Interview: Over The Rhine on letting go, and being better for it

After more than 20 years as domestic and songwriter partners, Over The Rhine's Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist live on a farm outside of Cincinnati, making music that's intelligent and poetic without being pretentious, Bergquist's soulful vocals above bucolic music reflecting their peaceful lifestyle. But true to the title, they instead recorded their newest album The Long Surrender in California instead of at home, with the help of some all-star session musicians and Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry. Detweiler radiates a sense of calm about all this, so maybe things have been going well even after they decided to let go.

The Hook: Where does the theme of surrendering come from?
Linford Detweiler: It's a little bit of everything. Spiritually, it would have something to do with the fact that I buried my father a few years ago. Learning to lay loved ones to rest gracefully is a form of surrender that I continue to think about. Embrace the moment, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. We love to try to maintain these illusions that we are in control. We can make choices that have outcomes, but there's a lot of life that we have little or no control over. If we recognize that, we can refocus our energy more beautifully and productively.

The Hook: Are there specific areas where you and Karin are working on surrendering?
Linford Detweiler: Absolutely. Recording The Long Surrender was a beautiful exercise in surrendering our expectations. We were excited about working with Joe Henry and the band that he assembled for us. The band ended up feeling like a beautiful dancing partner. We wanted to lean into these players and let the songs bloom in front of our eyes. We couldn't imagine what the record was going to sound like, and we wanted to make peace with that possibility of being surprised.

The Hook: In what ways were you surprised by this album?
Linford Detweiler: Having Lucinda [Williams] walk in the door and sing a duet with Karin was a great moment. Throughout the course of getting ready we ended up writing a few songs with Joe Henry, and he actually finished a lyric for one of Karin's songs. The whole week just continued to unfold in a way that really exceeded our expectations. I love the fact that, listening back, it felt three-dimensional. That quality is hard to achieve in 2011 with all our digital formats.

The Hook: Do you think that 3D effect came from the band or from Henry's production?
Linford Detweiler: A combination. You've got some really special players in the room. On the one hand, Jay Bellerose is a drummer, and on the other he creates weather. He's not playing a traditional drumkit – it's much more spooky and unpredictable. The other players were just making the songs feel like they were drifting out to sea or being put on an after-dark train. You can almost feel the band breathing.

The Hook: What were the advantages of having fan funding for this album?
Linford Detweiler It felt like a communal enterprise. The veil between the songwriter and the listener has been shredded. There's no middleman, and that can be exciting.

Over The Rhine perform at the Jefferson Theater on Wednesday 5/18. $20-$25, 8pm.