In last weeks ‘Lost in Transmission‘ mix (currently No. 1 in two charts on Mixcloud) we opened to a beautiful track by the Lancaster, Pennsylvania trio The Innocence Mission called Green Bus (listen below). It was a breathtaking track to open with, how anyone cannot be moved by Karen Peris’ voice needs their ears checked.
Needless to say, they have been drawing a large fanbase since their 1999 debut. Their fans include Sufjan Stevens and Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), who have both covered Innocence Mission songs, and in whose company the trio deserves to be bracketed.
Now, with new album Sun On The Square, released 6th July, the trio have signed to Bella Union following Karen’s guest appearance on “Ojalá” by Lost Horizons, the musical collective created by label skipper Simon Raymonde who shared with us in an interview for Bella Union’s 15th Anniversary celebrations how he went about selecting artists when there are just too many to sign: “The way I do it now? I wouldn’t sign anybody I wouldn’t want to have round for dinner and anybody that my dog would bark at!’”
Having passed the dinner and dog test he spoke more recently about the signing: “There’s less than a handful of artists on my Bella Union dream list…The Innocence Mission are on there but they’ve remained an elusive mystery, and believe me, I’ve tried! I’ve been a fan as long as I can remember. From the second I heard Karen’s voice, I’ve been smitten. ‘Birds Of My Neighborhood’ is in my Top Three albums of all time.”
1999’s Birds Of My Neighborhood kickstarted the innocence mission as we know them today, following three albums as a quartet that drew comparisons to The Sundays and 10,000 Maniacs. But when drummer Steve Brown left, Karen Peris (guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, voice), husband Don (guitars, drums, voice) and Mike Bitts (upright bass) forged ahead with an orchestral, at times cinematic, folk-pop sound which they felt was truer to their real nature in any case, a sound rich in atmosphere, innately sad, but ultimately hopeful. This feeling defines the new album’s lead single, “Green Bus”, a threnody which marries nylon string guitar, ukulele, and swells of violin to help build the lyric’s visual world of green and rainy city streets.
Watch the new video for Green Bus which was animated by Karen Peris herself.
Sufjan Stevens calls the innocence mission “moving and profound”, adding, “What makes Karen Peris’ lyrics so remarkable is the economy of words, sensory language, concrete nouns – everyday objects take on tremendous meaning.” Images of nature, colour, weather, and season are continued throughout the album. “For me it’s helpful to be able to see the song, if I can” Karen says.
To best capture their intimate sound, the band have recorded every album from Birds Of My Neighborhood onward in various rooms of the Peris home, like the dining room where the piano sits. On this record, their teenage son and daughter are guests, adding violin and viola, respectively. They’re a tight-knit family, strengthened by the parents’ choice to stay home through their children’s upbringing, and not to go on tour. The scarcity of innocence mission concerts is perhaps why they have remained something of a well-kept secret.
Despite her references to nature, Karen says she often hears “city scenes” in Sun On The Square – part of the record’s own air of mystery. Such as the title track, inspired by Astrud Gilberto,‘60s folk and pop, and her “admiration for someone going out into the world bravely and in kindness – the possibility for one person to be a light in the world. That love will prevail over fear.”
If their lead single is anything to go by you can bet this will be one of the most moving albums of the year.
Sun On The Square will be released 6th July via Bella Union.
Photo Credit: Charles Lamb