Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Drinkard Sisters' 'Enough Already' (Interview)

Drinkard Sisters - 'Enough Already' (on Tool & Die Records)

The thing about harmonizing is that it has a hint of the supernatural. Or that it might sound like a séance put to melody. I’m not saying it’s spooky—I’m saying it’s powerful! I’m saying it’s elemental! I’m saying that when the Drinkard Sisters perform, or if you’re even just listening to their songs via cassette—a luminescence manifests in whatever room you’re in…because fusing their two voices allows for an organic expansion and elevation of what was already a poignant arrangement. They have a new album out on Oct 12th—and it starts the conversation about exploring and utilizing genres beyond folk/bluegrass/roots as well as their potential for telepathic communication.

I first saw the Drinkard Sisters several years ago. The dynamics of their voices—this control of a tender, breathy lilt into a full-hearted flutter, the ability to create formidable ambiance with the minimalism of just their two voices—it was already there! 

I’m going to get into this later with their Q&A, so I’m not bashful or hesitant to say that their songs were like three-minute tickets to a happy place. These were affable, toe-tapping tunes to sway to, to swoon to, to smile upon crescendo…Or it was like I felt a burden lifted, some kind of burden, or that a general woe was diminished. I think that’s the true power of harmonization—a musical embodiment of an assurance that you’re never alone. Even you, listener, will have someone who can sing a similar life-song…but not with an empathy of limited dimensions but more of a restorative boost that gives you new buoyancy.

“…take me from this crowded street / in any direction / so I can hear your sweet voice when you / tell me / tell me a story / I long to be / caught inside the pretty whir of your mind…” This is from the title track, which you’ll be able to hear in a week, when they celebrate the new album Enough Already at the Outer LimitsLounge. That’s a powerful track about

Before I go on, I should say that The Drinkard Sisters are Caitlin and Bonnie. As a duo, they’ve been writing, performing and recording music over the last decade together around the local music scene—they’ve been sisters, of course, all their lives. Online, they’ve had singles, EPs, and even a delightful Christmas album. They also spent a good chunck of the last two years as part of the Craig Brown Band, singing on his album, hitting the road, and playing some seriously high profile venues.

But… their new album, Enough Already, essentially feels like a proper debut. Almost two years ago, they added Nick Landstrom on drums, Ryan Harroun on bass and Dan Clark on guitar—and that’s the ensemble you’ll hear on this album, recorded by Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive.
Let’s take a listen, and get in to some Q&A.

Let’s start with how a lot of these songs start to subtly steer away from impressions that listeners might have developed about you... that it was Folk/Americana/Roots-etc…. I just love how some of these tunes sound like weird rock or psychedelic or noisy! That's not a question, but maybe you could talk about what that was like to explore that and where you might go from here?
Caitlin: ...we became a rock band!! Playing with the band pushed us to play louder, sing louder, which is really fun. Who knew…?... deep down we love to rock! I love playing with this band so much. Warren's cache of fuzz pedals definitely added to the vibe on the record; when he would say ‘…what if we did this weird thing here…?’ … we were like YEAH MORE SPACESHIP SOUNDS! The new songs we have been working on are rockers; I think singing in the Craig Brown Band this long rubbed off on us.

Majority of siblings don't grow up performing and writing music together. Usually it's sports or video games or whatever... What's it like to have grown up bonding over music? Do you think anything about it made it a unique coming-of-age experience compared to me & my brother and our video games? Are you able to attain a whole other level of kinship/communication when you harmonize your voices together so intensely?
     Caitlin: We grew up in a house full of music. Early on we both loved whatever my parents put on whether it was Motown or CCR or Amy Grant or you know, like Mannheim Steamroller. Did a lot of interpretive dancing to Mannheim Steamroller. So the early formative stuff was all shared and we still dig a lot of it. Once we were old enough to buy our own music, Bonnie was always more into pop music: I remember her being into ABBA, Belle & Sebastian, and The Seekers when she was in high school and I've always leaned more into folk and country. We didn't start really making music together until we were in our 20s and making music together allowed us to find out where all that stuff overlaps. I think that's why we aren't really a straight folk-country band or psychedelic-pop band, the magic is in the synthesis. 
           Bonnie: For most of our lives my sister and I have listened to different types of music. I've always been drawn to disco and pop where my sister prefers more acoustic, singer songwriter music. I find melody and beat more important where she focuses more on lyrics. But it's these differences that I think sets our sound apart. Singing together as often as we do has definitely enhanced our weird sibling wavelength. I've noticed we often say the same thing at the same time using the same inflection more often than ever before!

