In 1958, author Kurt Vonnegut began work on his second book, a comic sci-fi novel called “The Sirens of Titan.”
Sixty-five years later, a new Memphis group named Salo Pallini will release a companion album to the book. Led by bassist Landon Moore, Salo Pallini features some of the city’s top players — including guitarist John Whittemore, drummer Danny Banks and keyboardist Pat Fusco — and the project is a unique effort born out of literary fascination and the strange statis caused by the pandemic, a fitting combination of forces for a Vonnegut-themed concept record.
A longtime Vonnegut fan, in 2017, Moore read about an adaption of “The Sirens of Titan” being developed by writer/producer Dan Harmon, creator of “Community” and “Rick & Morty.” “When I heard he was doing an adaptation of it, I thought, ‘I’ll do him a favor and score it for him,’” laughs Moore.
Although the news of the possible Harmon adaption provided a spark, Moore had always been fascinated by Vonnegut’s sophomore effort, which focuses on a Martian invasion of Earth and the journey of the story’s protagonist, Malachi Constant.
“I have all Vonnegut’s books on my shelf. And every once in a while I’ll pick one out and thumb through it again — ’cause I’ve read them so many times,” says Moore. “But I grabbed [‘Sirens’] and just loved the name Malachi and wrote a surf-sounding song based on the name. I just kept going with the Vonnegut theme until I had four songs.”
With a handful of tracks in hand, Moore called his guitarist pal Whittemore to flesh out the material and eventually they enlisted drummer Banks and keyboard player Fusco to help round out the project. Taking their name from the robot messenger in “Sirens,” Salo Pallini formed just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This group of usually busy gigging musicians suddenly found themselves with a lot of time on their hands.
“We were bored, weren’t doing gigs, it was the pandemic, all that sort of thing — that was a part of it,” says Whittemore. “But Landon and I had done a fair number of things together over the years. Same story for Danny and Pat. For us, it was just exciting to work on something together of our own. Because usually we’re all serving as sidemen supporting someone else’s music. It was fun to write our own stuff and do something fresh with it.”
Moore had initially penned a quartet of instrumental songs tied to “Sirens.” Offering a musical translation of Vonnegut’s work involved some good, as it turns out, guesswork.
“The year it was written — he started it in ‘58 and it came out in ‘59 — we took that into account, and also how quirky a guy he was,” says Moore. “I started out with this idea of composing late–‘50s-style elevator music. Recently there was a Vonnegut documentary that came out called ‘Unstuck in Time’ and his daughters were interviewed in it and they complained about all the awful elevator music he listened to while writing. So we felt like we nailed that.
“Basically, the music has a lounge kind of feel,” adds Moore. “And once the other guys got more involved, we expanded into a slightly more involved sound that John calls ‘progressive Latin space country.’”
After writing and rehearsing for six months during COVID, the band recorded a set of demos at Whittemore’s home rehearsal space. The group was almost ready to release those tracks when — in another literary twist — an opportunity came to rerecord the songs at a new Memphis studio that had been set up in the former home of Civil War historian and novelist Shelby Foote.
Completing the record last year, Moore began sending the resulting 11-song LP, “Sirens of Titan: A Preemptive Scoring” out to Vonnegut-connected festivals and organizations. Salo Pallini quickly landed a booking playing in Indianapolis as part of Vonnegut’s 100th birthday celebrations this past November.
The gig — which marked Salo Pallini’s live debut — went over big with the assembled Kurt-heads. “It was great,” says Moore. “Just to be playing these songs for such a dedicated audience of Vonnegut fans. I mean, I thought I knew a lot about his books and work, but there are folks out there who are super deep into his stuff and everything associated with it.”
Salo Pallini is set to play another event this summer in Bloomington, Indiana, called Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence. The group may also appear at Big Ears, the annual experimental music festival held in Knoxville this year or next.
In the meantime, the group will make its local debut, playing a release show on Jan. 20 at Crosstown Arts’ Green Room, where they will have copies of the album available for sale. The record can also be purchased at local retailers and online at salopallini.bandcamp.com/releases.
Although there’s been no recent news on the Dan Harmon led-adaptation of “The Sirens of Titan,” through some mutual contacts, Moore has gotten a copy of Salo Pallini’s album to the writer/director.
“I don’t know if Harmon will ever make the project,” chuckles Moore, “but we’ve got the soundtrack all ready for him just in case.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 (Doors open at 7 p.m.)
Where: Crosstown Arts, The Green Room,1350 Concourse Ave., Suite 280
Tickets: $20; $15 in advance