April 3, 1996
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212
Dear Mason Jar Collectors,
I’m sitting in the back room of Kaldi’s Coffeehouse and Bookstore on Main Street here in Cincinnati. I live more-or-less across the street and have for almost 8 years. Y’know, my third-story bedroom window and all that. The neighborhood has changed almost as much as I have… I’m drinking coffee and smoking a pipe.
(If ‘the inklings’ were still getting together, and were based here in Cincinnati, I like to think they would meet in this room.)
I just scanned some of the words that have been tossed back and forth in this delightfully surreal discussion group. I was amused, somewhat bewildered and yes, my ears are burning: y’all have been talking about us. (!)
Amused at the chalkmark in a rainstorm… Bewildered that such a group even exists.
What an odd lot of scholars, swingers, single mothers and Sunday School teachers. It’s perfect.
First of all, is everybody comfortable with bandmembers reading this stuff? Good heavens, it’s like eavesdropping. You must wonder what goes through my mind…
“Why, that jelly-brained, toadstool licking troll. How could he say that about me?”
“This is so nice. These people are the nicest people. Oh, that’s so nice.”
“An Englishman complaining about an expensive fan club? You can’t even turn around and spit in the UK for less than 20 pounds sterling. You have to pay for ketchup at McDonalds!”
“If God had an e-mail address, what would it be?”
“Say…these people use words like ‘hermeneutical’ and ‘proselytizing’ and ‘theologist’.”
“Oh my. You’d think I was Charles Wesley.”
It’s sorta fun actually, but I go back and forth on reading press and e-mail and letters. On one hand if somebody writes us a letter, of course, I want to read it. I love to know what people see and feel and what they think about. (Making music is sort of like writing a letter to everyone and no one. One is never exactly sure how to pay the postage. But believe me, my heart always beats a little faster when somebody writes back. From my perspective, this discussion group again reminds me that on some level I believe in miracles.)
On the other hand, there’s a dilemma for an ‘artist’ if she or he begins to pay too close attention to what others are saying. It’s so difficult to find your own voice. The danger lies in beginning to believe you could please people more (or more people) if you were somebody other than yourself.
But I especially enjoyed your discussion of artist-audience relationship and ownership of any work made public.
I believe the best kind of writing (or at least the writing that interests me) almost always requires a ‘leap of faith’ for the writer in that we often don’t know where the words are leading us initially. We simply have to write in order to find out.
At first, the feeling is like having run too fast and being short of breath. Or the need to write may just be an overwhelming sense of missing someone you’ve never met.
Sometimes I figure out what a song means to me while I’m actually wrestling the words into place. Other times, it takes weeks, months, years. Often I have to guess right along with everyone else.
‘Jacksie’ started out on a sad day as a personal song and then as I was writing it I soon realized that it was probably more a response to a couple of books I had recently read than to any events in my own life that may have moved me to begin writing. (I wrote the bridge section, i.e. the part after the second chorus, after I realized this.)
Incidentally, the band had absolutely nothing to do with the ‘Jacksie’ video, other than showing up for a couple of afternoons. When Michael Bennet-Shur, a local artist who has since relocated to NYC, approached us with the desire to make a video, we encouraged him to develop his own response to the song. He tried to get me to meet with him to discuss what the song was about and I refused. His interpretation was definitely a surprise, and I believe is valid. Much different than the video you or I would have made, I’m sure. (We took the same approach with the director of ‘Happy With Myself’.)
I’ll never forget one evening when I sat down with my friend Tim McAllister who helped us with our first two projects and I had just written ‘And Can It Be’ and I wanted to play it for him and I was telling him all about it and he gently stopped me and said, ‘Linford, play the song. I’ll tell you what it’s about.’
This was such a revelation to me. If I have to provide a bunch of commentary, it’s probably not a good song.
Most people who hear a song don’t have the luxury of an explanation. The song itself has to speak. And once a song is written it really makes no difference what I think. It will either resonate with a listener, or not.
I believe anything of substance, i.e. anything that truly merits our listening, or reading, or observation, will suggest different things to different people, different things to us over extended periods of time, and will resist having all loose ends neatly tied up once and for all.
Imagine my surprise when a number of intelligent people informed me that ‘Fly Dance’ was clearly about masturbation. I was just as surprised when a guy in Michigan wrote a published analysis of the song in which the spider was Satan. I simply wrote the song after hearing on NPR that Nelson Mandela had been released from prison. And Ric came up with that funky groove and by-gum we had ourselves a little tune. But songs have a way of finding lives for themselves, and developing their own voices and it’s all a little bit dangerous.
