Over the Rhine find their greatest musical adventure right in their backyard
For Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, Over the Rhine isn’t just a band name, it’s a claim staked on their homeland. Most people assume it’s a reference to the Rhine River in Germany, but in fact the husband-and-wife folk duo adopted the name of the Over-the-Rhine arts district in Cincinnati. (Although, to be fair, the neighborhood was named in the 19th century by German immigrants, who were indeed referencing their native country.)
That was 25 years ago, after which the Ohio-born couple bought a house in the same district, and had what Detweiler calls “a great chapter in the city.” Finally, a longing for a piece of earth they could call home drew them to a pre-Civil-War-era farmhouse.
“Ten years ago, we found this ramshackle barn on a backroad,” Detweiler says. “Without really knowing what we were doing, we packed up our bags and moved an hour outside the city into the rolling fields.”
The image I have of the couple in their farmhouse—which they’ve lovingly named Nowhere Farm—is them surrounded by old instruments, in this fantastic old house, making music all day. Detweiler laughs and says there are times when the days don’t leave a lot of time for making music, but there are other times that it’s front and center in their lives.
“We do leave instruments lying around,” he says, “and we have made pretty good bits of records in that old house. Sometimes we’ve thought about the people that were walking around in those rooms 100-some years ago, and wonder what life must have been like for them.”
In the spirit of Levon Helm’s musical rambles in Woodstock, the couple is renovating a 140-year old barn on their property into a performing arts venue. That way, they can stay home and still perform and host other artists.
Detweiler admits that the project is “a little terrifying at times,” but that, as singer-songwriter-producer Joe Henry told him, anything worth doing will occasionally wake you up at 2 a.m.
Henry, who is a close friend, was at the helm for the recording of Over the Rhine’s latest album, Meet Me At The Edge Of The World. Detweiler says working with Henry is an exercise in trusting the music, the band, and the moment.
“Making records at Joe Henry’s house is all about surrendering your expectations at the door,” he says. “Joe likes to capture something. We don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what the records are going to sound like going in—we have to make the record in order to find out.”
He explains that for Bergquist and him, being on the road all the time isn’t sustainable. They’ve been on the road for 25 years, without taking a year off, and it’s taking a toll.
Now that the two have settled into life on the farm, their next plan is to get fans and music lovers to come to them.
“One question people ask us is, ‘What must I do to become famous?’” Detweiler says. “But with the desire for fame or recognition, you can really open yourself up to destructive forces, within and without. Another question you can ask is, ‘What must I do to make this sustainable over the course of a long haul?’”
One of the standout tracks on the new album is “Earthbound Love Song,” a tribute to the love between Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. One of the lines is, “Some questions can’t be answered / Like who’s going to bury who.” It’s the kind of phrase that stops you in your tracks.
When asked about the lyric, Detweiler says he and Bergquist are old enough now that they’ve buried loved ones, and that there’s something wildly unpredictable and precious about life and death.
“It’s just part of the picture now,” he says. “Hopefully it brings us more fully into the present, which is really all that we have access to.”
INFO: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15. Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $21/gen, $32/gold. 423-8209.