Django Haskins has five solo records to his credit and four with his extravagant pop band, The Old Ceremony, at his back. It's hard to believe that he'd ever feel inadequate about performing or completing a piece of writing. But today he sounds scared out of his shell: "I'm totally unprepared," he says. But it's not music he's unsure of.
"I just started writing prose and nonfiction a couple of years ago," continues Haskins. "I'm only a couple years in and I know now enough to know that I really don't know anything."
While touring with The Old Ceremony for the better part of the last decade, Haskins has spent a lot of time in the van reading histories and, as he puts it, simply becoming obsessed with historical writing. When he started digging into the stories of his own family, he learned that his lineage—especially his great-grandfather—had a lot to share with the world. Haskins' great-grandfather survived aboard the Titanic, spent time at the side of Teddy Roosevelt and "had this Zelig life."
"That [discovery]," says Haskins, "began the whole process of just trying to learn how to write something other than songs." It turned out to be a more challenging adventure than expected. The songwriter alternately calls this process daunting and thrilling because it's such a new pursuit.
"Unlike with writing songs, I actually have a responsibility to the facts," says Haskins, laughing. "With a song, I can take the general emotional impact of a situation and then make up what I want; with this I actually have pages and pages of notes."
That recognition and a base appreciation of literature helped inspire the designs for an upcoming solo show: He's invited Chapel Hill writer Daniel Wallace to share a story between his set and one from producer and songwriter Jeff Crawford.
Wallace is perhaps best known for Big Fish, which Tim Burton adapted for the big screen. He's written four books and teaches popular creative writing classes at UNC-Chapel Hill. Haskins first encountered him at The Monti, the nonprofit series for storytellers sharing their best tale. For Wallace, this restructured rock show seemed a great chance to shake things up.
"Concerts and readings have such established conventions that even the best ones tend to be boring. Everyone knows what they're getting into," he admits. "This is fresh; no one knows what might happen, not even me."
Wallace has at times dipped his toe into the music scene, even taking violin lessons with The Old Ceremony's Gabriel Pelli and voice lessons with Haskins himself. "I won't be singing or playing violin at the show," he vows.
Opener Jeff Crawford—who, aside from his session and onstage work with plenty of local bands and in his Arbor Ridge Studios, writes his own songs—likes to test the divide between lyrics and literature, too. Calling himself "a once-frustrated writer of prose," he based his last record on The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. He's excited "to hear someone read their work alongside my songs."
It's redundant to point out that many of the best artists are constantly testing and crossing their own boundaries. For this show, Haskins is hoping to shift audience expectations as well. "There's no reason why someone who enjoys original music wouldn't enjoy original writing or dance or puppets," figures Haskins, who recently performed with Paperhand Puppet Intervention at the opening of the Haw River Ballroom. In the past, The Old Ceremony has performed in forest theaters and with aerial dancers. He's currently writing music to pair with some of his literature.
"I'm just kind of blindly stepping one page at a time," he says. "We'll see what happens."