Letters

April 23, 2010

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OVER THE RHINE
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212

April 23, 2010

Hello extended musical family,

Might want to pour a cup of something good and settle in. You know it always takes me at least four pages to say a proper hello.

Hope you are well.

Many thanks to all of you who were able to join us at our recent concerts down South and beyond: many memorable moments, some very enjoyable evenings. Thank you. And thanks for letting us try out some of our new songs. We’re heading out again on Saturday for a sweet little run (KY, MN, IL, MO, IN). Hope to see you.

We have some big news.

Spring has come to Ohio. The grass is green, the silver maples have their leaves, our part of the earth has tilted back toward the sun, which seems to take pleasure now in drenching the house in morning light. If you stand on the porch, close your eyes, turn your face toward the sun and let it shine on your eyelids, if you breathe deeply, it feels like someone is pouring a pitcher of light directly into your soul.

The birds are drunk on spring, flirting, nesting, singing. Our lone tupelo tree has new eager buds that make it look like a candelabra full of tiny green candles. My mother says if you pay attention it’s like watching the world being created all over again right in front of your eyes.

Karin and I sit on the porch swing, and we often wonder aloud: Could we share this? What if we could use our little farm as a creative gathering place for the occasional outdoor concert, a songwriting workshop, a place where we could help other young artists find their way forward? Hopefully, we can continue to put the infrastructure in place for that to happen. But that’s a conversation for a different day…

Yes, we are feeling adventurous. (Maybe adventure is simply paying attention to the part of you that wants to be created all over again.)

We are feeling like we want to invite you along.

We have some big news.

For the first time ever, this coming May 17, Karin and I are planning to travel to the West Coast to make an Over the Rhine record. We are going to work with producer Joe Henry and an amazing cast of characters. We are going to make a record that we can’t quite imagine. Hopefully it will be a little bit strange and a little bit wonderful. 

Hopefully we will, “Blow the seams out of the songs…” (JH)

One thing for sure: We are going to be surprised.

There are at least three reasons why we still want to make music:

One: We believe making music has something to do with what we were put on this earth to do. If we leave our songs alone, they call to us until we come back to where we belong. When we live in the sweet spot of that calling, it gives others (you?) permission to discover the sweet spot of your own calling and live there. 

Two: Both Karin and I have had occasion to bury loved ones. When we put loved ones in the ground, we find that we lose interest in acquiring stuff. We know we can’t take it with us when we go. No, it’s not about acquiring, rather it’s about what we are able to leave behind. That’s what gives life meaning: doing work that you can leave behind, your personal token of gratitude to the world in return for the gift of getting to be alive in it. (We believe the opportunity to make this record with Mr. Henry has everything to do with what we will leave behind.)

Three: Presence. There is a beautiful passage of scripture that made an impact on me as a child that I have never forgotten. Jesus said that if you help someone in need, someone hungry or naked or thirsty or imprisoned, if you are able to be present with them and soothe them in some way, it’s the same as if God was hungry or naked or thirsty or imprisoned and you found a way to help God. 

There is so much need in this beautiful broken world it can be overwhelming. Maybe the most profoundly satisfying thing about making music for the last 20 years is we have watched people invite our music to be part of the big moments of their lives – a slow dance in the kitchen with someone who changed everything, a walk down the aisle at a wedding, a child being born… Unfortunately, big moments also occur during seasons when it feels like everything is going horribly wrong. We all need music during those dark times too – I know I do. It’s always humbling and amazing to learn that our music can be present in those too-difficult-too-imagine times. In some small way, through our music, it feels like we get to be present too, even when that is physically impossible. We get to be there in spirit.

That’s enough to keep us coming back.

That and all the sex and drugs…

I’m just kiddin’.

One dilemma with doing something creative for a long time is it can become a bit predictable. If an artist doesn’t push forward into fresh territory, doesn’t continue to risk something, doesn’t seek out new people who can teach her something unexpected, help her find a new way into the center of it, something vital begins to atrophy.

Karin and I have been writing our new songs for a good while now. I suppose many of them are understated glimpses into the people we are (so far) and the people we long to be and the difference that lies between. 

Songs are little holders of ideas and images and questions that we want to remember. Sometimes the songs simply gather together some particular details of our life here on the farm. The songs teach us what we care about, and on a good day surprise us. Sometimes the new songs soothe us during our own dark moments. Sometimes they try to lend a helping hand.

Underneath our writing, there is a hunger and belief in possibility: the possibility that the “best” Over the Rhine record hasn’t been made yet. The possibility that our best work is still out there waiting for us. The possibility that we can still grow…

With this in mind, we asked ourselves, If we could make our next record with any producer/ally, someone who could help us record a project that we can’t quite imagine and envision (we want to be at least a little bit surprised as I’m sure you do), who would that person be? 

We thought of some of our favorite moments on records we had heard in the last several years.

A name that quickly rose to the top of our list is songwriter and producer Joe Henry. 

Joe has been quietly making records (well not that quietly, he has won at least two Grammy’s) that don’t sound like other records being made in 2010. They are a little bit dark and cinematic and funky and unpredictable. It seems like he loves to help performers who have already covered a lot of miles – people like Mavis Staples, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Solomon Burke, Louden Wainwright, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Mose Allison – rediscover the soul of what they do in new light.

