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Folk Underground: Happy little pop songs about going to hell
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Folk Underground onstage at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The band is (l-r) Trevor Hartman, Lorraine Garland, and Paul Score. (Image Courtesy of Folk Underground)
For the most part, folk music is happy, wholesome stuff. But there is a dark edge to some of it, and that's where a new local band, Folk Underground, comes in. The trio just release its first album, Buried Things. It features a mixture of traditional music and the band's own material, which members describe as "happily morbid."

St. Paul, Minn. — Listening to a Folk Underground song can be a little startling.

"Our song, "City of the Damned," is one of the happiest little pop songs about going to hell that you will ever hear."

Meet Lorraine Garland, known to her friends as the Fabulous Lorraine.

She plays the fiddle in the band. Trevor Hartman plays accordion, drums, piano and a couple of other things. Guitarist Paul Score completes the lineup. All three stress they enjoy what they do, but when asked why they do it, Paul Score is a little perplexed.

I suppose we are all geeks and nerds, so stemming from that, that's why we are all morbid.
- Trevor Hartman

"That is an awfully good question -- where has this come from?" he ponders.

Trevor Hartman has his own theories.

"I suppose we are all geeks and nerds, so stemming from that, that's why we are all morbid. If you can see the humor in the morbid side of things..."

He trails off, and as often happens with this band, Paul completes the thought.

"Then the mask is off! Great!"

Actually, it's a little more complex than that. Lorraine Garland and a friend, Emma Bull, used to be a duo called The Flash Girls. Someone described their stuff as "gothic folk," and the term stuck.

A few years back, after producing a couple of CDs, the Flash Girls parted company when Emma moved to California. Then one night in the summer of 2002, Paul says he and Trevor began messing around with a couple of the Flash Girls tunes while Lorraine was in the room.

"Before long Lorraine was telling us how to play them correctly," he laughs. "And it went to the wee hours of the morning, and we just had a blast."

Since then, they have played everything from bookstores to a pig roast. They've played some big gigs too -- supporting the likes of Irish band the Tim Malloys, and Celtic rockers Boiled in Lead at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

All along they have been developing their own material. Paul Score says they love playing folk music, but they want something a little more.

"I listen to a traditional folk tune that's happy and about love, and I'm bored," he sighs. "Maybe it's a twist -- adding an easy twist -- I don't know, but it's something that's definitely more entertaining from my angle."

Hence the gothic folk songs about damnation, death, and the joys of becoming a hermit.

"It's not the Kumbaya folk," Lorraine Garland says. "It's not your grandfather's folk, it's not your singer-songwriter folk. You won't hear us singing about our feelings very often."

When challenged that there is some very emotional material on the the album, all three of the Folk Undergrounders are momentarily silent. They look at one another, then join in chorus.

"No!" they laugh.

Another major influence on the band is writer Neil Gaiman. He's famed as the author of the Sandman comic book, and several bestselling fantasy novels for adults and children. Lorraine works as his personal assistant.

Gaiman wrote a number of the songs on Buried Things, including the track named "Folk Underground." Apparently he didn't like the band's name.

"He really didn't like the name," says Lorraine.

"We thought the initials would look really good on tee-shirts," says Paul.

"That's how we had chosen it," says Lorraine. "And he wanted to make it clear that it was folk underground -- buried things, dead things, things that maybe come back after they have been buried -- and not that we were trying to be some sort of underground folk. Which I suppose maybe we are."

Folk Underground plays at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis this weekend, opening for Boiled in Lead.

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