               Caitlin: And…we do have a fairly weird level of telepathic communication when we sing together, especially when working out harmonies for the first time on a song. Neither of us have any formal music education so we rely mostly on ESP and kind of staring at each other and pointing in the air at imaginary notes. Working out harmonies together is the most fun part of the process for me.   

Can you talk about the trio of instrumentalists who joined the band a little while ago?
Damn, it’s almost been two years! Mittenfest-2017, on New Year’s Day was our first gig with the band. Thought it would be a one-off thing, but it was so much fun that we could not stop! The lineup has changed a little since then. Dan Clark played guitar on this record and played with us for the first year; he's a long time friend of ours and helped push the songs into more of a psych-rock territory. Nick Landstrom has played the drums since day one and is one of the most talented and versatile musicians I know in Detroit. Ryan Harroun plays bass and is a really intuitive player, he really helps us find the groove, find where the song feels good, find the magic. This summer we played a show with the scrappers at the lager house and we were down a guitar player at that point and somehow convinced Warren Defever and Pete Ballard to play the rest of our summer shows with us. I admire them both so much. Warren produced the record and played guitar and organ on it. Pete plays pedal steel on the record. They make the songs sound bigger and better than ever. This is my total dream band.

Can you talk about how you work together -when it comes to working out a song? And what you appreciate about each player and what they bring to your songs?

     Bonnie: My sister and I rarely write songs together. Usually we'll help each other out if the other gets stuck somewhere but that's about it! When we bring it to band practice, we jam on it for a bit until the song starts having a unique shape. Ryan Harroun has a way of coming up with the grooviest, breeziest baselines and Nick Landstrom, our drummer, is so talented and always whips up the most perfectly complicated beats that give our songs so much flavor. We are so damn lucky to have welcomed Pete Ballard and Warren Defever into Drinkard Sisters this past summer. What Warren plays on guitar adds so much power to our songs, that's really the best way I can describe it. I've never closed my eyes during a set as much as I have since Pete Ballard joined the band. The sound of the pedal steel really elevates the songs and adds so much color and passion to our songs. I feel so blessed to be making music with these incredibly talented, quality humans. 

Speaking of Defever, what did you appreciate most, or find most interesting about working with him? 
     Bonnie: I still can't believe HE wanted to join OUR band! He is a wizard. I'm not kidding. 
Warren has been a big supporter of our music. He invited our first band, Golden, to open for His Name Is Alive at the Magic Stick in 2011, which was the biggest show we'd ever played. We had never done any professional recording before we worked with Warren so we were pretty nervous. We recorded the Craig Brown Band album at his studio about six months before we made this one so we knew what we were in for. He's an amazing musician, a very patient and encouraging producer., a great person to have in your corner. I love working with Warren because he's really smart and funny, though I can almost never tell if he's joking or not… But most importantly he gets what we are trying to do even when we don't know how to communicate it.

I want to talk about what seems to be a direction towards creating songs that can soothe, or brighten, or have just a tenderness to them… What school of thought do you subscribe to when it comes to ‘the power’ of music… If punks wanna tear down the system, or folkies wanna send a message of love, or metal heads wanna implode with loud catharsis…what have YOU been drawn to, most of all, when you recall your fondest memories of music?
Caitlin: It's true, we aim to soothe... When I write songs, I'm not writing them to make other people feel better, I’m generally writing them to make myself feel better. Bonnie and I have both done a lot of healing work in the last seven years. We lost a family member to murder in 2011 and we spent six months living in the house where it happened and went through a lot of darkness and pain and when we finally came out on the other side of it, I suppose we wanted to share what we had figured out, which was that you never really figure it out. Nobody does. And that's the most beautiful and freeing thing in the world. 
          Bonnie: I think we definitely have the intention of sending a message of love and kindness through our music. ...getting through (2011) was obviously life changing for both of us. It taught us the same lessons, which is why our music is cathartic in a way.
               Caitlin: A lot of the songs I write are about just getting outside the little boxes we create for ourselves, in our own minds and lives that keep us from being fully alive. Jonathan Richman is a performer who makes every single person in whatever room he's singing in feel better about everything, without being cheesy or overly inspirational. I've never seen a room of typically disgruntled/hard to impress adults become so perceptibly uplifted by a performer. I want to spread that kind of feeling.

Click here for more info on the release party at Outer Limits Lounge

Tool & Die Records

Drinkard Sisters

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