But maybe even more importantly, Joe is a fine songwriter. We were excited about the possibility of getting his perspective on the actual writing. 

Well, it’s always a long shot when you start at the top of your list, but to make a long (amazing) story short enough to fit into this letter, Joe has fully embraced the idea of helping us make this next Over the Rhine record. The ensuing conversation has been wonderful. We have discovered some friends in common, and I think we will discover even more common ground along the way as we discover the next chapter of the band together. We are even writing a song together that keeps us up at night in a good way.

Here’s the thing: this is the point in the process where early in Over the Rhine’s career a record label would have stepped forward and offered to put up the money to make this record. The label would then have taken outright somewhere between 80-90% of all the money the record made (your money). Out of the 10-20% that was our share, they then would have reimbursed themselves all the money they advanced us to make the recording possible, plus many other costs associated with its release. (This felt sort of like paying down your mortgage after the bank had already figured out how to keep 80% of your paycheck. And then the big surprise waiting at the end: after you paid off your mortgage, they still owned your house! That is, the label, after it was all said and done, owned the record forever.)

For years, most musicians went with the above, because the labels controlled distribution, and if you wanted to get your records in a record store… well, this is probably all old news to you.

For much of our career, we (and countless others) tried with varying degrees of success to find creative ways around this model. It made many of us fiercely independent. We felt we had to break free, come what may. (We should mention there are good people still working at record labels, who are trying to get good music released, but unfortunately, it feels like most labels have been all but devoured from the top down…)

Several years ago, Karin and I turned down several offers, cashed in all of our personal resources, found an investor to help us get started, and formed our own label, Great Speckled Dog, which we 100% own. We secured our own national distribution deal. 

When it comes to our music: We are now in the driver’s seat. (Our label, GSD, is named after our Great Dane Elroy, of course: Him old, but him baby.)

Our first chapter with our very own Great Speckled Dog Records was the release of The Trumpet Child and Snow Angels. We learned a lot. Thanks to you, those projects supported us, and our touring ensemble, for almost 3 years. The Trumpet Child is on pace to eventually out sell any record released on our behalf by a label in the last 20 years. It has been a rare blessing, to see the audience for our music continue to steadily grow.

But now we find ourselves very much at the end of an album cycle winding down. It’s time for the next step. It’s time for a new Over the Rhine record.

Friends, the good news is this: 

In 2010, there is no middleman. 

It’s just us and you. 

So, for the first time in our career, we are simply going to appeal directly to you, the people who care about Over the Rhine’s music, and ask if you will partner directly with us in making this new record. 

We have a little less than four weeks to raise the money. It’s an ambitious step for us, but it feels right.

Whatever funds we are able to raise will go directly to our label, Great Speckled Dog, to help take care of this new music we will make. It will be used to help cover actual recording costs, and give the songs the best send-off into the world that we can afford. (We do plan to see the record distributed nationally and internationally.)

Close friends are always surprised when we begin to tally the costs involved in getting an Over the Rhine record recorded and out the door. We’ll spare you a full report, but generating a well-made thing – it does add up.

If you’re willing to help us make this record, we will offer our gratitude in all sorts of ways. (We’re not asking for something for nothing. We had a little fun and came up with a whole range of options you can grin at.)

If you can spare $15 now, we’ll make sure you have your beautifully packaged CD one month before the official release date, along with a personal thank you on Over the Rhine’s website, 3 bonus tracks and a small surprise when the CD ships. 

We will not presume, but if you are able and willing to give way more than $15, we will gratefully accept, give you any number of special treats in return, and put the funds to good use to make this next chapter of Over the Rhine possible. We will hopefully have more than a little fun along the way. We will keep you posted. 

Once or twice in my life I got to see my Amish relatives get together with friends and neighbors and frame a barn on a Saturday. This doesn’t feel all that different to me. It’s always humbling to admit you need help, but if you find the courage, it creates a space for a community to come together.

Maybe making this new record together is just that: An opportunity to come together to leave something behind, a little token of gratitude to the world for the gift of being alive in it. We will write our names on the music (and yours if you’re game) and let people know we were here. We tried to pour a little pitcher of light into the soul of the world.

We hope you will join us.

Curious?

Walk down this rabbit hole to get all the details:

http://www.overtherhine.com/makearecord.php

Love from Nowhere,

Linford and Karin

PS:
Karin and I will be selling a few of our worldly possessions to help make this possible, including some (vintage) musical instruments and (vintage) recording equipment that we no longer use regularly, some of which we used to record past Over the Rhine projects. Stay tuned for more info in case you’d like to own a little piece of OtR history.

PPS: 
Please feel free to share this e-mail with family and friends. Leave a copy on the paint-splattered oak table next to works-in-progress. Line the rows of your flower beds with its pages, cover them with 2-3 inches of mulch and keep the weeds down. Slip a copy of the letter after scrawling the words “WHAT NEXT?!” in red ink on it into the LP jacket of The Trumpet Child as a sort of extended warning label. And finally, loosely line the Victorian birdcage with these pages edge to edge and let the white doves crap all night long.

PPPS: 
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