Although Decoda is a classical chamber ensemble and Red Tail Ring is a folk duo, Decoda’s double bassist, Evan, claims that he shares a musical language with Red Tail Ring’s Laurel “more than anyone else that [he] knows.” Why? Their last names are both Premo; brother and sister, they grew up together in Michigan surrounded by the same mixture of classical, American folk and Scandinavian music.
Both Premos have found success in their preferred genres. Decoda is the first ever Affiliate Ensemble of Carnegie Hall; its members met while in fellowship together during the Ensemble ACJW program, a joint creation by Carnegie Hall, the Julliard School, and the Weill Music Institute. And Red Tail Ring is on the verge of releasing the fourth of their critically praised full-length albums. The band performs and tours extensively, putting on well over 100 shows per year.
But Evan and Laurel’s musical lives still intersect. Decoda has founded Beethoven and Banjos, an ongoing cross-genre collaboration wherein the ensemble works with a select folk act to specifically explore the musical heritage of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Decoda and Red Tail Ring’s joint performances—which feature songs written by Laurel Premo and arranged by Evan Premo—are an outgrowth of this project.
21CM’s Mark Rabideau interviewed Evan Premo and Anna Elashvili of Decoda as well as Laurel Premo and Michael Beauchamp of Red Tail Ring during their recent joint residency at DePauw.
Your music emerges from very different musical spaces, but you have shared history. So tell me about that background and how this collaboration came about.
EVAN PREMO: I’ve always had a passion for bringing different kinds of music together, and that came from my upbringing, playing folk music with my family. So it’s really wonderful to have the opportunity to bring this group that I’m now part of, Decoda, together with [Laurel’s] group, Red Tail Ring. We grew up in the same tradition, diverged, and now we’re bringing our two traditions back together.
LAUREL PREMO: Both my mother and my father were great instrumentalists and singers, and got Evan and I started very, very early on whatever we could pick up. So we both had rhythm in our bones very quickly.
Could you describe the nature of your collaboration?
EVAN PREMO: We started working together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where Laurel and I are both from. For that concert, we wanted to celebrate some of the land in Michigan and particularly the water—so, different bodies of water that were important to us growing up. Laurel [did] a lot of the composing; I was doing a lot of the arranging with the string players.
What do you take back to your own genres after your collaborations? Are there fiddle techniques that you take back to the violin?
ANNA ELASHVILI: Definitely—probably in very subtle ways—but I wanted to program [a] Bach piece specifically because I wanted to get in touch with the folk feeling of that gavotte, being able to also have a lighter touch to it, which I think very much has a fiddle-y origin. I think having the fiddling next to me—it definitely helps go there. It’s funny; violins used for fiddling do have a different sound. And you look for a different sound. You want something that has a slightly more nasal quality.
LAUREL PREMO: I find that maybe you’re looking for a more focused sound with classical, and I’m looking for more overtones.
Are there rules to the collaborative process? What’s the game plan for a successful collaboration?
MICHAEL BEAUCHAMP: I think trying is really important, because it doesn’t always work. But that’s the name of the game. You try it, and, at a minimum, you’ve got to just be open to giving it a go. Maybe it won’t sound like music at all, but it’s really exciting to walk in, meet someone, and 20 minutes later, you’re tackling a piece.
LAUREL PREMO: The more open you are and the more willing you are, the better it is.
MICHAEL BEAUCHAMP: Yeah, the more willing you are to engage in an open conversation about the music—just thinking, what do we need to do in this part to really accentuate aspects of the music that are unique and interesting to all of us?