Over the last few weeks, a group of Troy musicians has been fine-tuning macabre melodies in preparation for the “Collar City Crimes & Creepy Compositions” show on Sunday.
Combining the eerie with the comical, the concert will showcase new songs inspired by Troy’s history, written and performed by its contemporary songwriters like Girl Blue, Justin Henricks, Matt Plummer, Raurri Jennings, Will Brown, Greens and others.
The musician behind the madness is Zan Strumfeld, of Zan & The Winter Folk, who started planning the concert a few months ago. She joined with bandmate Michael Gregg to dig up stories from the 1800s and early 1900s of crimes, life advice and strange occurrences in the Troy area.
While it would have been quicker to look online for most of those stories, they decided to instead pore over the archives of newspapers at the Troy Public Library.
“The cool thing about doing it that way [is] we were able to find some even weirder stories,” Strumfeld said.
There were articles on how to be a good man and how to be a good woman. There were articles about what certain body functions say about a person. They also found plenty of odd stories about crimes and tragedies, some that had happened close to where Strumfeld and the other participating musicians live today.
“It was cool to just to see the history of Troy unfolding in these pages that are really old, literally falling apart as we’re going through the books,” Strumfeld said.
Beyond learning more about the city, Strumfeld said she hopes the process of writing songs based on articles like these stretches fellow songwriters artistically. That’s exactly what happened to her when she participated in a similar event at the Albany Public Library in 2015.
“At the time it really challenged me as a songwriter and it also made me step outside my comfort zone,” Strumfeld said.
At the Albany Public Library’s event, she chose to write about a murder that happened on Feb. 12, 1912 (Feb. 12 also happens to be her birthday), where an Albany man lured his wife into their bedroom and choked and stabbed her to death with a fork. He called his brother-in-law and confessed the murder, but when police came to take him away he couldn’t remember killing his wife, Mary.
“He murdered someone, confessed it and then sort of blacked out, had no recollection of what he had done before his recollection. It haunted me,” Strumfeld said.
The resulting ballad, called “Mary,” is a soulful and at times eerie song that narrates the crime and the aftermath from the man’s perspective. This time around, Strumfeld picked a similarly gruesome story, about a Troy man who was hung for killing his wife in the late 1800s.
“In the same sort of fashion, I’m trying to reason why he would commit such a murder,” Strumfeld said.
Alex Brooks, of the band Greens, decided to go with less of a narrative and more of a concept.
“It was the only one that wasn’t an article. It’s called ‘Blushing,’ and it’s the idea that people who can commit these horrific acts, [like] murder, don’t have that ability to blush. That’s a very human thing, to feel these [kinds] of emotions that make you blush,” Brooks said.
Writing the song came easily to him and it was nearly finished the same day he signed up for it.
“It almost came to me the day of. I just shaped it around the idea of myself and my being almost jealous of people who don’t have to feel those kinds of emotions. I shaped it more around the idea of love and falling in love, falling out of love and being able to not be hurt by love,” Brooks said.
At its core, it’s an acoustic song. However, Josh Marré of Greens will be joining Brooks onstage to create an ambient guitar loop.
Gregg is writing a song about how someone tied up a bear by the Hudson River and the bear mauled two people to death in one evening. He’s writing it from the bear’s perspective and will be performing it on banjo.
“Honestly, the thing I’m most excited about is what perspective [the musicians are] going to take with their song. … That, I think, is going to be the most creative part of it,” Strumfeld said.
While Brooks wrote his song from a more personal perspective, he said the unique songwriting process was inspiring.
“I guess around that time I was feeling like I was in a slump, and it kind of forced me to sit down and write something. In the future, I’ll definitely look at some more things like that,” Brooks said.
The performance Sunday will probably be filled with laughs and a few goosebumps, but Strumfeld also hopes the audience gets a chance to see the local musicians in a new light.
“People aren’t going to be used to the concept of going and listening to one song per musician. It’s really cool because these are brand-new songs, never heard before. We’re going to give everybody a few minutes to talk about their story. Some songs might be really funny, some might be really sad, some might be really creepy, but I think it’s going to be a very beautiful way to showcase the talent that we have in this area and showing what they’re capable of doing,” Strumfeld said.
The growing musical landscape in Troy is one reason Brooks recently moved from Albany.
“Troy just had this feeling of being new and being completely open to anything,” Brooks said.
Collar City Crimes & Creepy Compositions proves that. It’s also a different way to contemplate the city’s history.
“We’re still trying to be respectful, but also create something beautiful and really focus on the historical and macabre past of the city that we all live in. I’m hoping that more areas do this,” Strumfeld said.
Collar City Crimes & Creepy Compositions
WHEN: 6-9 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Little Pecks, 211 Broadway, Troy
TICKETS: sold out
MORE INFO: eventbrite.com or visit the event page on Facebook