Linford Detweiler

Five questions for Over the Rhine's Linford Detweiler
by John Noyd
March 2019

Over the Rhine - photo by Kylie Wilkerson

Over the Rhine
photo by Kylie Wilkerson

There’s a warm, personalized glow to Over The Rhine’s songs that opens up its heart and faces life head on. Earnest, fierce, comforting and honest, the married duo crafts beautiful folk-pop ballads and tender country-blues confessions with a narrative grace and literate sympathy that has kept them writing and traveling for the past thirty years. Touring behind their new album, “Love & Revelation,” the pair plays Barrymore Theater April 13th opening for folk paragon Carrie Newcomer. Back on the road after a few years hiatus, co-founder Linford Detwiler managed to take the time to answer a few questions before arriving in town.

Maximum Ink: When I think of Love & Revelation, I think of the unexpected. While you certainly deal with the unexpected in your songs, you do so in a calm, steady manner. When was the last time you were really surprised?

Linford Detweiler: Eleven years ago, on a Saturday in March, we were on tour in Birmingham opening for Ani DiFranco, and we got word that my father had passed away suddenly. He was 81-years-old and had been in good overall health. That Saturday morning, my father went for a bike ride, ordered some seeds for the garden, and wrote and mailed a few letters to some of his grandchildren. Then that afternoon, he was gone.

The letters arrived a few days after he died, almost as if they had been sent from the other side. My mother had to plant the garden by herself that year.

I had some unfinished business with my Dad. And we never got to say goodbye. I suppose this was my first big experience of learning that life has a ready-or-not way of unfolding.

But on the other hand, I like to think that I live a life that remains fairly open and curious. On any given day I can be surprised by something that Karin says (my wife and creative partner) that makes me laugh out loud. I can be surprised by a little something that’s revealed on the piece of unpaved earth we call home – a little something blooming, or a songbird making itself known, or a couple of backlit evening clouds putting on a free show.

A few weeks ago there was something in the field that I thought was maybe a black and white dog or an unusually large skunk. I got the binoculars, and it was a full-grown bald eagle eating a rabbit. That was a first. I was surprised.

MI: Your songs, even in their sadness, feel reassuring, lighting a candle as it were - do you feel some responsibility to your fans to offer confident solace, a rock they can lean on?

LD: As the years pass, I’m more and more convinced that music heals. I can be pretty stressed, scattered, worried, but when the music starts I usually feel my body begin to change. I begin to breathe differently. I feel my disintegrated heart recollecting itself. So maybe first and foremost the songs are reassuring the writers. We haven’t completely lost our way. Even if we’re struggling, there is still much to be grateful for – tiny victories worthy of celebration.

And the Canadian songwriter, Jane Siberry, made an announcement to us one Sunday morning in Toronto over breakfast. She said, All songs are prayers. There is a native tribe in Canada that has passed a bit of wisdom down through the generations. They have a saying: A song is worth a thousand prayers.

So maybe that’s the equivalent of lighting a candle. Maybe the songs can help hold us in the light of all we’ve lost.

MI: After three decades doing what you do, how do you keep things fresh and interesting?

LD: Each record is a mile marker and is authentic to a specific time in our lives. We aren’t the same people we were when we started making records a year or two after we graduated from a small liberal arts college in Ohio, and first discovered the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. So change is inevitable. And honestly, I’m surprised pretty much every time we make a record. We don’t approach the songs with a lot of preconceived notions. We have to actually make the recordings to discover what they sound like.

MI: Madison seems to have a special affinity for your music, what do you think of when you think of Madison?

LD: We’ve been performing in Madison since the early 1990s, so we have lots of memories. Probably the most vivid was opening for Bob Dylan in the early days of Over the Rhine. He stood side stage while we performed, and it gave us permission to take our songwriting seriously. It reminded us that we were wading into a river of song that was already flowing. American music is one of our great natural resources, our greatest export. There’s just so much music that could have only happened in this messy experiment called America.

MI: There was a four-year gap between albums where it sounds like you kept yourselves very busy. What did you miss the most about not having an album to center your lives around?

LD: Yes, we’ve started curating and hosting our own music and arts festival every May. It’s called Nowhere Else Festival. We invite a bunch of great songwriters, visual artists, writers and a film director to convene at our farm in Clinton County, Ohio, every Memorial Day Weekend for a great gathering of music, art and conversation. That’s been a lot of work, but a labor of love. We’re also trying to restore and transform our 1870s barn into our own music venue.

But none of the above would have been feasible if we hadn’t made music for the last few decades. It was so good to get back to the heart and soul of the matter, back to our songwriting. The songs helped us find our way back to the center of it all. It feels so good to have new songs afoot. And we are wide open to being surprised.

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CD: Love & Revelation Record Label: Great Speckled Dog
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