Wounded Knee: Pieces of a Paradox

Having achieved equal praise to criticism with his debut album, it seems Leith-based mouth music maker <strong>Wounded Knee</strong> has found a way to record Marmite. We ask him for the recipe.

Feature by Lauren Mayberry | 26 Nov 2009

To those critics who thought Edinburgh venues were overflowing with bad cardis and worse lad rock, take note: Wounded Knee – with one of the most rewarding and confuddling live shows in the capital at the minute – will surely challenge your perceptions.

Drew Wright's one-man show is a primitive, instinctive exploration of anti-folk, created by the dynamic layering of a God-given voice and an Akai Headrush II loop/delay pedal. Describing his sound as ‘janus music,’ ‘dubh wop’ and ‘portable port a beul’ (me neither), Wounded Knee is one of the more unusual musicians to have crawled into the local consciousness of late. Having played the circuit since 2004, enjoying a previous life as a DJ where he "tried to get tanked up civil engineers to dance to Moodymann records," the thirty-something is influenced by a cacophony of artists, most notably Chicagoan DJ wunderkind Theo Parrish. “I try to be true to myself and I admire that in others,” he explains. “I get material from various sources: books, newspapers, conversations, my brain.” With his earliest songs consisting of just a couple of vocal lines developed and swarmed on top of each other, the Leith-based musician has been stitching lines together to create longer songs of late. “I like that collage, cut-up process where you can piece together words and phrases and make strange narratives,” says Wright.

An active participant in Edinburgh's resurgent DIY culture, Wright professes to enjoy adapting traditional songs like Glenlogie or O Can Ye Sew Cushions, placing emphasis on the uniqueness of every show. “One thing that runs through every performance is to start from nothing and see where the music goes," Wright asserts. "That’s where the variety comes from. Any shows where I’ve stripped down to my purple pants have been quite something for the audience, I’m sure.”

Having self-released a number of CDRs and cassettes previously, Wounded Knee’s Shimmering New Vistas was released on Benbecula Records in March this year. Capturing the oddness of his live sound – opener My Wooden Cupboard featuring various snippets of laughter – Wright’s humour is evident throughout. As the harmonic pieces build up and the one-man madrigal begins, it’s difficult not to be taken in by the timbre of his voice, River Song featuring perhaps the deepest vocal tone, tickling the very underbelly of baritone notes. That just one mouth creates all these sounds, undulating and escalating, is simultaneously dumbfounding and impressive.

Still, Wounded Knee’s act can be a bit of a head scratcher. There are those who find Wright’s unrefined voice inaccessible, teetering toward the wrong side of Marmite. Indeed, two songs on his latest release rumble on past the ten minute mark, one track in particular stretching well over a quarter of an hour. Yet the same skepticism has dogged artists ranging from Leonard Cohen and Neil Young to, more recently, Conor Oberst: musicians with profoundly individual voices which leave as many cold as they do elated. Despite those few unfavourable reviews, Wright emerges unscathed, keen to focus on those who are swept away by his unusual tones. “I hope that I can inspire people, get them going. Take them places. Show them things. And make them smile.”