“Over the Rhine ‘The Long Surrender’ – Interview”

I try to look for the positive in any music I listen to or review. Sometimes that can be very difficult, but other times, like in the case of Over the Rhine’s effort “The Long Surrender” it is a piece of cake. Listening to “The Long Surrender” feels like you’re watching an amazing movie…a very visual movie. I highly recommend picking it up. Recently I got a chance to chat with Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine about their visual sound and where it comes from.

Zoiks!: If you can put it into words, how would you describe the Over the Rhine sound?

Linford: Karin leads the understated charge. I think of her primarily as a soul singer: she sings from the place where her pain (and joy) lives. We collaborate on writing the songs. We grew up around gospel music, country & western, rock & roll, bluegrass and eventually discovered jazz and an array of songwriters who took the roof off our world.

Hopefully you can hear all those strains in our music – sort of stirred up in a Midwestern melting pot.

Also, we’ve tried very hard to not make the same record over and over. Tom Waits calls this being a “moving target”. We never want to find that one formula and stick with it. We want to keep finding surprising doorways into our music and writing. We certainly want to be surprised from time to time, and I think our listeners appreciate that as well. We’re late bloomers. Anything could happen.

Z!: I love all sorts of music, but generally I'm a hard rock heavy metal fan. Your newest album "The Long Surrender" however really drew me in. It sounded so visual. Does that make sense and if so is that intentional or does it just end up that way?

L: Thanks for the compliment. I think our producer Joe Henry secretly didn’t want to make just a record: he wanted to make a black and white film. I immediately felt what you felt when I leaned into the band he assembled. They were like a gifted dancing partner. But the songs immediately felt three-dimensional, like they were drifting out to sea, like they were being put on a midnight train. I closed my eyes when we started recording the first song and the house lifted off the ground and drifted out over Pasadena and blew apart.

Z!: What is your song writing process? Do you write together, individually?

L: Both, all of the above, every which way, yes, we’ll take it however it comes, melody first, words first, a combination of chords at the piano, together, separate, please God, we’re not even trying, it’s all a gift, but we’re putting in the hours, staring out the window for a living, waiting for something, anything that feels alive.

Charles Simic described his writing as creating something new that feels as if it had always existed… I like that. It feels like you’re trying to uncover something that’s already there.

That being said, it’s hard to create something out of nothing. You have to be a hunter and collector, an eavesdropper. You have to keep a butterfly net with you.

Z!: Do you need to be inspired to write a song or can you force something out at any time?

L: The more I write, the more it becomes about patience. Sometimes ideas come quickly, but now, I can’t lie to myself anymore. I know when something isn’t quite there, and I won’t let it go, I won’t stop wrestling with the angel until he blesses me. You can feel when there is something more that needs to be revealed. Every writer has his/her own personal standards of perfection, and when you begin to fully honor your own, it’s an incredibly satisfying vocation. But it don’t come easy, and there’s no guarantee that a huge audience will ‘get’ what you’re doing.

Z!: What drew you to music, was there a moment in your life that stands out as the moment where you decided that this is what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?

L: Yes, both Karin and I were musical children and many of our first memories our musical. For me, as a toddler, it was the sound of a trumpet at a tent meeting revival. I wanted to be up on stage where that sound was coming from. When I was in the 3rd grade, my father let me shop around (he drove me around town) and pick out my own old upright piano. I think he paid $10 for it, but it was the one that I wanted. God bless him for being that kind of a father.

Z!: Who are some of your biggest influences...both musically and in life in general?

L: Certainly our parents… They loomed large. The people we’ve come from. Staying rooted in Ohio has formed us in significant ways, being connected to a specific piece of earth. Writers were very important: Dylan Thomas for the musical, dense language, Annie Dillard for the spiritual curiosity and her magnificent mind and prose… Tom Waits for creating his own genre, Leonard Cohen for putting sex and religion in the same martini shaker. It goes on and on…

Z!: As I said above, I used the word visual to describe your sound. When I listen to your music I guess a clear picture gets painted in my head. Pink Floyd did that really well as well as world music in general. Which makes me wonder about your live show, what can fans expect from an Over the Rhine live show?

L: We’ve been touring with a 6-piece band of incredible players. It feels fairly orchestral, but also tough. Sometimes playful. But even if it’s just Karin and I, we go for a big sound. Quiet music should be played loud. You have to turn it up for it to work. Hopefully, if we’re doing our jobs right, we want people to laugh and cry at our shows. Tears of joy and sadness – they come from the same place.

Z!: What does Over the Rhine have in store for the rest of 2011?

L: We’re really leaning into our latest record, “The Long Surrender.” These songs are the songs that are most intimately connected to this point in our lives. We’ll be taking a musical train trip this fall (with guests Mary Gauthier and Richard Shindell) and anyone can come on board/come along. Gonna ride through the mountains, play some music, light some fires. We’re playing some festivals and will be touring the west coast, Texas, Colorado etc.

Z!: Thanks for taking the time, is there anything else you'd like to add?

L: Thanks so much for Listening with a capital “L” as Joe Henry would say. Thanks for letting people know about our music.

Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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