Q&A: The Pines' Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt

Categories: Q&A
Photo by Darin Back
There's something inherently mysterious about the Pines' dusky, timeless folk music--the way it sinks into the listener's bones like a deep winter chill, the way it only improves with time and age like a bottle of wine forgotten in the cellar for 50 years and then unearthed and uncorked. Even more mysterious is the process of watching the music emanate from the players' mouths and hands live, as Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt make for a rather unnassuming pair--a couple of Iowa farmboys who just so happen to have a knack for creating expansive, emotive, and brooding Americana. The duo have been part of the Minneapolis music scene for years now, and the fact that they don't seem to fit neatly into any of the similar-sounding local scenes--the traditional West Bank folkies, the hipsters-turned-old-timey revivalists, the bleeding-heart singer-songwriters--speaks to their ability to transcend trends and labels and press themselves into something unique and incomparable.

Their latest CD, Tremolo, released this weekend, finds Ramsey experimenting with vocal vibrato and falling in and out of time with the rest of the music, adding another dreamlike nuance to this band's already dense and foggy mystique. We sat down with Ramsey and Huckfelt recently to talk about their new album, their relationship with local label Red House records, and their position in the local music community.

Tell me about the title of the new record, Tremolo.

Benson Ramsey: It's not meant too literally. The word refers to a musical effect, of wavering in and out, and I think that fits us. We had taken some time off and we were in and out of some different realities. I think time off is just as important as time on, and words said are just as important as words not said, and notes played on the guitar --notes you don't play are sometimes louder and more important than notes you do play. Half of the day you are asleep, and half the day you are awake, so there's a tremolo between dreams and your walking life, your waking life. I think that was the idea.

David Huckfelt: I think that applies to the record lyrically, too, the imagery in the record. This record has felt pretty dreamlike. I don't think there's too much about it that's very literal. You can't follow it the way you would a story-song or a pop song. It just kind of hits you and goes away and comes back. Mysterious.

Can you give me a rundown of how the new album came together?

Ramsey: The new record came about in the spring of '09. We conceived it in March and recorded it in May, after some time off. The whole goal with the record was to have it be fairly spontaneous and live in the studio, as a snapshot of that time period with our friends that we were playing with.

Huckfelt: Most of the songs were written in that short period of time, March and April, and then recorded in two days, a day and a half, and mixed in a day. Very quickly.

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