Ian Maleney had a quick chat with Emily Kingan and Carolyn Berk of Portland’s Lovers, who play Whelans this Friday.
Lovers are a three-piece out of Portland, Oregon. They make the kind of emotional indie music championed by a young Conor Oberst and bands like P.S. Eliot but with a distinct electronic twist. Replacing the bleeding-heart guitars of their predecessors for keyboards and drum machines, the trio of Carolyn Berk, Emily Kingan and Kirby Ferris create spacious and unusual frames for Berk’s intensely romantic and passionate lyrics.
Beginning as the work of Berk alone, the group shifted and changed repeatedly before settling into its current format, with a decade of touring the world and a string of well-loved albums to the Lovers name to date.
So, to start at the start, Lovers has been a thing for a long time now, what keeps the Lovers machine going? It seems to be in pretty constant flux.
EK: The line-up is solid now as the three of us.
CB: Yeah, Lovers is now officially a three-person band. I think what keeps it going is our friendship, love of music, and belief in ourselves and each other.
What’s the biggest difference these days from when you started? What’s become more difficult for you and what’s become easier?
CB: I think that my confidence as a performer is somewhat greater than it was when I started out, and I’m a stronger singer because of it. Being away from home for long periods of time when we tour has gotten harder as I get older, but that could change if we started making lots of money and staying at nice hotels or something.
Despite working with synthesizers and drum machines, which often expose people’s bombastic sides, there’s a definite sense of minimalism involved in what you do, a lot of space left unfilled. Where does that come from?
EK: We have composed all of the songs on the last album using electronic instruments rather than on computers. I think this makes for more space. Also, our songs usually start from a vocal line or a chord progression and then we fill it out all together. The songs are like an electronic version of a folk song.
CB: We try to be really sensitive to what works best for each song and not overpower it. The lyrical content is something that I put a lot of heart and time into and I want it to have enough space in the music.
Romance, friendship and personal stories seem to form a large part of what the lyrics talk about. Has a song ever affected those friendships or relationships? Anybody ever gotten pissed off with something you’re written about them (or they think is about them)?
CB: I have had people think songs were about them when they weren’t, that’s happened at least twice that I can think of. And I’ve had lovers get defensive when they know a song really is about them. But nothing too catastrophic.
You also have the lyrics up on your website, why? Is it to make up for people who won’t have liner notes and that kind of thing?
CB: Like I mentioned earlier, I work really hard on the lyrics and this most recent album is the first time I didn’t include them in the album itself, so we figured we’d put them online in case people were wondering.
EK: We couldn’t print the lyrics in with the record. They just didn’t fit. But the lyrics are an integral part of our music so we thought they should be available somewhere.
You’ve talked about painting and making films and things like Man Times, is there a distinctly visual side to your artistic imaginations? How much time do you put into artistic endeavour outside of music?
CB: Yes I think that music is very visual and I am a very visual person. I love film and I like to draw and paint.
EK: I have made a lot of videos, for the band, and I have a performance video project with Carolyn called Man Times. Movie making has always been a passion of mine.
As people who have moved around quite a bit and seen a fair bit of the world, how do you find those experiences colouring your music now? Do you feel more settled as people these days, or do you still have that itch to move about and absorb things?
CB: I love to travel and am very curious about the world, and it for sure influences my song-writing. I do find that as I get older I like being home more, and a sense of home has become more important to me.
Have you guys seen the TV show ‘Portlandia’?
CB: I’ve only seen it once. I don’t really watch much TV.
EK: I have never seen it!
Lovers play Upstairs at Whelan’s this Friday, 9th December.