Project Song

Chris Walla And J. Robbins Create 'Mercury'

Not everyone can write and record a song in two days, but that's the Project Song challenge faced by Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and J. Robbins (of Jawbox and Burning Airlines). What made this project especially difficult was that the two had never even met before they stepped into NPR's performance studio.

But it didn't take long for Robbins to pick up his bass guitar, for Walla to pick up a guitar, and for the two to begin their musical friendship.

I supplied some inspiration for their song: photo collages created by artist Tom Chambers. They chose a photograph of a house in a canyon filled with water, tilted and flooded. Not far from the house is a dog on a boat, floating either toward or away from the house. I also supplied a series of words. They selected the word "cerebral" and promised when they wrote the song not to be too cerebral about it.

Walla and Robbins were joined by Robbins' friend, drummer Darren Zentek. The song they created, "Mercury," takes its subject matter from that photograph, which is a bit of a cataclysmic scenario turned into a song about the climate crisis.

And a great song it is. You can hear the music and watch a video documenting the creative process as it unfolds.

You can also see more of Tom Chambers' photo collages on The Picture Show.

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