Before their album release at Icehouse on Friday, Adam and Boyd sat down and shared their thoughts on some of their Minneapolis collaborators and why they are better playing together than apart.
Gimme Noise: You two have a long working relationship. Can you tell me about that? Why only now do you realize that you are stronger together than apart?
Boyd Blomberg: We met in Grand Marais. It took a while to actually get together, though we knew about each other. We finally met up one day at Adam's house -- I was living across the street at the time -- and it was pretty clear the first time we sat down and sang together that it was something worth pursuing.
Adam Moe: Over the years, there were times when we weren't playing together as much. I moved to Chicago for several years, and we'd only get together to play whenever I'd get back to Minnesota to visit. There was a period when he was playing in another duo, and we weren't playing together at all. Those times certainly weren't very musically satisfying for me. When I played with other people, it ended up feeling like work. With Boyd, it's almost like we think with the same brain. Phrasing, arrangements, harmonies all just sort of happen.
If we make a mistake on a lyric when we're singing together, most of the time we both make the same mistake at the same time. We'll arrange a song on the fly, or change an existing arrangement without warning, but we'll both make the same changes at the same time. I can generally predict what song he wants to play next, and he can do the same with me. It's actually kind of strange. I've never had that sort of experience with anyone else I've played with.
BB: As far as being stronger together than apart, there's a kind of magic that happens when two people blend really well. It's almost like the combination of two people creates a third, sometimes a fourth, person in the group. When it's working, it can sound like two people are a band, and I guess that's the goal in the end -- creating more from less. We do that.
What do you feel you were able to tell on this album that you felt you weren't able to before?
AM: We did a CD in 1998 that was really just a studio version of our live show. It was the two of us playing together in a room, professionally recorded. There were a few originals on there, but the majority was covers. We've put in a lot more time since then, and this CD is not only 100 percent original tunes, but we were able to get at them the way we wanted to. We took our time, and the stories are better for it.
BB: Let's face it. We are almost 20 years older than we were for that first album, and there's a lot more life experience to draw from. I've gotten married, had two kids, and been divorced since then. Adam has spent nearly a decade in Chicago trying to make ends meet. We are more mature, and more confident now.
How do you feel Chris and JT Bates changed the sound of the songs?
AM: For one thing, because of their backgrounds in jazz, they added a lot of musical vocabulary that you don't really find in a lot of folk recordings. If we went with a bass player, for example, that played straight folk music, it would have been harder, and maybe not even possible, to find the pocket we wanted these songs to lay in. There's a certain swing to the recordings that probably wouldn't be there without that sprinkling of jazz. In fact, on the track "Earwig," I wanted Chris to take an extended bass solo, and I let him do whatever he wanted with it. It was great to just let him go, and it gives the song a twist that a bass player without a jazz vocabulary probably couldn't give it.
They also bring so much experience into the recording studio. It makes things easy when you can trust the players to do the right thing, especially when it just feels like everyone in the room has a real feel for how the final album should sound. Also they are fun guys to be around. Loose and funny, and extremely good at what they do. We decided that part of the vibe we wanted was to include some of the studio banter so that people could have some of that experience while listening.
BB: I say it a lot, and it's true. Chris and JT can't help but care about what they are doing. These are not guys who are ever even tempted to phone in a performance. We were so happy when they said they'd work with us on the record.
AM: Another way I feel they helped is that they aren't afraid of silence. There are several cuts, "Broken Oars" comes to mind, that include some pretty extensive rests that, in the hands of less seasoned players, could get uncomfortable. JT and Chris, though, understand that sometimes it's the space between the notes can make or break a song.
Can you tell me story behind the track "I'll Love You More"?
BB: When we were in pre-production, that song hadn't even been written yet. I wrote it a couple of weeks before we went in to lay the bass and drum tracks with Chris and JT, so Adam and I had played it maybe twice before we got into the studio.
