Lowland Lakers took the long way, but it seems they’ve finally arrived.
The folk act began to take shape when frontman Nate Case was introduced to Haley Rydell during their freshman year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2004. After Rydell returned home to Fargo/Moorhead, Case met upright bassist Matt Donoghue. But the trio still didn’t form until all three members found themselves in Minneapolis about six years ago. Their debut EP, We Walked and Walked and Walked, dropped in 2014 and a full-length, The Mississippi is Between Us Now, followed in 2016.
After finding a replacement for Donoghue in bassist Taylor Donskey, the Lowland Lakers are back at it with a new LP, Lost in the Move. On this album, they’ve eased away from the traditional bluegrass of the band’s beginnings but maintain the simple guitar, fiddle, and banjo instrumentation paired with male-female harmonies that earned them a loyal fan base. The new songs, inspired by two distinct kinds of loss, are moodier and darker than the band’s previous releases, but no less beautiful for it. If you’re a fan of unpretentious, acoustic Duluth bands, the Lowland Lakers will be right up your sonic alley.
We spoke to Case ahead of the band’s album release show at the Turf Club on Sunday.
City Pages: Did the fact that the band started in Duluth have any influence on its sound?
Nate Case: I don’t think that I can get away from that. I can argue against that until I’m blue in the face, but the fact is, I’m a product of my environment. I was really involved with that folk scene. I really liked the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. Some of my best friends are in a band called Feeding Leroy and they’re an incredible folk band. The Trampled by Turtles scene up there was something that we all dove headfirst into and became obsessed with. Seeing Charlie Parr and Trampled on a weekly basis in 2004, 2005 was eye-opening for me. It turned my taste for loud, distorted, electric guitar into a more palatable acoustic sound. You can pretty much sing the same songs, you just switch the instrumentation, right?
CP: Absolutely. At one point in the life of the Lowland Lakers, you swapped bassist Matt Donoghue for Taylor Donskey. Why did that happen?
NC: Our old bassist, Matt, is also somebody I know from Duluth. A few years ago, he enrolled in med school. For a while, it worked. We would kind of play around his schedule and it was fine. Little by little, it got a little more intense. Now he’s doing his rounds and residency at HCMC and couldn’t really keep up with the demands of raising a family and flipping a house and also playing in a band. He had to bow out. We have a new bass play, Taylor. He’s a friend of a friend. He’s been a shoe-in. We still connect with Matt pretty often. One of Matt’s songs actually made it onto the latest record.
CP: Which song is that?
NC: The song Matt wrote is “All I’m Good For” about his baby daughter. I’m trying to remember the lyrics. Basically, it’s “I couldn’t love you any better than this. This is all I’m good for.” It’s a really nice sentiment to her. We really liked the song. We played it when he was in the band. Then Haley started singing it because we kind of knew Matt would be parting ways with us. Down the line, he came into the studio and we did it and did some background vocals and it sounds really nice. He gets full credit for it, full ownership. We’re just lucky to have recorded it.
CP: Your new bassist Taylor also wrote a song on the new album. Talk about that.
NC: Yeah, the song is titled “He Doesn’t Waltz.” Taylor’s grandfather passed away, probably a year and a half ago. The story Taylor tells is that his grandfather lived a pretty hard life. He was a farmer and he was just a stubborn dude who refused to “kick the bucket,” as he says. Multiple times he had a few brushes with death. Inevitably it finally happened and when they were at the funeral, everyone was standing around talking and they all came to the conclusion that he just didn’t know how to three-step. He couldn’t waltz. He could dance in two and he could dance in four but for some reason he didn’t understand the concept of three. Taylor wrote this song as a memorial to him.
CP: Some of the other songs on the album are the result of a breakup you went through. What happened with that relationship?
NC: Without diving into too much detail, I was in a pretty long-term and very serious relationship for a while. As these things go, time moves on and people tend to drift apart a little bit. That what’s happened. Although there aren’t a lot of ill feelings, there are a lot of strong feelings. I was able to channel a lot of what I was going through into these songs. Some of them were pre-breakup, some of them were post-breakup, but it was all right around that time. Even though they helped me through a time in my life, I feel like I’m over the hump and on the mend. The songs placed a bookmark in a certain time of my life that I don’t really know how to describe. It happened and it’s nice to be able to remember it in a way that sounds nice. It definitely was a tough thing to go through. I don’t recommend it to anyone.
CP: Is it difficult to sing those songs live given the pain behind them?
NC: Yeah, it is. A couple of them we haven’t even performed live yet. One of them, the most intense breakup song, we haven’t even done live because I haven’t really wanted to. It’s not always the easiest thing but the alternative, of keeping things bottled up and lying to yourself, telling yourself, “I don’t have a problem. Everything’s fine,” is, in my experience, much more difficult. It’s obviously really hard to cope and to deal sometimes but I’ve been riding the pathway of least resistance, so it’s much more difficult for me to not do this stuff.
CP: Which was the song you haven’t performed yet?
NC: It’s titled “The Way You’ll Run.”
CP: That’s interesting because I wanted to ask you about a line from that one. It goes, “You know exactly what you gave up on but you’re out the door anyway.” What’s going on there?
NC: I’m basically referring to myself. Everyone that makes hard decisions, hopefully they know exactly what the ramifications of their ultimate decision is. You weigh the pros and cons, and the good and the bad, and make a decision. You always kind of know what you’re giving up on, but hopefully you made the right decision even though you had to make sacrifices. It’s always nice coming out the other end and knowing that you tried your best and that you’re still OK. You might have some scrapped knees or broken bones, emotionally, metaphorically, but your heart’s still beating and you’re still facing the day.
CP: The album title speaks to leaving, as does the album cover art with a pickup truck that looks like it’s loaded for a move. Who took that picture?
CP: Our good friend Isabel Fajardo took that. The place she took it is outside of the house that I’m renting currently in Northeast Minneapolis. That truck was formerly owned by me. I actually just sold it to a good friend. It was my little project truck that I just couldn’t quite find time for.
How it works in naming an album, for me, is I just come up with 30 or 40 names. I just kind of spit ‘em out, throw ‘em at the wall. Haley and Taylor come up with ideas, too. We have this giant list and we start feeling out which ones share a vibe with the songs. It’s hard to name the album before all of the songs are put on it. Once you have a group of songs that make sense together, then it’s like, “What’s the theme here?” When I came up with the theme, that photo just kind of made sense.
With: Gaelynn Lea
Where: Turf Club
When: 7 p.m. Sun. July 29
Tickets: $10; more info here