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Testing Free Agency

Over the Rhine's storied career enters another transitional phase, as the band goes D.I.Y. route

By Hannah Roberts · August 29th, 2007 · Music
It is always with mixed emotion that Cincinnatians relinquish our own to the greater good. We're happy to share with the world the homegrown music that we've adored long before outsiders took notice.

But, like heartbroken parents, we part ways on the condition that our babies remember us fondly and visit often. They mostly do us proud, as is the case with Over the Rhine. The world-renowned Folk rockers not only named their band after an interesting local neighborhood they once called home, but their most widely acclaimed album to date, Ohio, and many other factors in their music continue to reference their homebase.

CityBeat tracked down OtR's founding/remaining members, married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist, at their recently purchased farm just outside Cincinnati. Detweiler, a thoughtful man and ready conversationalist, talks about making music independently and how life on the international stage compares with life down on the farm.

CityBeat: What are your thoughts on ending your relationship with Back Porch?

Linford Detweiler: Back Porch was a good label for us in many ways. They let us make the records we wanted to make, pretty much sight unseen. But we feel we missed some opportunities to grow the band even more significantly along the way, primarily because the label is owned by EMI, which is scared of its own shadow in the current music industry climate, and EMI was ultimately pretty conservative with their approach to marketing our music. But it all worked out. We're happy to be calling the shots at this point.

CB: Greg Dulli (ex-Afghan Whig/current Twilight Singer) touts a similar go-it-alone business model as the one your new direction suggests. How is OtR the type of band that can benefit from such a route? Will it be easier to get the things that you want without big label/big name associations?

LD: It's pretty obvious that more and more recording artists are going to step into the driver's seat, so to speak, make their own business decisions, retain creative control of their music.

Things have been moving steadily in that direction. Even back in the day when we were playing Sudsy's, we never waited around for a record label to come rescue us -- we recorded and released our own CDs from the very beginning. Good Dog Bad Dog, a record that we released independently after we left IRS, outsold anything that our label had released and promoted. And before it was considered necessary for a career artist to do so, we went way out of our way to connect directly with fans -- writing personal notes which we mailed out, inviting people to come to Cincinnati to hang out with us. So we've been fortunate, first of all, that people care enough about the music to stay interested.

CB: Tell us about your newest record, The Trumpet Child.

LD: We recorded mostly in Nashville with a producer named Brad Jones (who has also worked with Cincinnati's own Ass Ponys, as well as many others). We really enjoyed the experience. We tried to find quirky Jazz musicians in Nashville who had been transplanted here from L.A. or New York. We found some great characters. (As for the album's title), Karin and I grew up around a lot of old church music and some of those old hymns taught us words could be beautiful: "Softly and Tenderly," "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning," "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder." A theme that recurred in a lot of those old hymns was the idea that the world would be reborn with the sound of a trumpet, and we've all heard those great American trumpet (and horn) players -- Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stan Getz -- and we've been wondering about the sound of that trumpet in the old hymns. Is it real? Is it a metaphor? What, exactly, is on God's iPod?

CB: So, the farm life ...

LD: I don't think we could live out here if we didn't work city to city. We need both. We love performing -- feeling that energy, touring with a great band and crew. It's very communal. We love being able to disappear at the end of the tour out here in the middle of nowhere. The quiet and solitude is like a tall glass of water for the soul. I think (the motivation to move to the country) may have had something to do with my Amish heritage. But Karin wanted a place where she could wake up with coffee, see no neighbor, hear nothing but the sound of birds. We have that now. And she's a dog lover, so the dogs have plenty of room to run now.

CB: In that same vein, give us your thoughts on your musical marriage. How has your game plan changed over the years?

LD: Our friends still say that if they had to work with their spouses every day as closely as we do, they would kill each other. For some reason it works for us. We've learned a lot over the years, but it feels pretty natural at this point. The main thing was not letting our connection as friends and lovers take a back seat to our career and music, because we're both very passionate about music.

CB: What have been the high points for you two in your journey to now?

LD: Getting to open for Bob Dylan early in our career and to just be side-stage watching him play those songs was huge for us. Touring and recording with Cowboy Junkies for a few years taught us a lot. I guess the high points would mostly involve other musicians we've met and have had a chance to work with. We did have a very special trip to New Zealand in early 2006 and got to play four consecutive sold-out shows in Wellington. That was pretty darn cool.

CB: What strategies, do you believe, will take your success to the next level... what is the next level?

LD: With or without a record label, we've always been able to stay in touch directly with people that are interested in Over the Rhine. The next level for us is just to continue to see the music spread around the world and find its way into the hands of people who appreciate it and connect with it in a deep way, people who make the music part of the story their writing with their lives.



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