» Interviews » Doing it their own way: Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine on writing, learning and what’s next
Doing it their own way: Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine on writing, learning and what’s next

Over the Rhine

Twenty-five years, sixteen albums and countless shows – Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine bring an immense amount of musical experience to their records.  It isn’t just their musical prowess that makes them special, though, it’s their ability to write songs that give listeners the sweet sense of spirituality that comes from feeling at home.

It could come from the fact that they still live in the same state that they did when they wrote their first album, that they have been married for nearly 20 years or that they have a 140 year-old barn that they’re restoring into a music studio and venue – but I think it could also come from the fact that Linford and Karin are just two talented people who choose to keep learning from life and sharing their true love for music with those who want to listen.

I had a truly enjoyable and inspiring conversation with Linford just before Over the Rhine played at the Triple Door in Seattle.  I hope you enjoy our conversation below!:

Findyourfav (Kristina):  I love that you and Karin have always done things your own way. You released your first album independently, you stay in Ohio and don’t move to any of the big music cities – do you feel like that has a positive affect on your writing?
Linford: I hope so. That’s been a mystery that’s continued to haunt us. I think, when we were young songwriters, we assumed the day would come when we would move to Nashville or LA. Our first record label was based in Los Angeles – it was I.R.S. records – and we were signed by the same A&R guy that signed REM and we thought, ‘isn’t this great?!‘ I don’t know, we had really good friends and some key mentors in Ohio. We had roots there and one thing led to another so we just stayed put.

I know that’s made all the difference, but it’s hard to quantify how that’s affected our writing. That sense of place and staying rooted off of the beaten path has been a big part of our story. Even the name of the band, that we took from a neighborhood in Cincinatti, and this little farm that we found ten years ago that we call home. All this sense of place and a longing for home has been a big part of our music.

I can definitely hear that! So 16 studio albums at this point…
Linford: I’ve lost track…[laughs]

Interview with Over the Rhine

That’s an incredible accomplishment! Do you feel like your approach to writing has changed over the course of that time?

Linford: Absolutely. Our first three records – I felt like we learned something different from each record. Our very first collection of demos that turned into Till We Have Faces was just about the four of us who started Over the Rhine trying to figure out what we sounded like. Our second record we learned how to record Karin’s voice. Our third record, Nirvana had exploded on the scene, the Seattle scene was blowing up and everybody was turning up the guitars. Our label really wanted us to crank up the guitars a little bit so we tried that a little bit.

By the fourth record, it became more about the songwriting. I think we found our way home by this little project called Good Dog Bad Dog. The music industry had already started to change, our label had shut down and we were independent and starting over.

This little group of songs that became Good Dog Bad Dog was really a very personal collection that we had no idea if people would care about or not. We just released it ourselves. Those songs ended up outselling all three major label releases combined just by us passing them around and people finding them. That music felt like it was connected to us in a deeper way than those early records where we were stumbling and fumbling to find our way. One other thing that I should mention is that we tried really hard not to make the same record over and over again.

We hope that each record is connected to a particular chapter in our lives in a unique and authentic way. Karin and I are older now. We’ve both been called upon to lay loved ones to rest and that’s a very different headspace than when you’re starting out in your 20s. Hopefully each record uncovers new terrain.

Do you feel like you’re still learning?
Linford: Very much. Just a couple of years ago, I started singing more harmony with Karin. Our last record, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, has the two of us singing together more – we had never done that.  When it comes to singing, I’m very much a beginner, but it’s giving a fresh feel to what we’re doing. The thing about writing is that you can get better your whole life.

It’s not something you figure out once and for all when you’re young. It seems like some athletes peak early and hit their high point somewhere in their twenties, for writers it’s more of a long game.

Like a good guitar…more soulful with age!
Linford: That’s right! Some things age well.

Has your idea of what you want from your career changed?
Linford: Yeah. Karin and I have celebrated 25 years of writing, touring and recording now. We’ve been thinking about the next 25. Coming back to this idea of “place,” we’re really needing to figure out how to stay home more. Our latest big idea is inviting people to come to us more. We’re restoring a 140 year-old barn into our own recording studio and venue. We hope to be able to play a few shows throughout the year and then walk across the yard and sleep in our own bed! So it is changing.

Interview with Over the Rhine

What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Linford: I think I’m most proud of the fact that we are still here [laughs]. That people still care about the music after 25 years. We’ve done this corny little thing at some of our concerts this year where we ask people how long they’ve been listening to us. We start by asking how many people have never seen one of our shows before.

It’s incredible how many people say that it’s their first show. So the music is still being discovered by some and then other people have seen us for 5, 10, 15 or more than 20 years that have really stuck along with us. The music industry has changed so much.

At some point Karin and I weren’t together when we started the band, we were just songwriters that were interested in seeing where the songs would lead. Then, six or seven years after we started the band, we ended up getting married. The fact that we’re still married and still growing as writers is what I’m more proud of. And the fact that she can still make me laugh [laughs].

What’s your first memory related to music?
Linford: Wow, what a great question. We were talking about that in the songwriting workshop because it seems like people’s earliest memories contain a lot of foreshadowing about what they end up choosing to do with their lives. Those very earliest memories are very pregnant with possibility.

My very first memory was the sound of a trumpet at a camp meeting revival which is sort of part of disappearing America. These preachers used to come to town, set up tents and string up strands of bare light bulbs and there’d be a little band playing hymns. People would gather together and try to get “saved”. My parents took us to one of those and I was obsessed with the sound coming from the stage – it’s one of my earliest memories. I was sitting on my mother’s lap and I really wanted to get up there where the sound was coming from.

Another very early memory is the first time I heard a piano in this little wooden house with pedals like a car and sound coming from it. It felt like a miracle of some kind.

What are 3 albums you would turn to if you need to feel inspired?
Linford: Just 3, huh? [Laughs] That could change on any particular day I suppose, but I would probably tend to go back to some of the music I grew up with. I would want to keep that around. I would probably pick one of the very first records that my dad brought home, which was a record by a country singer named Eddie Arnold. Chet Atkins had produced this very simple acoustic record of old country-western songs and it’s such a perfect little record. It’s one of the first records I ever heard.

My dad also brought home Beethoven’s sixth symphony – the pastoral symphony – so I would probably want that.

And wow. There was a little record that he had with a girl leaning on a grand piano looking forelorn. It was a little collection of simple, famous classical piano pieces. So I would go back to that classic music I grew up with.

Thank you so much Linford!
Linford: Thank you!

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