Interview: The Rosebuds’ Kelly Crisp (opening tonight for Bon Iver at The Tower Theatre)
Nothing stops The Rosebuds from making music together. The Rosebuds (Kelly Crisp and Ivan Howard) had been putting out records for nearly a decade as a husband and wife team, making narrative-driven songs with atypical lyrics, veering from indie pop to folk and dance and back again. But after the release of 2008’s Life Like, Kelly and Ivan decided to get divorced. Surprisingly, the end of their relationship didn’t spell the end of their band, and they embarked on a trying (and often profound) writing and recording process. The “transformative” result is Loud Planes Fly Low, a deeply affecting and expressive album and The Rosebuds’ most personal offering to date. Tonight, the band open for Bon Iver at the Tower Theatre. The Key sat down with Kelly Crisp to talk about why Loud Planes feels like their first record, writing songs together, and their North Carolina music family.
The Key: You’ve said that your new album [Loud Planes Fly Low] felt like your first record, even though you’ve been putting out albums for years. What is it that makes this one different?
Kelly Crisp: Ivan and I broke through to a really deep and honest place. It felt like we were not re-inventing ourselves, but inventing ourselves for the first time. We had that feeling making music together before, but never like this. This record is something that we’re really proud of. It was difficult and also rewarding. So we stayed with it, and the deeper we went, the more difficult it became, but also the more transformative it was. We just really felt like new people by the time we finished the record. I don’t know how else to describe it except that we feel like this is our first album because this is who we are now, you know?
TK: So this record was very “honest.” Do you mean that the songs are more personal or is it a more general feeling?
KC: Yeah, the songs are very personal.
TK: Did that make it more difficult?
KC: Yeah, you know a lot of our songs in the past have been allegory, or stories about nature, the world around us, politics, things like that, stories about people, and places, and times, but never really about us. This record isn’t about us now either, it’s kind of like a snapshot of who we were, or how we felt in that particular time. So that if we tried to write that record today, we wouldn’t be able to. We’d have to write something else because we were just so honest about who we were at that time.
TK: Why do you think it was necessary to put out this specific record now? Why did you need to go so personal?
KC: I can’t say we attempted to. We definitely didn’t mean to write a record like this. We started to write a record like we usually do, gathering ideas for stories and stuff, but this was what happened.
TK: What specific emotions were you dealing with when making this record? It seems sadder, in some ways, than your earlier work.
KC: Yeah, sadness, but I feel like overall, for me listening to it, I get a feeling of hopefulness. And when I listen to the record, I get a feeling of pride in myself and in Ivan. I can appreciate us as people, listening to us going that deep with these songs, not just with the lyrics, but with the territory we were able to explore, with sound. And we got more intimate with actual sounds that could evoke emotions. I just feel really proud. Most of the songs feel very hopeful to me. None of them are totally sad.
TK: What was your songwriting process like on this record? Was it different too?
KC: It was very different. Usually we have demos of the songs, and then we go into a studio to record drums, and then finish them at home on our own time. Because we’re like two creative children together, we have ideas that don’t go in a linear way. You know, ideas come when they do. So the studio process in the past has been a hindrance to us. On this record, it was totally different because we wanted to write these songs completely together. We didn’t have any demos really; we barely had sketches of songs. And we went into the studio, and we wrote every piece of every song together. I don’t even remember who played what instrument on the songs, because we were just so completely creative, and it was such a good process that we were working so productively.
TK: Do you think you’ll write that way again?
KC: Yeah, I’d like to, I really liked that process. I think the one key factor was that we had a really nice small studio to go into that was close to our home. It was a studio out in the woods. A friend of ours owns it, and it gave us a base place to go be ourselves, and there was never any artistic posturing. We went in on the very first day, and we told Chris, our producer, that we need you to know that this record is going to be probably emotionally difficult for us to make, and we need to know that you’re okay with that. And he is so sweet and pure of heart, that we knew he was the right person because we just needed a place to feel safe and he created that environment for us. So in a way, it was like being at home, but in a studio where you have access to really great sounds and can be very productive. So we did have a really good place and kind of the spirit of creativity and experimentalism was alive in the air of the studio, so that was key in allowing us to make the record that we did.
TK: How did the different songwriting process change the record?
KC: I feel like our situation and the way we approached making this record allowed us to confront ideas, and sometimes just emotions, when they arose, when they appeared. So we were able to be scared of them, be sad, or whatever, but we embraced it. Whatever the case was, the emotion being difficult, we went deeper with it. The process of writing the record, having the studio, having this process for this record, was key to where we were when we finished it. And we walked out the door and we knew we had the record done. We knew had the record done the moment we felt it was done. We just were so happy with our creative process on this record. And that doesn’t mean it was easy. It was really hard sometimes. But it worked for us.
TK: You’re from North Carolina. How has North Carolina’s music scene shaped your music? What’s so special about it?
KC: To me, what is special about is that we have had a lot of people in our community who all came through town together at the same time and were all very young bands. Our music community is just like a family really. So I’m talking about the Rosebuds, Bowerbirds, and the band DeYarmond Edison, which became Bon Iver and Megafaun. We just had this weird idea that we could make music a life goal, as a real job, if we worked hard enough. And we all supported each other’s idea and now we’re all kind of putting out records this year. All of the bands I mentioned are either in the studio or just recently put out a record that I feel are representations of themselves fully. And I know that for us, this feels like our first record, and I would have self-titled it probably, if I could go back and convince the record label to let us do that. But I feel like Megafaun putting out their record called Megafaun, and Bon Iver putting out Bon Iver, and the Bowerbirds working on their record which is just beautiful so far, that I’m just so lucky to be in their company and also sometimes in their hands, because we really rely on them to push us forward, creatively and for moral support and we play in each other’s shows and in each other’s bands constantly. Our members are interchangeable sometimes. We have open arms for each other in a way that’s never been competitive, and always been very supportive.
TK: Why wouldn’t the record label let you call this record The Rosebuds?
KC: They thought it would confuse people, I think. But I feel like it was a good compromise because the title that we landed on had so much intense meaning for Ivan and me.
TK: What meaning does it have?
KC: When we worked on the lyrics for the song “Cover Ears,” it [the phrase Loud Planes Fly Low] created such a really intense image for both of us. And it was the same image. And we identified so closely on that. And we realized, we might be the only two people in the world who can communicate at this level. And we think when we were writing when we really understand how connected we were creatively with songwriting and how important that was to protect.
The Rosebuds open for Bon Iver this evening at the Tower Theatre at 8:00 p.m. Ticket information here.