The Breadcrumbs Widget will appear here on the live site.
Still Riding High — Divine Horsemen Return at a Full Gallop
(by Lee Zimmerman)
Divine Horsemen could be considered to have a somewhat divine history, their handle aside. Led by a dynamic duo in Chris Desjardins (a.k.a. Chris D.) and Julie Christensen, they were borne from Desjardins’ seminal efforts with his initial outfit, the punk band known as The Flesh Eaters. Four albums followed over the course of the Horsemen’s collective career — Time Stands Still, Devil’s River, Middle of the Night, and Snake Handler, as well as an EP, Handful of Sand. Desjardins and Christensen, who were married at the time, subsequently split up, both personally and professionally, just prior to the release of Handful of Sand in January, 1988.
Nevertheless, the two kept in touch, and Christensen contributed vocals to five tracks on I Used to Be Pretty, an album that served as a revival and reunion for The Flesh Eaters. The two talked about bringing back Divine Horsemen as well, but at the time, Desjardins wasn’t quite ready to commit.
Nevertheless, the idea began to gestate in 2018 despite the fact that Chris D was still involved in resuscitating The Flesh Eaters and Christensen was busy on her own, including work with Leonard Cohen and the release of seven albums under her own name and with Stone Cupid. With her contributions to I Used to Be Pretty, the duo decided they could still work well together, and the thought of bringing back Divine Horsemen began to take shape.
‘I sort of came up with the idea before 2018, when a psychic in Nashville said, ‘somebody big in town is going to get interested in you, but not until your old band gets back together’’ Christensen recalls. ‘I was skeptical at first, but mind you, Chris and I had been friendly again for 20 years, even though he was pretty reclusive at the time. He’d gotten the all-star lineup of The Flesh Eaters together a couple times though, and they were going to make a record in the spring of 2018. I’d put feelers out about Divine Horsemen in one of our conversations, and that’s when he asked me to sing on several songs on that Flesh Eaters album, I Used to be Pretty.
In due course, things began to take shape. ‘We talked to Peter (Andrus, our most recent guitarist on two tours records in 1987), to our bassist Robyn Jameson, to DJ Bonebrake from X, to other drummers, and to my friend Roggie Baer at the Raji World booking agency’ Christensen continues. ‘We started preparations to tour in California. We had a setlist, and everyone was excited about the plans and then rehearsals. Then, that summer, Robyn died tragically from a violent incident during which he was trying to help a woman in trouble. It was devastating to all concerned, and Chris began to concentrate once again on putting out The Flesh Eaters album. I joined part of their tour in early 2019’.
Still, the three remaining original Divine Horsemen members all believed that Jameson would have wanted the reunion to proceed, so in the summer and fall of 2019, the band rehearsed and recorded the album that would become Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix.
Then the pandemic happened.
Although a single was released in 2020, the album didn’t come out until August of 2021. ‘In the meantime, I’d made a mostly remote — but, if I may say — a rockin’ record of Kevin Gordon songs with my Nashville band’ Christensen recalls. ‘However, I had to wait until my birthday in January of 2022 to release it. Plus, we were right in the middle of recording this new record, Bitter End of a Sweet Night’.
The first product of the revised band was 2021’s Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix, was preceded in late 2020 by the appearance of various unreleased live recordings from 1985 to 1987, as well as two singles, “Mystery Writers” and “Mind Fever Soul Fire”, which were offered via Bandcamp.
The band seemed quick to click, but not quite in the same way as before. ‘Well, there was chemistry’ Christensen muses. ‘But it was different now, since I had been married for almost 30 years and had a son with my husband and best friend John Henry Diehl. Chris had been in a couple of fairly long-term relationships, too. But the lyrical engines and musical influences—which have always been mainly Chris’—and the other writing and musical skills that Peter and I have—were intact and also morphing into something more realized. The cover tunes Chris brought in to both of the new studio albums have been amazing and really good grist for our mill too’.
In that regard, Julie Christensen also looks back fondly on the band’s previous efforts overall.
‘I think I would put it in a sweet spot of the Los Angeles scene at the time, starting in 1983’ she suggests. ‘We were able to ride along, and even steer a bit of it. I feel that we were sort of important for many reasons, including all the connections Chris D had made through writing for Slash Magazine and then working for Slash Records. He produced things like The Dream Syndicate and some of Gun Club’s Fire of Love record, among other things, and he was very influential in some signings, including X. The bands we knew were tired of loud and thrashy stuff and all the headbanging, and more literary, so film influences took us all in more lyrical and melodic directions. After Chris and I met, he would come out and see the Swing/early Rock’n’Roll band I was in at the time. We wore vintage clothes and red lipstick and we really swung. I’m still friends with the acoustic bassist from that band and we recently spent two years making my 2023 album of ballads. My contributions were the more accessible and multi-dimensional voice.
