh twist with her 1960s vibe in 1967, Beckmann presents a modern adaptation steeped in techno elements. His rendition weaves an enchanting narrative, striking a chord as compelling as its historical counterparts.
Dealey Plaza Blues, a sublime melange of seven familiar tunes wrapped in new attire and three original compositions, captivates so entirely that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the old from the new. Beckmann’s potent, lurking baritone, in ‘Down On Me,‘ assumes an almost spectral guise against a backdrop of psychedelia. It is a contemporary resurrection of the timeless blues standard, brought to life with an injection of 2020s adrenaline, courtesy of the collaborative genius of Joe Filisko, Dylan Day, Tommy Bohlen, and the multifaceted co-producer/musician, Alexander Krispin. The song emerges anew, bathed in an ethereal light, as though reborn through Beckmann – and him, reborn through it.
On the new single and the forthcoming LP, The Mortal Prophets’ John Beckmann has shared with Post-Punk.com some insight into a few questions we had on the release:
“Down On Me” has a history that goes back to the 1920s, withstanding the test of time. What inspired you to take your spin on it and continue its legacy for your new LP?
That’s right, “Down on Me” is a traditional freedom song from the 1920s or earlier that became popular following its remake by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Eddie Head and His Family, (1930) on American Primitive Vol 1: Raw Pre-war Gospel (Revenant 206), were the first musicians to record it from my understanding, they only recorded four (4) songs, but they spiritually speak to me. We made the new version faster and more danceable, certainly more of an electronic vibe, it’s pretty off the wall, and it sounds nothing like the original in many ways.
Sonically, this project is quite experimental, seamlessly blending many different genres into one polished package. What is your general vision when you go about conceptualizing the sonic makeup of your releases, and what did that look like with this record?
Thank you. The new album “Dealey Plaza Blues,” was co-produced with Alexander Krispin (a protégé of Daniel Langois), explores new territories, and is more experimental in nature. We had a great deal of fun experimenting with different genres and styles to leverage new creative boundaries and preconceptions (including my own).
What would you say has influenced your direction as a creative, musically and in terms of your career otherwise, the most? How do these various practices inform each other?
My current practice has been to work on several projects (albums/eps) simultaneously with different producers and musicians. So, on one hand, it’s a continuation of the last album “Me and the Devil,” and on the other, it’s more experimental and edgy. Perhaps even darker, more unpredictable. The same thematic or aesthetic framework still exists, working with different collaborators and new musicians always brings fresh perspectives to the creative process, unexpected sonic textures, and an expanded musical palette to draw from.
Ultimately, I’m trying to blur the boundaries, which allows me to move fluidly between various conceptual boxes. I’m currently working again with two producers on a bunch of new material, but I’m going to surprise you and not tell you what we’re up to, it’s been anenormously creative period.
Listen to “Down On Me” below:
Dealey Plaza Blues follows in the hallowed footsteps of Horses, Contort Yourself and Marquee Moon as Beckmann takes well-worn, tradition-based templates and blows them wide open. The paradox of familiarity reimagined bursts through the album.
In the labyrinthine corridors of a mall record store during his formative years, Beckmann’s taste buds were first tantalized by “weird German shit.” Here, he cultivated a fondness for the esoteric tunes of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. His encounter with Captain Beefheart’s former companion-in-arms, Gary Lucas, set him sailing towards the sonic harbour that Mortal Prophets now call home. Beckmann’s reinvention of these perhaps not-so-modern art forms may initially seem a jolting evolution. However, once the ears embrace the sounds, it’s perceived more as a natural metamorphosis. From this point, the implications become intriguingly boundless. If Beckmann can reinvigorate the blues and lend new life to the rock’n’roll penned by Otis Blackwell, it stands to reason that his talent seems as limitless as the cosmos itself.
Last year, The Mortal Prophets shared their debut LP, Me and the Devil, on which Beckmann joined forces with Irish musician and producer William Declan Lucey (Rubyhorse, Leftbank) to develop the record’s atmospheric, noisy sound. Additionally, it features collaborations with Morphine’s Dana Colley, vocalist Aoibheann Carey-Philpott, and more. Previously, The Mortal Prophets dropped an EP, Stomp the Devil, produced by David Sisko and featuring collaborations with Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart).
Dealey Plaza Blues is out on July 28th.
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