Music by Dura Mater

Dean Hankins: Guitar and Vox

Dena Hankins: Vox and Keyboards

James Lane: Percussion, Keyboards, and Vox

At the beginning of 2008 we (Dena and I) moved to a small town in Eastern Washington by the name of Moses Lake and almost immediately started working on a musical project that would consist of me, James Lane, playing percussion, Dena Hankins on keyboards and vocals, and her father Dean Hankins doing vocals and playing guitar. At first we worked mainly on cover songs just to get our chops down and to work out our individual playing styles, songs such as Joy Division’s Isolation, the Felt’s Primitive Painters, and a traditional Creole piece called The Lakes of Pontchartrain. As we became more and more familiar with each other and each other’s playing styles, we began to do some of the bits and pieces of original works that we had all written in the past, either with other bands as in my case or in Dean’s case strictly solo.

About a week after moving to Moses Lake we set up an impromptu recording studio at the local airport where Dean keeps his ultra light airplanes and went right to work. The first song that popped out was a musically re-written version of the Felt’s Primitive Painters with Dean on lead vocals and guitar and Dena on backing vocals and keyboards. Originally I was to play dumbek on the piece but the final mix was so good that we excluded any percussion, therefore my only job on that number was production. After scoring a job as apartment managers for a low-income housing project called “Pelican Place,” we set up our recording studio in the complex’s community room and went to work. Because of the fact that our studio was so close to our living space, one song after another fell out of our trio until finally just before our adventure to India we put all 15 pieces together and mastered the whole lot as the band Dura Mater and in honor of the very first song that we produced together we called the album Primitive Paintings.

This is what Dean has to say about his songwriting: “I had tried to write songs a few times when I was young but couldn’t seem to put together anything I thought worth keeping.  After getting divorced and while going through some expected depression about the whole thing I started writing again.  Coming from this time in my life and since I “grew up” country they are pretty much all “crying in your beer” type songs.  Some describe what I was feeling, some what I thought I should feel, and some what I wished I felt.  But the emotion is honest in all of them.”

  • Song to the Siren – Lyrics by Tim Buckley. We were trying different versions of this and we couldn’t make it any better than Tim or Elizabeth Frasier. It was Dean’s idea to make it island-styled, and I think he hit the nail on the head.

  • Dena’s Isolation – Lyrics by Ian Curtis. Once again, we wanted a mood that portrayed our feelings about the lyrics not just cover the song. Ian’s words lent themselves beautifully to a 3/4 time signature.

  • Always on My Mind – By Dean Hankins. One of the “how I thought I should feel” songs.  I did the strumming and vocal tracks together and didn’t even know James and Dena had added the rest until hearing it for the first time.  I was blown away with how they made it more fun with the jiggle beat and the back up vocals.

  • Lakes of Ponchartrain – Traditional. We heard the Be Good Tanyas version and loved it. We just loved the picture of hobos telling tales around a fire, so when James made an all-hobo percussion backup the rest just fell in place.

  • Still Not Gone – By Dean Hankins. A few songs come to you fully developed and all you have to do is put it on paper, this was one of those.  A mutual friend gave me the phone number of a woman who’s husband had died a year before with the strong suggestion to ask her out.  When I called she said “I’m just not ready yet”.  After I hung up I picked up pen and paper and wrote this song.  This was one James felt should be left fairly clean and simple, I think he was right.

  • A Lover and a Friend -By Dean Hankins. Look around at your friends and family, how many can you tell without doubt have settled for less than their dream in a mate.  It seems to me most people will give up their dreams rather than be alone.  This was about the struggle not to make that decision.   Another one James wanted to leave simple, also wanted it so slow I had to have a beat track to keep me in time.  It came out almost painful in its honesty and raw emotion.

  • Ascension of Tharsis -By James Lane. This was the first of the instrumental pieces that I wrote for the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanly Robinson. Originally I had it in mind to do 40, 3 minute 30 second instrumental pieces describing each of the unique land masses on Mars. This piece was inspired by the Tharsis Bulge, the land mass on Mars that is home to the highest mountain in our solar system, Olympus Mons.