‘Our first record, by ‘Chris D and Divine Horseman’ was on Enigma. It included a who’s who of great players and singers from that scene, and contained a lot of Chris’ songs influenced by Gothic Folk and murder ballads. I guess it was in the early wave of Alt Country. Chris’ and my relationship was getting started, and I sang on many of the songs. That put us in a lucky and yet well-earned spotlight. We were able to do co-bills and headline shows with bands who later became pretty heavy, because they stayed together and didn’t implode due to substance abuse and drama, as ours did’.
Christensen notes that the band’s early influences were fairly diverse. ‘Mine were Jazz, R&B and Blues, and when I got in my first band in 1975, a Country band, I brought along those sounds along’ she says. ‘We had the instrumentation to do Western Swing, and warmed up for Asleep at the Wheel, as well as John Prine, in our midwestern sphere. Chris’ were probably a lot of late ‘60s garage and psychedelic bands, film noir and wild foreign art house films and their soundtracks, a lot of which he introduced to me, as well as some gritty R&B stuff. He had his Master’s Degree in Film from Loyola Marymount University, and then taught high school in an underprivileged L.A. neighborhood. Both those influences inhabited our music’.
Many of those sounds still resonate as far as Christensen’s current listening is concerned. ‘I confess to still listening to my old standby Jazz, Blues, and Rock music like Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, and Bill Frisell, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Gram Parsons, Neil Young’ she said. ‘I have so much vinyl that I can pick albums from the L.A. scene back in the day, and then put on Lucinda or Miles Davis or Aaron Copland… I love songwriters from East Nashville and elsewhere…Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris, Jaime Wyatt, Amelia White, Anne McCue, Tim Easton, Kevin Gordon… I LOVE! Chuck Prophet’s Mission Express and Peter Case. I saw X at Tumbleroot Brewery in Santa Fe recently, and the Patti Smith Group at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch. Every weekend my pal Terry does an amazing Jazz trio in Albuquerque. Brittany Howard’s new stuff is very cool, and some of the female rappers get to me in a good way. There’s some fierce stuff out there’.
Consequently, while the making the new album became a drawn-out process due to the interruption created by the pandemic, it did allow time to process the music and offer certain advantages.
‘Chris had a creative burst, and I co-wrote a couple of songs based on lyrics he sent me’ she reflects. ‘I think some of the inspiration was still similar — bad love, gothic romance, heady and sometimes wry and disguised social comment. I also brought in a couple co-writes I had done with David Olney and John Hadley, and with Lowen and Navarro. And Chris brought the bulk of the new work, plus a Smoke Faeries tune, “Coffee Shop Blues” and a song I think that’s by The Ain’ts called “It’s Still Nowhere”. I really think that all of us have gotten more adept over the years, and more skilled at executing a similar musical vocabulary to the olden days’.
Nevertheless, she said there were some new elements added to the mix.
‘Well, to be frank, sobriety for Chris and me has been a major driver to even being alive to tell the tale’, she noted. ‘But other than that, and the pretty overt sexual chemistry, I don’t feel anything is missing. In fact, the chemistry seems wiser and more powerful. Peter has never had a problem with the substance stuff, and has roared into the peak of his powers as a guitarist. Our bass player — who is really a guitarist — Bobby Permanent, and Peter have known each other and worked together for many, many years, both musically and in art direction for film. Bobby is badass and fun. Of course, we’ve known DJ forever, but now we have the great good fortune of playing with him on these records, even if not on our live gigs. We’ve enlisted a new drummer named Johnny Ray, who also plays with a band called Merle Jagger’.
Most importantly, she insisted that it wasn’t a problem translating the band’s live dynamic to the studio setting.
‘This band has always been fastidiously and continuously well-rehearsed, so the result is a fairly live sounding studio sound’ she explained. ‘Therefore, the live experience just becomes more fun and uninhibited’.
On the other hand, the fact that the two principals are actually exes does suggest that a certain tension might have otherwise impacted the proceedings. However, Christensen said that wasn’t the case.
‘It’s a perfectly valid question’ she replied. ‘There have only been a few times when old bitterness has come up, and there has always been the odd creative difference…In the end, I’ve agreed to let Chris have the last word in that regard. In actuality, someone has to. And we are friends, and friendly, but this is business—or whatever you call it in this paltry landscape—and it’s pretty easy to look at it that way, at least for the most part’.
Listen and buy the music of Divine Horsemen from AMAZON
For more information, please visit the Divine Horsemen website
The Blog Tags widget will appear here on the published site.
The Recommended Posts widget will appear here on the published site.