NETT LAKE- What does a Native American rock band do to follow-up a successful first CD that was nominated for two Native American Music awards and is getting airplay from coast to coast?They create …
NETT LAKE- What does a Native American rock band do to follow-up a successful first CD that was nominated for two Native American Music awards and is getting airplay from coast to coast?
They create more music and release a second CD, set to release on Nov. 27.
Chaz Wagner and Tony Parson are the core creative talents of War Bonnet, and they’re following up the 2019 release of “The Ghost Dance” with “Ancestral Legacy,” an 11-song album honoring Native warriors’ spirit, both historic and contemporary.
“The first album was building a foundation,” Wagner said. “The second one is bringing our sound up to a whole new level, a whole new platform. The basis of this album is who we are as Native Americans. We come from a long lineage of veterans and warriors. We came up with the title ‘Ancestral Legacy’ because we are spawned from our ancestors, we are our ancestors, we are those warriors. It’s because of their actions that we are still here today, so we wanted to really honor and incorporate them into this album.”
Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull are names that leap from the list of track titles, and that’s by design.
“These are figures in history that people have heard about, so we wanted to make that connection,” Wagner said.
But the all-encompassing album ventures beyond those figures to acknowledge the breadth of Native cultures and experiences in the band’s signature style they call Native rock, reverently exploring and reinterpreting the darker, more recessed ancestral music created by North America’s indigenous people.
The album opens with an instrumental piece, “Warrior Nation,” that takes listeners on a journey to set the stage for what’s to come. Opening with a pulsating, rhythmic rock foundation using familiar Native American modalities, the piece creates tension with the addition of an edgy guitar lead before reaching resolution in a melodic, unifying orchestral anthem highlighted by a haunting keyboard melody reminiscent of a Native flute.
“You are kind of on edge listening to it,” Wagner said. “It just kind of builds and builds and builds up until the end, and then it’s just like a release, you feel spiritual. That’s what music should do – it should take you to places where you don’t go in a normal day.”
Wagner described one of the historical tracks, “The Legend of Geronimo.”
“That song is just so complex,” he said. “It’s a wonderful story of a legend called Geronimo, and something that has never been done through music. I just love the lyrics and how the guitars sound, and the groove of it is kind of like a stomp kind of beat. It gives you a sense of what he must have felt back then when he lost all of his family, and when he went up into the mountains and he prayed and the spirit talked to him. It brings it all together towards the end of it and you get a sense of pride. If Geronimo listened I think he would be proud of this song.”
For Parson, the song ‘Ikwe,” a piece that addresses the difficult contemporary topic of missing and murdered indigenous women, set the standard for all of the duo’s other creative efforts for the album.
“It’s set the bar for the rest of everything we’ve done,” Parson said. “It’s not that I’m not proud of our first album, but I feel like that just raised the bar for where the band can go and opened up another door.”
The pair posted a music video of ‘Ikwe’ to YouTube last January, and the response to it has been gratifying.
“It’s just very serious, on the solemn side, but it’s also like a big prayer,” Parson said. “It’s got a lot of energy behind it, positive energy, strength and healing energy. I think that of all the songs, people always connect with that one.”
The song might seem to some an odd fit with the ancestral figures of the past, but Wagner said the song is literally at the heart of what the album is about.
“It’s track number six, the closest to the middle of the album we can get,” Wagner said. “Women have always been the center of our people, our culture, they’ve always been everything to us. We needed to honor them. The women are stronger than the men, they always have been. They took care of the family, they birth our children, so we have to respect them. It’s the heart of ancestral legacy, the heart of our album, they’re the heart of our people.”
“This is a huge topic in Indian country in the past and today,” Wagner continued, talking about the theme. “I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost family members through domestic violence.”
Making the album
Wagner and Parson did the entire first album themselves, something modern technology made possible. Wagner lives in Nett Lake, Parson lives in Buhl, and most of the music was created sending music and lyrics back and forth over the internet, giving each other feedback and suggestions as they went. Wagner has been the lead composer and lyricist, often taking the lead from a melody or chord progression Parson would send to him. And their creativity has a deeper source, too.
“When I write, I ask my ancestors, the spirits, what do you want me to say? I tell them what I’m going to do – let me be your voice. Sometimes these ideas just come out of nowhere, and I know that they’re with me," Wagner said.
“I feel like that’s happened with me, too,” Parson said. “It’s like ‘I don’t know how I came up with that just now.' It feels like there’s something very spiritual about what we’re doing.”
When it comes time to create a song, each instrument and vocal is performed live and recorded by Wagner and Parson and then layered together, one track on another, for the finished product. One song, for example, may feature only Wagner, performing vocals, guitar, drums, and keyboards.
“Tony has way more involvement on “Ancestral Legacy,” Wagner said. “I have him playing guitar, he’s doing vocals, he’s doing all the keyboards, and we’re both the authors and writers of all these songs.”
But War Bonnet also performs live, and for that they need other musicians to achieve their sound. In what the pair believes is an exciting evolution for “Ancestral Legacy,” those live performers have contributed tracks to various songs. They include Eric Krenz, guitar, Becky Fricheck, vocals, Tom Fricheck, percussion, Alex Mehne, euphonium, Sean Zarn, bass, and Leah Lemm, vocalist.
“I wanted them to feel that they’re part of something,” Wagner said.
While creativity and messaging is what drive Wagner and Parson, getting out the message to a broader audience is also important, and that’s been happening with their first album and pre-release of ‘Ikwe.’
“We are growing not only as a band, but we’re starting to expand nationally,” Wagner said. “We’re being played in Florida, in New York, Canada, California, and now we’re getting played in the Midwest. And Nebraska. So that we’re growing our audience, which is excellent.”
The official release of “Ancestral Legacy” will be Nov. 27, Native American Heritage Day. While they plan to have the album available on numerous popular online music outlets like iTunes and Spotify, Wagner encourages people to go to the band’s website, www.warbonnetofficial.com, to buy the CD featuring cover art by Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder.
“We’ve got to release it then so we can move on to our next recordings,” Wagner said, smiling. “Buy the CD, support the artists.”