3hattrio is unlike anything you ever heard. Guaranteed.
The Utah-based band delivers a sound that is many-layered, combining seemingly contradictory elements of sound into one dish. The band’s name represents how each player wears a different hat, symbolically contributing different styles to the overall sound.
Hal Cannon leads the group with vocals, banjo, and guitar work, often spearheading the lyrical creations as well. As a folklorist, academic, and self-identified cowboy, Cannon has lots of experience with and expertise on the history of folk music in the American West. The band’s violinist, Eli Wrankle, is the youngest member of the group — he joined the band at just 15 years old. The now nineteen-year-old, studies music at Southern Utah University. Lastly, Greg Istock serves as the band’s producer, arranger, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist. But you’ll most likely find him behind the generous curves of a large standing bass. He infuses his playing with an experimental Caribbean spirit, to reflect his time producing music in Florida. All of these backgrounds coalesce into a sound that mixes folk, jazz, classical, and Caribbean stylings. The band labels it “American Desert Music.”
If you’re wondering what this sounds like, just listen to one of their new tracks titled “Faith.” The song is sparse, featuring violin, standing bass, and vocals, yet it’s as full and grand as their brilliant backyard (Zion National Park). Introspective and intriguing, it never overwhelms or overcrowds. The auto-tune infused vocals, both evocative and a bit haunting, juxtapose perfectly with the calming soundscape created by the ever-present strings.
The song is off of their most recent album, Lord of the Desert, out February 23rd. The album, which is full of electric flair, is the fourth release from the idiosyncratic band.
Check out “Faith,” here. Plus read on to get the trio’s take on the desert they call home.
How does the desert make its way into your music?
Our approach to music is experiential. When we rehearse, it is looking over a vast landscape. That effects everything about our music. We often start by improvising out of the moment — what we see, what we hear from each other, what we feel. People tell us they sense some great space of the desert in our music. We hope that something is working on us as we compose. We like the way sound resonates off red sandstone cliffs. We try to bring that into the music. We also write songs about the life around us. We live amongst desert people and critters and they are the subjects of many of our songs.
Most people want to know who are our musical heroes in desert music. The three of us don’t listen to any of the same music yet we have a strong musical kinship. Hal is a folklorist and has studied the desert songs of cowboys, pioneers, and local native peoples. Some of that music informs the group but it mostly living a life in the desert and being sensitive to it.
When is the best time to visit Zion?
The heat of the summer is the most crowded time. If you hike where there is water and shade it’s a great time to be in the desert. It’s easy to get away from the crowds and enjoy the solitude of the desert. The seasons are wonderful in and around the Park so we would not shy away from any season.
Are there any particular experiences in Utah’s wilderness that has informed a track or album?
Just about every song has a backstory. We like to present our music without much talk because we want people to paint their own picture. We might mention a song called “The Pilgrim.” It is the story of someone who comes to a deserted place in the desert to make a living ferrying travelers across a river. It’s about going crazy and being killed in a test of will. The desert is a fantastic place but its not an easy place.
Where’s the best place to get a meal for a desert rat?
The food, coffee, and beer are good around here. The Bit and Spur is a favorite for dinner. River Rock Coffee and Deep Creek Coffee are good for food and drink. We play at all these places at times. Don’t expect fried Rattle Snake.
Any hidden Zion secrets or gems you’d be willing to share?
Two of us live on the West side of Zion Park in Virgin, Utah. We love the Kolob Terrace Road into the west side of the park. The vistas and places to hike are spectacular and you won’t be fighting a crowd.
Which local watering hole can you catch a good show at?
Zion Pub features local music as does River Rock Coffee. We understand the Stage Coach Grill is heading toward having live music and the food is good at all these places.
Have you ever done field recordings? Any particular desert sounds that made its way onto the album?
Sometimes the sounds we come up with are pretty mysterious thanks to Greg who produces our albums. We have not used natural sound effects in our recordings and believe they can be corny unless used judiciously.
What are 5 must see landmarks in Southern Utah?
The National Parks are wonderful but some favorites are the Hells Backbone drive from Escalante through Boulder and on to Capital Reef. If you are up for a good hike the Subway and Angels Landing at Zion Park are both phenomenal. Water Canyon out of Colorado City is great. On the other side of Southern Utah Bluff down through Monument Valley is amazing. Just about everything east to west along the southern border of Utah is an adventure.
Any other local musicians or artists that inspire you?
Like I said earlier, we can’t even listen to music in the van on tours because the only music we can agree on is the music we make. That’s not to say we are not inspired by other artists, we just keep it to ourselves.
What’s the story behind the name 3hattrio?
There is no story. I was in a band once where we fought so much over what the band should be named that we broke up. When we first started Greg said let’s be the three hat trio. I put it all together as one word and it stuck. I guess you’d call our name a creation of stream of consciousness.