The Ericksons | Cedar Cultural Center | Friday, October 3
"How beautiful do you want this song to be?"
Jenny Kapernick -- one half of the folk-rock duo the Ericksons, along with her sister Bethany Valentini -- is reflecting on the recording process for Bring Me Home, their electronics-tinged fourth album.
"The whole electro-pop thing was just super fun. Bringing in these new elements was a lot of fun for us," says Kapernick over early-evening drinks at Icehouse after an in-studio session at the Current. "We are so influenced by folk music, but I'm not listening to folk music right now. The stuff that we listen to and things we respond to are way more ambient, electronic, and beat-driven."[jump]
To create this new side of the Ericksons, the La Crosse-raised pair worked at Justin Vernon's April Base Studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, with bassist Michael Lewis, Field Report's Ben Lester on pedal steel and synth, drummer Shane Leonard, and Bon Iver's Sean Carey handling percussion, keys, vocals, and co-production. Carey's contributions
make this album reminiscent of his solo work as S. Carey, which make computer- generated components sound organic. His ear proved instrumental too.
"There's a song that I wrote called 'Borderline,'" Kapernick recalls. "And on the album, Bethany doesn't sing on it at all, and Sean sings on it with me. I thought the song should have drums and this tense part in the middle where it just gets really big. But Sean was like, 'I don't think the song needs any of that.' He told me to slow it down, lay it back, and just sing it. And on the album it's just this raw, very sparse song. And for me, out of all the things that I've written, it's what I'm most proud of."
The stark beauty of "Borderline" is the album's emotional centerpiece. "When it was raining, I was hoping for snow," she sings, sadness welling up in her throat.
Like the Gregory Euclide-designed cover portrait of the sisters blurred behind trees in different seasonal stages, the Cat Power-esque title track captures the warmth found within as cold weather approaches. Even with electronic beats on "My Love" and "Animal," the sibling harmonies locking tight together provide a bridge to their past creations.
"This record is like taking the lid off of something," says Valentini proudly. "Not as if we've reached our creative ceiling or anything, but for us it was this jump into being more courageous. It was a way to find our most genuine expression at this moment."
Unguarded vulnerability has coursed through the Ericksons' work since they formed in Brooklyn in 2006 to cope with the loss of Valentini's husband to cancer and the pain of their father's early passing. They moved back to Minnesota five years ago, and established themselves as songwriters and performers constantly pushing beyond the typical boundaries of folk singer-songwriters, reinventing themselves as they go.[page]
Adding the electro-pop pulse to spare, acoustic guitar-based songs did cause the band to pause a bit.
"It wasn't easy," Valentini admits. "About a year and a half ago, we decided that we were mostly going to play as a duo because things were evolving, and there was this newness that we needed to find in a way. We needed to carry all of the weight for a while, because if it's just the two of us up there, there's nothing to sit back on."
When the Ericksons recorded and released 2013's The Wild, they played with a lot of musicians. On some of the songs Kapernick wasn't even playing an instrument. This new scheme brings the focus back to the sisters at the core of the Ericksons, and feeds their need for creative evolution.
"I was like, 'I can do a lot more,'" Kapernick says. "The two of us are kind of like one mind, so it started as, 'How can the two of us make a more full sound?' And then if we need to bring other people in once we find that full sound, that's great. But we recommitted ourselves to us being enough."
THE ERICKSONS play an album-release show with BBGUN on Friday, October 3, at the Cedar Cultural Center; 612-338-2674