Doug Stone, 37, is a writer and producer for the History Channel, which helps explain why his musical project, Pinataland, is obsessed with the secret history of America.
The Brooklyn band's musical docudramas are fueled by the songwriting of Stone and Dave Wechsler, who met as students at Hampshire College in the 1990s. This month, Pinataland releases Songs for the Forgotten Future, Volume 2, a collection of chamber folk anchored by strange but true American stories.
One track, "Centralia," is set in a Pennsylvania town that's been abandoned because a coal fire has been simmering beneath it for 46 years. The song creates a character who wrestles with living in a hopeless place - who dreams of escape but fears leaving.
I talked with Stone by telephone last weekend:
Have you and Dave always written songs based on historic events?
No. We started out as something of an amped-up Tex-Mex band. We were a comedy band. We made an appearance on the Comedy Channel. But at one point we decided that others could do comedy rock a lot better than we could.
You two split the songwriting duties for the band. Are your lyrical themes different?
I would say Dave tends to write songs that are a bit darker and sadder. If one looks at history as either tragic or utopian, Dave explores the tragic side. We both tend to be interested in historic characters who pursued certain kinds of obsessions.
At your live shows, do you narrate the stories behind these songs before you play them?
That's the challenge. We don't want our shows to become history lectures, so we try to explain just enough to give the audience a chance to connect to the story if they want to listen to it that way. Our drummer cuts me off if I talk about the stories too long.
We write songs that take people in history and involve themes specific to them, but aren't so obscure that no one can be invited in. For example, the first song on this new album is called "Ashland," and it's about the Peter Levenda book that deconstructs Kentucky history. It's full of occult stuff that's entertaining, but what's more interesting is the impulse of the book to interpret one's own life and country and make sense of it. There's something moving about the impulse to make sense of tragedy, and we can all relate to that.