How to Go:
What: Over the Rhine
Where: Taft Theatre, 317 E. 5th St., Cincinnati
When: December 21, 8 p.m.
More Info: (513) 232-6220, or www.tafttheatre.org.
“I just want everyone to go away and put my feet up for awhile,” said Linford Detweiler with a laugh. Detweiler is one-half of the husband-and-wife duo that comprises Cincinnati-based folk/alt country band, Over the Rhine (OTR), and he’s talking about their latest release, Meet Me at the Edge of the World. “We need both sides to our life. One is a refuge from the world, where we have a proper view of the sky and unpaved earth to stand on. But we also need to feel that energy and connection with an audience, which brings it full circle.”
By closing their tour in Cincinnati this weekend, OTR has come full circle in more ways than one. Meet Me at the Edge of the World is OTR’s 12th full-length release since Detweiler and his wife, Karin Bergquist, started recording music together more than 20 years ago in the downtown Cincinnati neighborhood that inspired their band name.
Like a fair amount of their recent work, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, is a stripped-down affair, where the listener’s attention is directed to the acoustic and tenor guitars, the harmonizing of Detweiler and Bergquist’s voices, a garage-y bass drum, and a mellifluous harmonium and chamberlin in the background, applying the final touch to the forlorn, open spaces the album evokes. The lyrics are similarly full of lovely scenic metaphors (clouds are compared to “Heaven’s laundry hung out to dry”), all fitting since the album was frequently inspired by the landscape surrounding the pre-Civil War, fixer-upper farmhouse — located one hour outside the city — the couple moved into several years ago.
“I played a lot less piano this time,” Detweiler said. “We wanted to get a feeling of sitting on a back porch with an acoustic guitar, and let our surroundings speak for themselves.”
The new album also features Detweiler’s voice a lot more prominently, not only harmonizing with Bergquist but even trading lead vocals with her. Detweiler said the trend started when they wrote what would be the third track on the album, “Sacred Ground,” right around the time of the release of their last album, The Long Surrender.
“That was a gateway song, a clue to this album that we were only imagining at the time,” he said. “When I was teaching the melody to Karin, we heard our voices singing in unison and it was like the room changed. It was a gift, because it’s hard to find a fresh way into a song after 20 years of writing together.”
Detweiler and Bergquist have been through a lot in those 20 years. In 2003, their marital problems led to a partial tour cancellation. They reconciled, but the pain of that period crept into their 2005 release, “Drunkard’s Prayer.” However, Detweiler wouldn’t say their albums are full-blown confessionals.
“We’ve never been shy about the fact that our songs are containers, a safe place to put things into,” he said. “Our listeners treat them that way as well, and find points of connection that are different but equally legitimate. There are parts of our relationship that creep in, but it’s mostly stepping back, taking our egos out of the equation, and making sure it’s a good song, that it works.”
Now that another decade has passed, Detweiler and Bergquist have found a new preoccupation that manifests itself occasionally on the new album: death and the prospect of dying.
“When I buried my father, I started seeing the world more in terms of how much time I had left, and started doing the math,” Detweiler said with a chuckle. “It feels like an amazing gift to be part of this beautiful mess, but you also know there’s an expiration date, and music is one way with wrestling with it and embracing it.”
OTR is already working on a new album for 2014. As with Meet Me at the Edge of the World and The Long Surrender, it will be released on their own label and crowd-funded, the latter being an increasing trend among indie musicians. (OTR once rewarded their contributing fans by holding a private concert on their property). Detweiler attributes their business model to their unwillingness to leave their home state for the traditional musical havens of Los Angeles or Nashville.
“You could say it’s a glaring lack of ambition on our part,” he said. “We’d certainly thought about (moving). I guess we thought there are writers like Flannery O’Connor and Robert Frost that are connected to a particular place, and that’s Southern Ohio for us. Some of our Nashville friends are envious, thinking we’ve had more space to make our own way, but I’m sure we’ve missed out on some opportunities because we’re off the beaten path.”
According to Detweiler, the 2014 album will be a Christmas album, the third such album they’ve released. The previous two consisted of few new arrangements of traditional carols but mostly original material.
“Our (Christmas) songs reflect the complexity of the season,” he said. “It’s less jingly, more prone to acknowledge that, for some of us, there’s an empty seat at the table, that it’s a conflicted time for some people.” He added with a chuckle. “Karin says we’re inventing a genre called ‘reality Christmas.’”