AM: Really, I had done some arranging for the vocal harmony on the fly at a couple of gigs, and because it's in b-flat, I was still looking for things to say instrumentally because b-flat isn't a very friendly key for me. But we both thought it was worth trying to record.
BB: I taught it to the guys in the studio, we played it a couple of times, and next thing you know, it's the first track on the album. Funny how that happens.
Do you have any tracks you relate to more than others?
AM: For me, it's "Without Your Love." It took some convincing get Boyd to put that one on there because it's probably the oldest song on the record and he wasn't sure it would fit with the other pieces of the puzzle. But it's the only song on the record where we sing together the whole way through, and the way Tom produced it really sells the tune. It's a great way to close the record.
BB: If you really pushed me, I'd have to say "I'll Love You More" because it was sort of an unplanned surprise. It was neat to see how it came together.
AM: Of course, I have a soft spot for "Earwig," because I wrote it. It's also the strangest song of the lot.
Do you think that nature and living on Lake Superior creeps into the music?
AM: Well, the winter weather certainly makes it easy to stay inside and practice.
BB: It impacts some of what I write, but it's not the main focus by any means. It's more the idea of remoteness that runs through a lot of the songs. I live in a little cabin by myself, and that informs a lot of what comes out. Really, while the songs aren't about trees and lakes and nature, those things are always mixed in there because they are right outside my door.
The track "The Darkness" for example came right out of an experience I had with my German Shorthair, Trouble. I let her out one night, and I heard her yelp, so I opened the door to check on her and she came shooting into the house with three wolves right on her heels. The wolves stopped about 20 feet away from the door, and for weeks after that, every time I let her outside, I'd find myself wondering if they were out there, just beyond the porch light, watching. And I'd start humming this tune that eventually became the track. The song doesn't have any wolves in it or anything, but it is definitely flavored by the experience. I used the experience to try and get at something more universal -- the darkness that lives inside of all of us, just beyond the edges of the light.
How did you meet Tom Herbers? What do you feel he added to the overall aesthetic of the album?
BB: Tom and I both went to the same high school. He was one year ahead of me, but I knew him a bit there. Then, years later, he recorded an album for my old band, the Gooney Birds, at Paisley Park.
AM: We were in the planning stages for the CD, and we were playing an afternoon slot in Lutsen. Tom was running sound for Trampled By Turtles that night at the same venue, and happened to be around while we were playing.
BB: Tom's kind of a dream producer. His track record is just so strong, and people know that when he's involved, it's going to be high quality. Basically, I just came out and asked if he'd help with the project, and he said yes.
AM: We wanted a recording that put a professional polish on what we do but that didn't lose the flavor of our live shows. Tom really helped with that, because we knew we could trust him and we didn't have to worry about anything but playing and singing. It was easy to be loose and have fun, and I think that vibe really comes out when you listen to the CD. He didn't push or do a lot of directing from the booth, but I knew that he'd let us know when he had the take he wanted, and I knew that we were all on the same page as far as the vibe for the final product.
What are you excited to share at the album release show?
AM: We generally play as a duo, so I'm excited for people who have seen us before to see us with the Bates brothers. Having them along for the ride is going to be a fun thing to share with our fans. And frankly, I'm excited to get the CD out into the world in a bigger way. We've been carrying around copies for a bit, but to officially release it and to have it available in places other than live shows is exciting. Yeah, we've been talking about how we are signed to a record label and everything, but as of Tuesday, October 21, when the album is available everywhere through Kingswood Records, it becomes a reality.
BB: I think the songs have continued to grow since we recorded them because we've been playing them a lot live. It's like every time we play them, they get a little more meat on the bone. Also, we play a lot as a duo, so it's a treat for us to get to play with a top-notch rhythm section.
Pushing Chain will release their self-titled album at Icehouse on Friday, October 17, 2014 with Jack Klatt.
21+, $8 adv, $10 door, 10 p.m.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan
Top 10 sister acts of all time
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list