In response to the discussions of our new-direction as a band, I will toss a few thoughts into the mix. (Let me loosen up the horse’s mouth.)
I’m still learning as much about this ‘new direction’ as you listeners. This new record is still pretty nebulous. But I will guarantee that it will be as different as the other three records are from each other.
I hope this record will be the most cohesive record we’ve made to date. The first three consisted of lots of “What would happen if we tried this?”
Sometimes I feel like on ”Til We Have Faces’ we learned how to write songs. On ‘Patience’ we learned how to record vocals. On ‘Eve’ we learned how to record guitars. It’s been a wonderful trip, full of surprises, but now it’s time to take the strengths from all three records and really focus who we are as a band. We’ve been around for awhile now, and we’ve learned a lot. I don’t feel compelled to try on as many hats. (Here’s a question for discussion. Does anyone consider ‘Eve’ to be uneven? Pardon the pun. It’s a long, long way from ‘Bothered’ to ‘Daddy Untwisted’. Do you perceive this diversity as a strength or weakness?)
Also, quite frankly, after three records and five years we came to a place as a band where we were all pretty wrung out. We had to really sit down and ask ourselves, “Are we up for another five years?”
I believe this new record will be the most honest and personal record we’ve made. It, even more than the other three, will give real insight into what we think about, agonize over, dream… and it certainly grew initially from that feeling of being exhausted.
One thing I hope it will communicate is that what we have learned most profoundly over the last few years is we are all deeply flawed, broken people. There is a freedom that comes from truly grasping the reality of this. This record will plumb the depths of that reality and celebrate that freedom, among other things.
Some of the songs that grew out of this recognition are quieter and I hope this record is a long slow burn. Close your eyes and drift downstream. If we go down at least we’ll drown together.
But I am happy to report that there are a lot of new songs that we didn’t play at the last Bogarts show; we wouldn’t want to give too much away too soon. Some shows feel like we’re walking on water. We don’t even look down: it’s effortless. Other shows are work. For me personally, the last Bogarts show for some reason was work. Brian, on the other hand loved it and was ecstatic about his performance and experience. Karin and Chris landed somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure what Ric thought.
(I didn’t get to talk to anyone right after the show, but I did have a few people approach me over the next few days who said it was their favorite so far.)
It sure meant a lot that 1300+ of you showed up. (And somebody actually gave us a heart-shaped box full of padlocks.) Of course, I hate the thought of disappointing people, but there have been times on this journey when I have disappointed myself so deeply. It’s not really anything new. And there are mile-markers that we all look back on fondly. The call for me as always is to follow my heart and hope for the best. (Clichés can be so useful.)
Oh my. It’s a long-winded affair and I haven’t even tackled religion. It’s enough for now.
I think of you as friends. Thanks so much for listening.
P.S. For anyone interested in more on the process of writing, I just read ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard. It’s hilarious and painfully true. Enjoy.
P.P.S. It’s going to be a busy Spring, but I’ll try to check in again. As the apple trees begin to bud, lie down in the grass and introduce us to a friend.
My quote is: “Whatever did Solomon do with 500 wives and 500 porcupines?”
Dear E-Mail Friends,
It’s been an odd Spring, but a memorable one. I hope you are well, that there is a ‘yes’ burning deep inside somewhere…
I enclosed the press release that our office put together. You folks will be the first to know the news, more-or-less…
Of course, we’re having fun rifling through our sock drawers for recordings for our independent record due out June 30. Karin is coming over this afternoon to do some singing in my kitchen, and then we’ll begin fitting all the pieces together. This record, like ‘Til We Have Faces, and Patience will consist of demo-versions of songs and home recordings, which we were planning on re-recording for I.R.S. this Spring.
But then God came down and changed all that.
These last few months have found us wandering around in the wilderness. (Is there any emotion for waiting?)
And now we’re free. Nobody to blame anymore but ourselves. It’s good to be walking again.
I guess the final straw came last March. We were all geared up to make a record with a real producer for the first time. (This can be tricky for a band that has self-produced three records.) Pat Moran really pushed us as far as song-writing, and dismissed some songs that were important to us. This wasn’t easy but we worked through it until we (the producer and the band) were satisfied.
We had our recording scenario all in place (record in Indiana, mix in Wales). Pat had greatly reduced his fee to keep us within our budget and he went to I.R.S. and said, “O.K., we’re ready, let’s make this record…” and I.R.S. for one reason and another started hemming and hawing and ended up cancelling everything at the last minute and made a real mess of things. So then I had Pat (an established, successful producer) coming to me saying “This record label is appalling…”
It was one of many clues that it was time to open a new chapter. I.R.S. could have strung us along for a couple of years so we’re very grateful to be free to make a fresh start.
