Mineral’s Chris Simpson releasing Zookeeper retrospective & 6-part doc (watch part 2 now)
After fronting Mineral and The Gloria Record but before starting his newer solo project Mountain Time, Chris Simpson made music with his Zookeeper project. He's now set to release Saint Francis, Zookeeper, a retrospective release with the first two Zookeeper records (2006's Zookeeper's World and 2007's Becoming All Things) remastered for vinyl and three previously unreleased songs, including "Neon Heart," which is out now. Chris says that song came to him all at once, but it took two or three painstaking days to finish. "I viscerally remember the song because I remember those days. I remember how sad it felt to sit inside the song for that long. I remember walking around in an almost fugue state—not always sitting at the piano working, but even, when doing other things, in some very real sense, still working on the song. It’s almost like an out of body experience."
Along with Saint Francis, Zookeeper, Chris is rolling out a 6-part documentary on the Zookeeper years, narrated by Seth Woods, who was "was around for all of it, [f]irst as a coworker, then as a friend, a cheerleader, a band member, musical director, wedding officiant, and de facto archivist," and who also penned the liner notes for the vinyl release. Part one recently came out and we're premiering part two in this post. Chris gave some background on the documentary via The Talkhouse:
Back in 2004-2007 I was obsessed with documenting things. It wasn’t just the reels of tape we filled at the studio. I also carried around an old video camera, documenting early versions of songs as I wrote them, random landscape shots filmed while driving around town listening to rough mixes of our studio sessions, quiet moments watching the animals we shared our hearts and home with. I often invited photographers to come by the studio or the house while we worked, or even just hung around and buzzed about. I can’t say why I was so interested in documentation at the time, but it seemed intrinsically right. I was coming to recognize the process as its own reward. I wanted nothing more than to fill my own room, my own house and life with these songs and these people.
After almost a decade of playing in bands, first Mineral (1994-1998) and then The Gloria Record (1998-2002), I was all of a sudden a man without a country. I was diving headlong into the works of Van Morrison, Harry Nilsson, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and The Band. I wanted to write songs first and foremost. Simple songs that could be played alone on an acoustic guitar or piano. Then I wanted to fill rooms with people to help bring them to life in as spontaneous and magical a way as possible. It wasn’t about arranging, or thinking things out or through. It was only about the soul of the thing. The spirit and feeling. The willingness to show up.
Read more here. Chris also had this to say about part two:
One of the greatest things about the Zookeeper years was the incredible humans and musicians who came into my world. They were young, tender, passionate and driven. For the most part they were unfamiliar with my past bands and work. Many had little to no experience in recording studios or on the road. Their innocence and openness was an integral part of what we were able to create together. Every time I listen to the recordings that make up Saint Francis, Zookeeper I am reminded what a gift they gave to me.
What I was interested in and drawn to at the time was people. More than a specific instrumental ability. I was interested in soul, and I feel very fortunate to have found myself in the company of such giants. Their warmth and love and spirits are infused in every nook and cranny of the songs. They set sail with me, not knowing where we were headed or how or when we would return. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for at the time. Our mission was the journey itself.
As we filled reels of tape and temporarily dropped anchor in strange ports we knew only three things: we were free, we were having fun, and we believed. If we had our doubts about the last one occasionally, the first two would inevitably lead us to some new discovery that would quickly reinstate our faith in the process. We knew there was no time, only the ecstatic and elated drum of the present and the cool wind in our sails. Or the dead stillness of the night on deck, where we fed our hungry souls with love, laughter and song.
Watch the first two parts of the documentary and stream "Neon Heart" below. Saint Francis, Zookeeper comes out August 27 via Spartan Records. Pre-order it here.