  • Wage Slave -By James Lane. This was written while he was in another band and they performed it really darkly. He wanted it hammed up a la Tom Waits and Dena jumped on the chance to be vampy.

  • Are You from Texas? -By Dean Hankins. I was talking to my sister about my upcoming move from Washington state back to Texas and as usual she also asked if I was dating.  When I told her I wasn’t seeing anyone she said “Wait till you get back to Texas, what you need is a nice southern bell.”  So after that statement I had to write this one.

  • I Can’t Save You -By Dean Hankins. Some songs come to you fully done but with some you pick up a pen and start writing without knowing where it’s going and the song seems to take control and write itself.  When I started this one I actually had the thought “Wow, I’m writing a religious song.”  After a few lines I realized it was far from a religious song.  That’s partly why I unofficially call it “Sacrilegious egotistical bull shit.”  James had packed away his drums when we did this one so he used a hard sided suitcase and cooking pot for the rhythm.  Is he good or what?

  • Primitive Painters -Lyrics by Lawrence of Belgravia. This was the first song we worked on together, James and Dena had been playing with it for a long time without getting what they were looking for.  After we played it a few times we started recording and though we loved the sound we couldn’t seem to “get it right”.  Finally James said “We’re over playing it. Pull it back, way back.”  We did and that was it, after Dena added another dimension with her back up vocals and keyboard we listened to it over and over, stunned that we actually could produce this sound we all loved.

  • I’ll Be Lonely Later -By Dean Hankins. The words to this came from what a woman told me when I broke up with her, basically that I would be alone all my life, etc.  I did a quick track of vocal and strumming but didn’t like it so thought we would throw it away.  A few days later James ask me to listen to what he had done with it.  By playing with the sound and using effects he made an interesting cut that I can only call alternative country.

  • Dean’s Isolation -Lyrics by Ian Curtis. Yep, it’s a repeat…almost. Dena and her dad each tried the vocals on this song. Dean’s version (this one) got more positive feedback but Dena’s version had better production value (it was done after getting some new equipment). Most people who know and love Joy Division feel that Dean expresses the lyrics better. But we all felt that having both versions to chose from was a good idea.

  • Phobos -By James Lane. Named after the smaller of Mars’ two moons. Although the song is only 4 minutes and 39 seconds the actual orbit of Phobos takes only 7 hours, 39.2 minutes to circumnavigate the planet of Mars. The song was designed to simulate Phobos’ ascension to zenith from horizon.

7 comments

  1. I’m setting here with “Ascension” playing in my headphones and listening to my cousins music. How do you think my day is going as I listen to raw, intense, heartfelt music with the love of an artfrom as the producer and free spirits roaming the earth as they see fit as the players?

    Tears well in my eyes as I listen to this music. Not only because I’m moved by it, but because it is nearly as good as seeing Jimmy (that’s what I’ve always called him and always will) and hugging him.

    It’s like discovering a new type of music. One that isn’t commercialized and stale. It’s refreshing, poignant and breathes fresh waves into these tired ears.

    Listen and enjoy and I think you’ll agree that there always will be a audience for any type of music. Music, the universal language.

    P.S. Jimmy, thanks for the mail, I’ll get a letter out to you soon!

  2. OHMYGOD, Dura Mater is incredible, amazing talent.. I wish I could expose the world to your music, rather that the tired old classics and flavour of the moment that is foisted on us by corporations running the music industry… Keep up the good work folks, you are amazing, dont ever forget it…..

  3. I haven’t checked this site in a long time so thought I’d ‘stop by’. Thanks for the nice comments, they are appreciated. These songs are like a first attempt at most anything, pretty good for the time and place but so much less than we wanted to do and so much less than we would have done with more time. And hopefully since we have all grown we could do even better now if we weren’t living on opposite sides of the country.
    I continue to write and have reached 22 songs completed at this time but I don’t know if anymore will ever be recorded. Maybe the universe will bring it all back around again and we can put our stamp on more music in the future.
    For now everyone take care of your’self’, dean

  4. Dura Mater’s forthcoming album, “Soundtrack for a Big Bang” will be in stores tomorrow, followed by our ten-inch-super-single release party, only at your nearest Shucky’s!
    Bring the whole Fam-Damaly,
    FREE BEER!!!

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