The BLT Q&A: Common Prayer
By Kaitlin Fontana
The original Book of Common Prayerâ€”first issued in the 1500s to clergymen in the Anglican Churchâ€”was intended to formalize and tighten the rules around the dissemination of the churchâ€™s teachings. It did so, but it also had another effect, more widespread and completely in opposition to the churchâ€™s intentâ€”the rites, rituals, words, and meanings of the all-too-omniscient church were suddenly available to people all over England to read. Prayer, and its attendant power, was democratized. Whether youâ€™re a religious person or not, you have to admit thatâ€™s pretty cool: The Book of Common Prayer was the 16th centuryâ€™s internet.
The band Common Prayer shares some of the spirit of its namesake. No, this band is not the internet (I bet thatâ€™s not a phrase youâ€™ve read today), but their ability to communicate the rites, rituals, and power of music to the masses is indisputable. Common Prayer is a Brooklyn-based, sometimes folk/often rock outfit led by Jason Sebastian Russo (formerly of Hopewell and 90s alternative gods Mercury Rev). The band’s first album, There Is A Mountain, was released on Neil Halsted’s Big Potato Records in 2010, and hailed by the BBC as one of that year’s “most recommended under-the-radar releases.”
Common Prayer’s second album, Frame The River, will be released this October. Buy it then, but see them live, Saturday, June 8, as the musical guests on this monthâ€™s Beauty Love Truth. BLT recently chatted with Jason, and tried hard not let our teen-in-the-90s-alternative-leanings make us squee with delight.
The aliens have landed and one asks you to explain beauty, love, and truth. How do you explain these to them?
Jason Russo: I’d pantomime it. Like Mummenschanz.
Tell us something you think is beautiful.
JR: It’s beautiful that you can send me this question through the air. And that we can engage in the same conversation at different times, both presumably sitting at desks, having never met.
It’s pretty beautiful that I can hit send and a little electronic bird drops a bunch of 1’s + 0’s onto your desk that carry meaning from me to you. Most people say they don’t like computers, but I think they are beautiful. Every day my 77-year-old father emails excerpts from the books he is reading to a small list of people. Full of misspellings and typos. That’s beautiful, too.
When did the truth get you in trouble?
JR: When I thought I knew it.
Do you know other performers who have done Beauty Love Truth? What are you expecting? What are you looking forward to?
JR: Man, it’s just great to play a show outside the music scene. It will be nice to spend an evening with people who are laughing and not trying too hard to be cool.
How did you become a musician? Why do you keep doing it?
JR: I have no idea! I wanted to be a painter when I was a kid. Music is a compulsion for me, like a person who has to wash their hands or lick light switches every 10 minutes. I couldn’t stop even if I tried. Tara was a filmmaker until she quit one day and agreed to play for Common Prayer despite my not having asked her.
Beauty Love Truth: scenes inspired by music, with special guests Common Prayer is Saturday, June 8, 8pm, at Standard Toykraft (722 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn. Take the L to Graham or G to Metropolitan). Tickets are $10, donations welcome.
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Kaitllin FontanaÂ is a Beauty Love Truther who is also the author of â€œFresh at Twenty: The Oral History of Mint Records,â€ on ECW Press.