Is there anything more boring than hearing a musician ramble about the thorns of the industry? I think not.
The songs on the new record will tell the same story we intended to tell with Pat’s help. It will just be a much simpler version of the same story. That’s probably not a bad thing. And hopefully we’ll still get to make the record we were planning to make someday. This record is for our friends.
In other news, Rhinelanders, look for the first copy of The Northern Spy around the end of June or early July. Your signed photo will arrive shortly after that. We need some input on when you want to have your get-together with the band. Maybe a late Fall gathering? Or Christmas? Remember, you get your very own exclusive recording on CD this December.
Also, Shelly has worked up a simple FAQ, FYI. This does not rule out some individual longer responses from band members, via the discussion group. But it’s a handy resource for general information. We’re willing to expand the FAQ, so feel free to ask more questions.
I’m going to slip away for the time being. Open up that secret heart of yours, the one you’re dying to reveal.
Linford Detweiler for Over the Rhine
OVER THE RHINE TO RELEASE NEW RECORD JUNE 30, 1996 AT “ALMOST FREE” SHOW
Several months back there was a rumour going around Cincinnati that Ric Hordinski, Over the Rhine’s guitar player, might be leaving the band. Close, but no cigar.
Over the Rhine, with original line-up decidedly still intact, has succeeded in leaving I.R.S. Records, the label which discovered and signed the band in early 1993.
“Fortune favors the bold, or so I’ve heard,” says Linford Detweiler, the band”s bass and keyboard player, “and this is a bold move on our part. We are free agents. We are currently an unsigned local band. I cannot begin to tell you what a relief this is.”
How did a band that I.R.S. touted as its next R.E.M. succeed in slipping out of a six-record deal?
“It’s all pretty hush-hush,” continues Detweiler, “but the label was sold last year and has been unstable ever since. Most of the people who we worked closely with over the last few years have now left the label. Of the 36 employees that were there when we signed, all of which we knew on a first name basis, there remains less than a half dozen. I.R.S. Records may be absorbed into a larger conglomerate, or dissolved or it could be rebuilt. But we were not looking forward to waiting around while all this is being decided. And the label is in no position at present to do anything significant for our music.”
Detweiler, the band”s guiding force convinced key players at the label that it was a waste of time to continue working together. “I like to think of the last three or four
months as a long cool chess game. I still can”t believe they let us go.”
So what does the future hold?
Over the Rhine and Peter Asher Management are opening dialogue with other major labels, a few of which have already begun to express interest. But in the meantime, don”t expect the band to go on vacation anytime soon.
Over the Rhine will be releasing an independent record later this month on Sunday, June 30. The band will play an “almost free” show ($2 voluntary donation, children under 12 free) at The Sawyer Point P&G Pavilion that same Sunday evening, June 30 at 8 pm.
Karin Bergquist, Over the Rhine’s lead vocalist, states, “We wanted to make up for the Jammin’ on Main fiasco. It was ludicrous that our fans who paid to get in were sent home early. There was no problem whatsoever at our stage. People had driven from Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania to see the show. Oh well, it”s an excuse to get together and unveil our new homespun release and it”s a full moon that night. And the river will be close by. It will be good.”
Less than a week after Over the Rhine parted company with I.R.S. Records, the band had transformed thirteen home recordings into a full length record. The band will tour throughout the summer to introduce audiences to this project, their fourth overall.
The band will also record a Christmas album this Fall and will tour 15 cities in December to promote it. Final Stop: The Emery Theatre, Cincinnati, Ohio, December
Other local summer highlights include a show at Coney Island, Friday, August 2 with The Ass Ponys. Also, later this year, Over the Rhine intends to play a short-weekend concert series of some of the small sweaty clubs in Clifton where it got its start: Sudsys, Ripleys and Top Cats.
So is there any trepidation at all accompanying the transition from major label act back to local band?
“Well there”s always the chance that our fifteen minutes are over, but I don”t think so,” concludes Detweiler. “We’ve always been able to accomplish a great deal as an unsigned act. There”s much less bureaucracy. We will pursue a deal with a major label, and we will get signed again, but I personally won’t mind if it takes a while. It”s always curious to me that some local acts are so hung up on getting signed. Being signed has nothing to do with writing an honest song. Theoretically, being on a label is supposed to help a band find a larger audience but that should never become something that overshadows why we do this in the first place: we do this because we love music.”