By: Lindsey Borders
Critically acclaimed husband and wife duo (Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist), Over The Rhine, are known for their thoughtful and poignant lyrics as well as their skillful playing. Their latest record, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, is an ambitious double album inspired by the couple’s rural Ohio home, where they’ve lived for over eight years. Over the Rhine has received praise from such reputable media sources as USA Today, Newsday and Entertainment Weekly, among others.
We had the privilege of speaking with Linford Detweiler about the couple’s music, their Ohio home, guest musical appearances, and more!
What was the writing and recording process like for Meet Me at the Edge of the World?
The songs on Meet Me at the Edge of the World all revolve loosely around this hideaway farm in Ohio where we’ve lived for the last eight and a half years. It’s starting to feel like home out here and we realized that we had a group of songs that were all kind of connected to this place, in one way or another. There were probably about two dozen songs or so and I think I had a secret dream that maybe all of these could end up (more or less) in one place, on what would be a double album. We weren’t married to that idea; it had to kind of be revealed in the studio.
Karin and I started the neighborhood of Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, which was kind of considered the bad part of town. But to a couple of small-town Ohio kids it looked like someone had lifted up a European city and flown it across the Atlantic and dropped it along the Ohio River. It’s a beautiful little German neighborhood and we were kind of swept off our feet by that neighborhood and did our early writing and recording there. We both had a dream, I think, to eventually end up outside the city and find a little piece of unpaved earth that would be our refuge from the road.
I was out driving around one day, trying to finish the songs on the record that we called “Drunkard’s Prayer,” going around the bend in a road and found this little, pre-Civil War farmhouse and some shackle buildings. There was a “For Sale” sign stuck in the yard and I brought Karin out to show her and she said “Yes.” We didn’t quite know what were getting into, but you know, we’ve been here for eight years. So the songs [sic: on the album] have all come out of this chapter and it’s nice to get them all wrapped up in one place.
Were the lyrics from your songs on the album a sorrowful reflection of how you felt when you first moved into the house and how you became more comfortable and found peace with where you were over time?
It’s interesting you used the word sorrow. Both Karin and I grew up around a lot of old gospel music and immediately this line popped up from some old hymn, “sorrow and love flow mingle down.” Thank God for that beautiful language in those old hymns, by the way, there couldn’t have been Johnny Cash without his mother’s hymnals.
It could just be a season of life Karin and I were in; we’ve both laid loved ones to rest.Karin wrote a beautiful song for the record called “Wildflower Bouquet” where she was sort of processing the end of her life and what she might want that to look like.
There’s a lot of joy that’s attached to this chapter and finding a place that feels like home. I think there’s also just the bittersweet reality that life is complicated and we celebrate the tiny victories. We also process the loss and hopefully it’s all reflected there in the music.
How has your music as a duo evolved over the years?
That’s an easy question [sic: laughing]. We hope that every record is a step forward in some way. We’ve tried really hard not making the same record over and over again. Hopefully, people from album to album will feel like they’re stepping into a different chapter.
With Meet Me at the Edge of the World I think the biggest change is that Karin and I are singing together more on this record, more than we ever have in twenty years. It feels like we’ve started a new band in some ways. I like to say I married a small-town girl with a big voice. For years I was happy to let Karin do her thing. I think it’s great because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have been in the band with her for two decades. With my own voice I would maybe chime in on one or two songs with each record but my singing voice felt a bit unwieldy to me. I have kind of a low voice and I can also sing high, but maybe the middle part was missing.
It’s been a huge discovery to begin putting the two voices together more and it’s so much fun. I think people are hearing that on the record for the first time. To be able to discover something that feels that fresh twenty years into our career is really gratifying and exciting. It’s wonderful to know there’s more out there to be discovered and there’s always room for growth. I’m sure if we feel like we aren’t growing we’ll move on to something else.
You’ve worked with a variety of guest musicians on this album, including Aimee Mann. How did these collaborations come about?
Karin met Aimee on the set of an independent film that they shot together last summer with Loudon Wainwright, John Doe, and some other musicians. It was wonderful that Aimee came in and sang with Karin because we have been fans of her writing and her voice for a long, long time.
The other musicians were just amazing players that we had a chance to hear in various contexts and thought would be right for this record. Joe Henry (producer) helped us put the band together. The exciting thing is that the band that made the record with is going to be touring with us in the fall tour. It’s fun to bring the band out and sort of bring the full representation of what’s on the record.
How do you and Karin connect with an audience personally?
Karin: I think it begins with the songs. Songs are a way of being present with people when you can’t physically be with them in the same room.Your song is sort of standing in for you.
People that discover our music have explained to us that they met somebody in college and our music was the soundtrack to them falling in love. Somebody else explained that they were allowed to take music to the hospital while giving birth or during cancer treatments, so they took a couple of our records. We’ve received letters about people going off to war in Iraq and how our music was some sort of connection to home for them. Someone in Ireland buried their sister and our music was part of that process. The connection that the songs make on our behalf is hopefully a deep one.
When we show up and share an evening of music with these people in a room, it’s just kind of a celebration of that connection that has already been made. We do try to write songs that can fit into some of these big moments, both the joyful and the sorrowful stuff. We are wanting to make a deep connection with people and have a real conversation. I think it begins with the writing.
What has been your best gig as a duo, to date?
Our best gig? As a duo? They say when you’re a retired songwriter, sitting in your rocking chair, looking back on all of it, that you can only remember the five best and the five worst and everything else in the middle is a blur.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s easy to pick some of the more high-profile moments like getting to open for some of our heroes Bob Dylan and Lucinda Williams or playing Newport Folk Festival. Those are all wonderful mile-markers.
During the more modest concerts, like Eddie’s Attic, sometimes there’s an amazing connection that’s made in a more intimate setting, that is about as good as it gets. I will say it’s not always about the biggest spotlight.
Joni Mitchell just turned 70 and someone asked her in her whole life as a songwriter, what was she most proud of. This is Joni Mitchell we’re talking about. She thought about it and she said, “You know what, these two teenage girls lost their mother, and wrote to me and said that they listened to my records in their bedroom after their mother died, and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
That’s Joni Mitchell coming back to the question about making a connection. At the end of the day that’s really all there is. The rest of it is you hope to make a living. It’s nice to get the recognition from your peers, but it comes down to making that connection with somebody in that real way. That’s what it’s all about.
Over the Rhine plays a sold-out show tonight at Eddie’s Attic.