Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have never done anything by half measures and this year is evidence of the couple’s almost pathological desire to pack a lot of experience into a truncated time frame. Perhaps most auspiciously, 2019 represents the 30th anniversary of Over the Rhine, Bergquist and Detweiler’s renowned, Cincinnati-spawned musical collective; their debut album, 1991’s Till We Have Faces, featured tunes that dated to the band’s formation.
“We recorded our first handful of songs in March of 1989,” says Detweiler in the dining room of the couple’s Martinsville, Ohio home, about an hour’s drive from the Cincinnati neighborhood for which the band is named. “So, for a brief moment, we were an ’80s band.”
As part of Over the Rhine’s 30th anniversary, the duo recently self-released the shiver-inducing Love & Revelation, their first album of new music in six years. Bergquist and Detweiler are also ready to mount their fourth Nowhere Else Festival, a micro-Woodstock they present annually at their Clinton County farm. Two weeks after Nowhere Else, Over the Rhine embarks on Love & Revelation’s summer tour.
The success of these ventures is framed by Over the Rhine’s 30-year history and, by necessity, viewed through the prism of Bergquist and Detweiler’s success as a married couple. So what’s the secret of working, living and creating together?
“We got lucky in that we both like having a partner,” Bergquist says. “The rest of it is work, it totally is. Sometimes you run out of tools and you’ve got to find resources to get more tools. That works with relationships, with music, with your career. We realize we loaded our camel down. Old Two Hump, we loaded the bugger down, but he’s got a strong back.”
“Karin manages to work the word ‘hump’ into our interviews,” says Detweiler. “It’s a cookie that she hides in every interview.”
“It’s become a thing,” Bergquist says with a laugh. “As you can see, a sense of humor is key. Linford has a lyric on one of the new songs (‘Betting on the Muse’): ‘The fact that you still make me laugh is what I’m most proud of...’ That helps. The other thing is we’re not special. This isn’t something we’ve got figured out, once and for all. Anything alive continues to grow and evolve.”
The same could be said for the band itself. Over the Rhine’s 2013 double set Meet Me at the Edge of the World was a pastoral rumination largely inspired by Bergquist and Detweiler’s relocation to their bucolic new Martinsville home in Clinton County. This year’s Love & Revelation — a title borrowed from longtime producer Joe Henry’s standard closing to his correspondences — was originally intended as a protest record; the new album retains its predecessor’s quiet elegance, but bristles with a decidedly different tone.
“To me, Love & Revelation has a lot to do with not recognizing the place you thought was home,” says Detweiler. “I think a lot of Americans, including us, are feeling off balance and we’re re-asking the questions we thought had been answered. 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. The songs made that clear to us.”
There also seems to be subtle shades of regret woven into the fabric of Love & Revelation, perhaps not by design but by sheer proximity. Both songwriters have theories about its presence.
“I don’t have a lot of regrets. I’m incredibly grateful for the gift of being able to make music for 30 years,” Detweiler says. “Making a record that somebody cares about decades later is not something that you consider a record to do. On the other hand, I wonder if some regret 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 that reality. Life on the road is not a vacation; we’ve missed a lot of family reunions and funerals and birthday parties and graduations.”
“I regret not being closer to the music scene here, but it was because we were working, we were gone,” Bergquist adds. “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, then it becomes a trap.
“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.”
Part of Over the Rhine’s momentous anniversary is the ongoing vinyl reissue of the band’s luminous catalog; the latest to receive the 12-inch vinyl treatment are Good Dog Bad Dog, Drunkard’s Prayer and their magnum opus, 2003’s sprawling Ohio, which was simultaneous to the vinyl release of Love & Revelation.
And the Nowhere Festival stands as a potential new direction for Over the Rhine to pursue going forward. This year’s Memorial Day weekend lineup features James McMurtry, Birds of Chicago, John Paul White (ex-Civil Wars), Leigh Nash (ex-Sixpence None the Richer), Joan Shelley, Carrie Newcomer, Over the Rhine guitarist Bradley Meinerding and many others.
“We put up a big tent on the grass in one of the natural amphitheaters,” Detweiler says. “Did you see the barn we’re building? We’re hoping to turn that into a music venue with a pub and coffee house and convince people to come to us.”
The 140-year-old restored barn has already featured shows, including Loudon Wainwright III, and hosted several weddings and art exhibits. The interior is rustically modern and has a warm, spacious feel, not to mention outstanding acoustics. Detweiler has likened it to “standing inside a Martin guitar.”
“Maybe we should call it the Hump Barn,” Bergquist says.
Admittedly, it has a ring to it.
All of this ties together as Bergquist muses about Over the Rhine’s incredibly loyal audience, the band’s intentions in writing Love & Revelation and their motivations for starting Nowhere Else.
“As we say in one of the songs, which was actually quoted by someone else first, ‘Grief is just love with no place to go,’ ” she says. “We’re keenly aware that people have drawn close to our music and formed this community within itself and have experienced loss in various forms. We didn’t set out to write about these things, but as we were experiencing it ourselves, we realized this was another tether to those people who have been with us for so long. I don’t want to be sad, but if it’s a healing thing...oddly enough, that’s a word some people use when they talk about our music, and other music as well. 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.”
The 2019 Nowhere Else festival takes place May 24-26 at Over the Rhine’s land in rural Clinton County. For directions, tickets and more info, visit nowhereelsefestival.com.