Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Under the Radar is pleased to meet the Old Believers

There is a certain caught-between-worlds vibe to the music of Portland, Oregon’s The Old Believers. The musical (and formerly romantically linked) duo of Nelson Kempf and Keeley Boyle are originally from Kenai, Alaska, but migrated to the mainland after graduating high school in order to pursue music professionally. Their sound belies their relative youth (neither member can drink legally), and their songs meld old-timey country, classic pop structure, and Americana with electronic elements in a distinctly mature way. Their debut record Eight Golden Greats should threaten to collapse at any number of moments, but the band’s wise-beyond-their-years songwriting skills and strong melodies keep the record afloat. Kempf credits a break in recording time for the musical dialectic on Eight Golden Greats.
“I was listening to a lot of [electronic music] before we approached that project for the second time,” expands Kempf. “We started recording that CD a couple of years ago and then didn’t have the money to finish it, so we ended up saving for a couple of years and came back at it. I wanted to put a modern perspective on a lot of older sounds. That was what I was infatuated with at the time, so I decided that would be the best format.”
Perhaps owing to their youthful relocation, Kempf and Boyle exhibit a moving sense of wistfulness throughout many of Eight’s songs. Witness, for example, the highlight “Granny’s Song,” a fitting tribute to Kempf’s recently deceased grandfather, sagely sung from his grandmother’s perspective.
“We wrote the songs when we were leaving home, so I think a lot of the songs have sort of nostalgic themes,” he says. “Because of the way that we recorded the album, I sort of wanted to make it like taking a bunch of old photographs out and putting them in a photo book. In any given time in your life, you are in that moment, and you’re so wrapped up in that, but then you look back on something and gain some kind of objectivity. I was interested in that idea, that something can consume you so much, and then you look back, it’s just another chapter.”
Recently, Kempf and Boyle made the decision to split as a romantic couple, but never gave a thought to splitting up their band. Whole The Old Believers are not the only duo or band in history with a complex romantic history, Kempf has a practical perspective on their situation.
“We make sure that we treat that situation delicately,” says Kempf. “The band is out priority. We make sure that we do what we need to so to keep that functional. We are best friends and we have a very good understanding of each other. Musically, we are on the same exact page all the time. Those things are separate in our minds, I think. We know how to keep those two worlds separate, and we know that we have to, and so we do.”


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