Behind the Music of Over the Rhine's 15th Studio Album, 'Love & Revelation'

Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler go deep about what went into the making of their recently released album

Share on Nextdoor
click to enlarge Over the Rhine's 'Love & Revelation' - Photo: Provided by All Eyes Media
Photo: Provided by All Eyes Media
Over the Rhine's 'Love & Revelation'

Two months ago, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler released Love & Revelation, the latest Over the Rhine studio album and their first non-holiday set of original material since 2014's Meet Me at the Edge of the World. During the course of our wide-ranging conversation with Bergquist and Detweiler, which included the topics of the band's 30th anniversary and the couple's fourth iteration of their increasingly popular Nowhere Else Festival, held annually at their farm in Martinsville, Ohio, a good deal of information regarding the creation and execution of Love & Revelation was offered, very little of which could be included in our print version of the story due to space limitations.

(Click here for the schedule for Nowhere Else, which takes place this Memorial Day weekend.)

In the interest of giving readers a slightly more in-depth analysis of the album through the insights and observations of its architects, we hope you enjoy this web exclusive examination of Love & Revelation, Over the Rhine's highly personal new release which may prove to be among the group's finest achievements in a 30-year career that has been casually appointed with greatness.

CityBeat: The new album is amazing, and every superlative ever used to describe an Over the Rhine album certainly applies to Love & Revelation. Your last album, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, seemed to be framed by your move to Martinsville, in that it was pastoral, cool and lovely. So how is Love & Revelation a departure from that and how is it an extension.

Linford Detweiler: To me, Love & Revelation has a lot to do with looking around and not recognizing the place you thought was home. I think a lot of Americans, including us, are feeling off balance and we're reasking the questions we thought had been answered. So that sense of feeling like a stranger in your own place pervades the record. I thought we were going to write a funky little protest record, and we had some of those songs in the works, but we were surprised when we realized there was a lot of grief on the record. We realized the need for some of the broadest responses like anger and resistance and that we were grieving. The songs made that quite clear to us.

Karin Bergquist: As we say in one of the songs (“Let You Down”), which was actually quoted by someone else first, grief is love with no place to go. It really moved us when someone shared it with us. Also, we were keenly aware of the fact that many people have drawn close to our music and formed this community within itself, have experienced loss in various forms and supported each other through it, and it's really hard not to be aware of that. We didn't set out to write about those things, but as we were experiencing them ourselves, we realized this was another tether to those people who have been with us for so long. It started to make sense that we were all feeling this as a community, from various perspectives and different reasons and sources, but we were all sharing this grief. That gave me permission to write some of the songs about grief, although I didn't set out to do that. I don't want to be sad, but if it's a healing thing… oddly enough, that's a word that some people use when they talk about our music, and other music as well.


We'll get feedback from people that talk about coming to the festival for a few days, it's the kind place where we try to make a safe place for people to experience music and art and everything, and they refer to it as healing. Maybe that's meaningful. Our music isn't a lot of things; it's not really sexy, or hugely popular, or award-winning. But I'll take healing. That's a language I understand and it's something I need in my own life. I've often sought healing and comfort for myself so I know how important that is and you can't put a price on that. If someone wants to refer to our music in that way, I'm good with that.

CB: Grief often goes hand in hand with regret, in that they're drawn from a similar emotional well. There seems to be a bit of that on the album as well.

LD: You mentioned that early on and it's interesting because I like to think that I don't have a lot of regrets. I'm incredibly grateful for the gift of being able to make music for 30 years and from this vantage point, it feels mostly like a gift, because making a record that somebody cares about decades later is not something you consider a record to do. When that happens, the response of any writer is “Thank you.” But on the other hand, when you mentioned the word “regret.” I wonder if some of that is in there because when you say yes to a path, you're saying no to a lot of other paths. Maybe we're mourning the reality that by saying yes to songwriting, we said no to a lot of other things. Life on the road is not a vacation; we've missed a lot of family reunions and funerals of family and friends and birthday parties and graduations.”

KB: That resonated with me, and I had a couple of thoughts. I can see that I regret not being closer to the music scene here, and I've felt that often, but it's because we were working, we were gone. So like Linford was saying, it's having to say no to things because you've chosen one path. I think regret can be a trap but I think it's a tool. If you have regrets and you're self-aware about it, and give yourself a moment of reflection and own it, you say, 'I did that, I don't want to do it again,' and you move on, then it's a good tool. If you lay down in it like it's a gutter and you let it stew, and you don't have the tools to process it, then it becomes a trap. Then regret is really unhealthy and you start asking, “What if…?” and “what if” is not good. So I suppose there's probably some regret on this record, but I'm not going to ask 'What if?' I'm grateful for the path I've chosen and learned from the things I'm not crazy about, and hopefully keep writing about it, because that's how I learn. We write to discover, even now.

CB: You mentioned that Love & Revelation was originally going to be a protest record of a sort. Do you generally write an album with a theme in mind or are you always writing and then choose the songs that hang together as a theme, or however you're feeling at that moment?

KB: I think it's more the latter for us. We weren't sure, but I think because of the way we were feeling or the discussions we'd been having and the overall climate of the country, we assumed that's where it was going to go. It turned out that little song, “Love & Revelation,” ended up being our funky protest song, and that's really all I thought it was, but we weren't even sure it was going to make the record. We got in the studio and had our batch of songs and played through them with the band, and you could tell which ones we were going to have to wrestle with, and which were worth wrestling with.


