Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

In a landscape of forgetfulness, certitude and remembrance can be discovered in rules. For some, the severity that accompanies the rules and laws of life – both internally and externally, can become a burden. However, the simple fact remains: we all abide by rules. And laws.

Josephine and the Mousepeople (avicado, dannyberry), a relatively new blur in the Denver musical soundscape, understand the critical notion that there is freedom within rules. Law does not have to bind. Law can emancipate. Even if we’re talking about personal laws. Personal rules.

Laced within every other concept in the world that is taller than you and me, this concept of internalizing ideals alone seems to be guiding this provocative, punchy songwriting act with a strange name.

Josephine and the Mousepeople (JAM) probably originated many years ago, in avicado and dannyberry’s adolescence. If not musically, they came together as heartfelt friends who have remained true. Childhood friends from Chicago, the act concretized when avicado moved to Denver two years ago. Ever since the symbiosis between the pair has been emphasized. And more than that, it has evolved into a production of songs that are pushing at the seams of all the rooms they inhabit.

JAM’s name is taken from a Franz Kafka story. And more than listening to the sounds these boys have created – in watching them you can begin to understand where their power lays. In Kafka’s story, Josephine is a singer. She is revered but the mousepeople are also uncertain as to what to think of her – they believe her to be fragile and vulnerable yet somehow distinguished and important. In this, both avicado and dannyberry are pieces and parts of Josephine. But they are also part-mousepeople, the people.

And while JAM will not overextend this metaphor, it is appropriate for all the right reasons. Their music is gorgeous all while remaining slightly unorthodox. Clearly what they create are, inherently, songs. At heart, they are songwriters of the highest order. But with all the textures and dynamics within their songs, this fundamental fact can be easily overlooked. It is to this end that JAM is pushing at the sleeves of traditional elements of songwriting.

JAM is percussive in that dance-like, trance-like kind of way. Both avicado and dannyberry admit to a proclivity for electronic music. Topically this is where their songs diverge from traditional singer/songwriter acts. But this is also where they intersect as songwriters and even more importantly, as composers.

Music has an inherent essence. And however you describe that essence, for JAM it is about authenticity and finding one’s own voice within the boundaries of what has been presented a priori – before you came into being. Because while you can push and tug and expand its boundaries, music has rules. Laws. Pythagoras of Samos, the great Greek thinker, learned some of these basic laws (most particularly on harmonics), thousands of years ago. To this day, these rules, or harmonic laws, hold true – before you or I, or even Pythagoras, were born.

While avicado or dannyberry is composing, they probably aren’t explicitly thinking of the laws and constraints that they are working within. However, because they understand the boundaries and rules afforded to them in this musical medium – they, like other musicians, are able to float above these rules. Because they have internalized them.

Here, again, is JAM’s notion of strict circumstances creating abounding freedom.

For while they feel, in avicado’s words, that in the songwriting process, they are trying to stuff a mansion inside a closet; and they sense the colossal task that is entailed therein – their ultimate quest is in creating their authentic voice. This is not to say that they are trying to explicitly, quantitatively carve a mathematical notch in this world out that is truly them. To the contrary, their approach feels much more qualitative; ethereal; mystical. Dare I say, spiritual?

In performance, avicado and dannyberry wear white robes. I’m not so sure that it’s for religious reasons why they don these robes as it is for the fact that they haven’t found the right costumes to dress as a queen and a mouseperson. Still, the ritual is appropriate. Their robes are white. Like painters, they are exhibiting their cleanliness in stepping onto the stage. Because what happens once on stage, well… I will say that it doesn’t leave them clean.

On stage and JAM is a dynamic force. They are powerfully energetic, writhing and dancing and shaking as though they are trying to pull something even further, up and out of themselves. Often, one of the other of them will end-up on their back, on the floor, shaking and signing and shouting up at the ceiling, and beyond.

Stripped down to their bare songwriting bones with acoustic guitars and JAM is authentically a singer/songwriter duo. And where electronic elements can be gimmicky, they have managed to surpass ankle-high tricks and exalt in that place of high intelligence. Of astounding production.

Just like Josephine, and when she sang to the mousepeople, JAM may take a few moments to comprehend. There is a complexity to their varied sounds. Most pieces run in different directions. At times, it’s difficult to pin them down – but this is to their credit. Their sound is that rich, that voluptuous. Running analogous to the electronic music that both avicado and dannyberry appreciate – just stepping into a piece of music is not enough. A good piece of music begs time for comprehension. For understanding.

The analogy here is in JAM’s songwriting process. For them, it is always about learning about the other balancing pole in the relationship all while it is about learning about how and where you can be pushed – to further strive toward that authentic, personalized voice. For them, everything begins inside, as a solitary pursuit. But as the world is polemic, there is always a drive to extend the internal lessons learned, into the external world.

Extending the dichotomy a step further and like their beloved electronic music, JAM’s music is about the heartbeat in humans as much as it is about the concrete world that surrounds those humans. Their music is about connecting and communicating – with themselves as a musical act, as two friends with a history, but also with the world outside of themselves.

Honestly, there is a lot to philosophize and conceptualize within the sound of JAM. And while I could spend time dissecting their music – there is no need. From avicado and dannyberry’s ideas and concepts and their earnest pursuit alone – you can gain a grasp on the profundity and solemnity that they are approaching all of this with. If you need more, of course there is their musical output. To that end, “She Needs Fire” is an exemplary song, firing on all the cylinders that make any musical piston ignite an engine, or a whole being, even a whole community.

And while they won’t shout it out, there are some striking correlations between Kafka’s tale and JAM. It was said that Josephine trembled physically, as though it were coming from behind her sternum. When I sat to speak with JAM, always present with avicado was a slight tremble. More than that, there seems to be a higher purpose to their endeavor as musicians – not only in their lives, but in the lives of those around them. And while they by no means would ever state or even imply this, I do think that a quote from Kafka’s tale bears relevance here, if not only for JAM, for any engaged in creating work that attempts to communicate with the world around them:

“Sometimes I have the impression that our people sees its relationship with Josephine rather like this: that she, this fragile, vulnerable, somehow distinguished creature, in her opinion distinguished by her song, has been entrusted to us and that we must look after her; the reason for this is not clear to anyone, only the fact seems to be established. But what has been entrusted to one's care one does not laugh at; to do so would be a beach of duty; the utmost spite that the most spiteful amongst us can vent on Josephine is when they sometimes say: 'When we see Josephine it is no laughing matter.'”

- Franz Kafka, “Josephine, the Songstress or: The Mouse People” To be certain, JAM is no laughing matter. They are one of the breakout acts of 2008 and you can expect them to gain a quick local following with their hearty recordings and their unparalleled stage shows. Keep up with avicado and dannyberry, here: www.myspace.com/josephineandthemousepeople.