It all started in 2002 when author Robert Michael Pyle turned his radio on to listen to a local station.
What he heard was a Friday night show curated by Krist Novoselic, a founding member of Nirvana, for Coast Community Radio. That evening, Novoselic played a variety of vinyl records.
But one part of the show stood out to Pyle in particular. During his show, Novoselic read a piece from poet Walt Whitman alongside a guitar piece by John Fahey, a well-known slide guitar player.
Pyle was hooked.
Later, when Pyle and Novoselic met in person, Pyle suggested the two collaborate. Pyle wanted to create something similar to the poetry and guitar combination Novoselic had broadcasted.
“Soon, we had a song about a tsunami and others about a lahar, geology and birds. Those kinds of things,” Novoselic said. “And then it got to a point where we had 11 songs.”
Pyle and Novoselic had created the music for what would later become their album “Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole.”
Ray Prestegard, who Novoselic plays with in the band Giants in the Trees, joined the duo a few years ago. All three are featured on the album.
“Ray can play just about any music under the sun,” Pyle said. “He helped us with writing and coming up with more string parts.”
The album features poems written and curated by Pyle, alongside instrumental songs written by Novoselic. Much of the songs’ instrumental parts are inspired by Fahey, Novoselic said.
“I play finger-style guitar as much as possible,” Novoselic said. “That kind of style of Americana is really abstract.”
In each song, Pyle reads the lyrics while Novoselic and Prestegard play instruments such as guitars, mandolin, violin and piano.
“In other collaborations where poets are working with musicians, the music is often jazz, and in the background,” Pyle said. “That is not the case here at all. These are songs. They’re lyrics, I just recite them instead of sing.”
At times, Pyle shifts from spoken word to harmonica as Novoselic and Prestegard continue playing.
“They let me be a musician in the group, which meant a lot to me, to get to play a little bit of actual music with these fine musicians,” Pyle said.
The album was produced by Jack Endino, who Novoselic has known since his Nirvana days, as Endino worked with the band. He’s also worked with groups including Soundgarden and Mudhoney.
“Jack is a legend in music production in Seattle,” Pyle said. “He’s the peak of the profession.”
The album’s lyrics bring with them a sense of urgency as Pyle talks about nature, both local and afar. Inspiration for the lyrics comes from Pyle and Novoselic’s experiences, studies and observations.
“These songs grow out of a deep mutual concern for the future of the place we all share,” Pyle said. “The lyrics come right out of the woods.”
While working on the record, the two often talked about nature. Much of Pyle’s work has focused on conservation and land stewardship. His books also focus a great deal on nature.
“We have to think of ourselves as fundamentally a part of nature,” Pyle said. “A very dangerous idea is the dualistic idea of the separation of humans and nature… Nature is not the other. We’re apart of it.”
Lyrics come from Pyle, with adapted readings of Charles Darwin, John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, Robinson Jeffers and Freeman Dyson.
“I very much hope that listeners of the album take away a sense of journey, voyage and exploration,” Pyle said. “Not only to the ends of the earth with Darwin, Steinbeck, and Ricketts but also into their own backyards, meadows, pastures and parks.”