Actually, I had no idea what was going to happen with that song, but I played it and Jay Bellerose, our beloved drummer and percussionist, who just feels everything, said, “Let's do this one, but fuck it up.” I said, “OK.” It was like Linford and Greg (Leisz) and Brad (Meinerding, guitar) weren't sure how this picture was going to be painted and stepped aside gently, and so we cut the track and it just felt like all the song needed was really just the rhythm section, bass (Jennifer Condos) and drums. Nothing else made sense with it. It just needed to have its own little moment, get up on its soapbox, say what it wanted to say and that was it.

(“Love & Revelation" is) also a really beautiful closing, almost like a benediction, that (producer/artist) Joe Henry gives at the end of his letters and notes. He signs off like that, so we asked him for his blessing if we could title the record with that. He couldn't be with us because he was in Ireland and we went ahead without our captain, but it was fun, we felt like we knew what we were doing, and he gave us his blessing.

LD: Writing, I would say, is more seasonal for us. We have two different lives, our lives at home and our lives on the road. Regardless, we are always hunting and gathering little ideas. The first song that Karin finished for the record was “Broken Angels," and one of the little moments that popped up was “I want to take a break from heartache.” That was the first complete song that immediately set the tone.

KB: I'd been working on that for a while. I had most of the music but I didn't know where it was going to go. I'm always reluctant to talk about what a song is about because I prefer that people put their own transparency over it and have their experience, so I often wait a few years.

But in truth, (“Broken Angels") was borne out of a conversation. My friend's partner had committed suicide and I have lived with somebody that had multiple suicide attempts in their life, and we were sharing what it was like to be the person left. I was driving home after that talk and a good glass of wine and good sharing, and I was like, “Oh, all these broken angels…” And I pulled over, I had to write that down. I brought it home, I got the chorus and what I think this is about, and Linford started pushing lines, and he wrote “in the crawlspace under heaven,” which is gorgeous.

LD: Thank you.

KB: Well, you're welcome. You're pretty good. You come in handy once in a while.

LD: For levity.


KB: When we were moving out (to Martinsville), (James McMurtry's) Complicated Game had just come out, and I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the projects we had taken on, which had taken us both away from music, really. All of a sudden, it was about the festival and curating that, and property management and the barn, then you're dealing with pouring concrete floors and things musicians don't do. But (Complicated Game) was one of the records I listened to a lot; it was like, “Oh, this is great songwriting, this is such a great story, the way he's telling it.” And I was like, “Get back to music.”

We both tend to have these moments where we get pulled away, and something as simple as a wave on the shore will push us right back in, and then it's “You've got to get back to music, because without it, forget it, nothing makes sense.” Linford had a huge revelation about that recently. Right before we started to finish the writing for the record, we were kind of in a funk. It was all of the things that were raising their hands and needed attention but weren't really feeding our souls the way songwriting does. So it was time to meet at the kitchen table and bring what you got.

CB: Did you do anything substantially different on Love & Revelation?

KB: I wrote more. It wasn't by design, it was more out of necessity. Typically it's a third me, a third Linford and a third together, but this time, I don't know why, I wrote more for this record, which was good for me. I've always been a singer, I trained for that, but the songwriting thing came later. I had to work at that, so it means a lot to me. I still find myself bristling when people refer to Linford as “the songwriter” He's an amazing songwriter, one of the best, but it's not accurate, because we write.

We worked with a lot of the same musicians we've worked with for the past couple of records because those were the voices we heard for the record, and they know what to do. I suppose there will come a time when we go into the studio and try something different but it's really good to work with people who get it. It's great to work with musicians of that caliber and they're also a great hang. So I don't know that we struck out and did anything that's all that different.

LD: As far as our approach to music, I don't really think it's changed. We still sit at the kitchen table with a guitar and try to wrestle a good song onto the page. We still have to sit down together and play our songs for each other and try to listen well and make them better. Really, the heart of it hasn't changed. It's still the dilemma of the blank page.

KB: Hopefully we know a little bit more than we did when we started and songs are better. Who's to say?

LD: Some people love those early records.

KB: I had a guy corner me two weeks ago and it was, “I gotta tell you, those first two records are your best work and you haven't done anything that good since!” Thanks a lot, pal. There were people looking at him out of the corner of their eyes like, “What's going on with you?” But there are people who believe that, and that's great.

LD: But there are people who believe our last three records are our best work, so it's nice to get them in a room and let them work it out and back away slowly.

CB: The fact that you're still around after 30 years says you've found an important part of the songwriting equation, and you've found a loyal audience that will follow you for another 30 years.

KB: I think, by some miracle, they found us. We could never have chosen this audience. We're really fortunate to have them. People that open for us love the gig, because our audience is so awesome. They're good people, they get it, and they've stuck with us through 30 years — babies and babysitters and here they come. Some are bringing their kids to the shows, and we'll hear, “I gave birth to this record,” and all these stories are following us with an audience that somehow found our music. We'd be fools to not take that to heart. It has been gratifying that people have passed the music around, like secret notes, and it's continued to spread. We're grateful for that.

LD: When Karin thanks the audience, she usually says, “Without you, we'd be homeless.” And it's true.


Over the Rhine's Nowhere Else festival takes place May 24-26 in rural Clinton County. For directions, tickets and more info, visit nowhereelsefestival.com.


Sign up for CityBeat's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cincinnati culture, dining news and things to do delivered right to your inbox.


Scroll to read more Local Music articles

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.