A quest for a quirky desert wedding location, chance meetings that turned into true friendships, and a sometimes longing for more wide-open land than he could find in the Pacific Northwest—these were the roots of the new album, “Horst and Graben,” by indie folk singer/songwriter D. Pel.
This Friday and Saturday night at the Amargosa Opera House, he brings that music home to the stage where so much of it began.
The first time D. Pel, whose full name is Dan Pelley, and his wife Lindsay Pelley, stood up together on stage at the Amargosa Opera House, they were getting married. The couple came from Portland, Oregon, seeking a venue in the desert around Death Valley and they fell in love with Death Valley Junction. The night before the wedding, Pelley said he read the autobiography of Marta Becket, the legendary dancer and creator of the Amargosa Opera House, who came to their wedding as a guest. He was deeply affected by her story.
“We started coming out a couple of times a year,” Pelley said, to celebrate their anniversary or as part of adventures all around the desert Southwest. Eventually, Pelley happened to meet an artist and photographer named Bobbi Fabian, who was also staying at the hotel. The acquaintance turned into a friendship and one day Pelley was surprised to receive a letter from Fabian saying that she was leaving Los Angeles to open a café at the Junction. Fabian still runs the café and is now also the general manager of the AOH, Inc.
That story became part of the song, ‘Tell Me, How’s the Café,” that now appears on “Horst and Graben.” The album, released this past April, includes songs about Death Valley Junction and Becket’s experiences. ‘The Flood’, said Pelley, was inspired by the many times Becket found herself mucking mud out of the Opera House after heavy rains. “It’s my interpretation of what it might have been like to go through something like that over and over again. I’m narrating her stories as I understand them.”
The album also includes songs that are broader in range, about the American Southwest and a life lived for art. The name, “Horst and Graben,” is a geological term used to describe the thrusts and dips between fault lines, a prominent feature of Death Valley. For Pelley, it is symbolic of the ups and downs, the monumental forces that both thrust upward and push downward in the life of an artist. “Marta had great passion,” he said, “and that passion comes with a price.”
Pelley said he has played the album in and around Portland, accompanied by members of his band D. Pel and the Strange Attractors. It strikes a chord, he said, even with people who’ve never been to Death Valley or the other places he sings about, because the ebb and flow of life is a universal theme.
Not all of the songs on “Horst and Graben” are about the Opera House, but most were inspired by the American Southwest, its landscapes, its ethos, its people. And, he added, this performance “is more than me performing songs inspired by the Opera House, it’s also that some of my friends there have all had a part in inspiring it. Bobbi Fabian helped with the artwork, Jason Newman appears in one of the YouTube videos. They are all so much a part of it.”
“Horst and Graben,” recorded with the assistance of several of his other band members, will be available on vinyl and CD at the Opera House performance. The vinyl album, Pelley said, was specially made to look like desert glass. It can be also found on Bandcamp at dpel.bandcamp.com or on his own website, dpelmusic.com, as well as Spotify, Itunes, and other digital venues. Several of the songs are available as music videos on the YouTube channel dpelmusic.
D. Pel will be accompanied by his wife Lindsay Pelley on Friday, Dec. 27 and Saturday, Dece. 28, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children. The show starts at 7 .m. To purchase tickets in advance, call the Amargosa Opera House at 760-852-4441.
Robin Flinchum is a freelance writer and editor living in Tecopa, California.