Friday, May 2, 2008

Favorite Folks-Daisy May Erlewine

From time-to-time I hope to feature profiles or interviews or something on the good folks that warm the north and make it such a great place to live.

It's going to be called Favorite Folks. But also from time to time the manure hits the windmill here at Northstead, and when that happens, I'm just going to reach into the archives of my published writing and post it up like lukewarm leftovers.

This post is the convergence of these phenomena. Enjoy.

This is a Q&A with Daisy May Erlewine, a singer-songwriter from Big Rapids, Mich., that originally ran in Traverse Magazine. She and partner Seth Bernard are much loved in the U.P. and should be sought out and enjoyed wherever they may turn up.

Like a bluebird on a rusted barbed wire fence, Daisy May Erlewine's voice is shockingly beautiful and perched on something darker, sharper and slightly dangerous. With three solo albums and enough indie-credo for a boxcar full of singer-songwriters, Daisy May doesn’t need any help hoeing her row in today’s folk scene. But then anyone who’s seen her partner Seth Bernard perform knows he’s not your average gardener.

Together the pair blend whimsical sentimentality with the work ethic of hand-hewn homesteaders. In 2005 the Big Rapids couple left their southern fields and traveled to the Keweenaw Peninsula where they recorded an album at the historic Calumet Theatre. The album, released in spring 2006, is as rich as the earth the singers sprung from. We caught up with Daisy May during a short break in a busy summer touring schedule.

The new album is recorded in the Upper Peninsula, how are you connected to the U.P.?
Seth’s dad is from Marquette, and his grandma and uncles are still up there, he spends a lot of time up there.

How did you come to record at the Calumet Theatre?
Dear friends of Seth’s family live in the Keweenaw, and we would go there a lot, sort of as a retreat, and write songs. One time the guy who books acts for the theater, and kind of keeps it going, Davey Holmbo, asked us to play there. Later, our bass player had the idea to record there and Davey set it up and gave us a good deal.

How did it all come together?
Davey set aside two days in August 2005—that was the longest open period in the theater’s schedule—and Seth and I, our upright bass player Dominic Suchyta, Drew Howard on pedal steel, cello player Andrea Moreno-Beals and the engineer Ian Gorman all made the trip up from down here. They set up mics all over the theater to get a really live sound. The theater has all kinds of ghost stories, it was a really cool atmosphere.

Did you see any ghosts?
No, not necessarily…but there were definitely some weird overtones in the recordings, we’re not sure if it was just the acoustics or something else. In order to get a really good live feel we played back the vocals really loud one night and recorded it to get good reverb and we were wondering if there was going to be anything else on the track when we came back the next morning.

Up until this point both yours and Seth’s albums have been solo, what was it like to record with a group?
It was really fun to work with other musicians; when you’re writing the songs you have this world in your head and then when you hear it come to life through the other artists, but with different interpretations, it’s really special. It was really a joy to work with everybody. We hope to keep the quintet—that’s what we call ourselves, the Copper Country Quintet—alive for the next duo album.

When’s the next album planned?
Well, there are no concrete plans. We’re both working on our next solo albums, then we’ll probably do the next duo album. So, maybe a year. It’s in the ether.

Both of you seem to put out albums quickly.
Yeah, Seth and I are like recording junkies. We both have trouble continuing to write when all the other songs haven’t been put somewhere. We both love the recording process; as soon as we’re finished with one album we’re excited for the next one.

How do you think of your type of music?
I’m a singer-songwriter, that’s how I describe myself. But as far as the sound, there are so many sources of my inspiration, so that’s harder, but I think about my singing as blues and soul. When I’m singing I think of these beautiful black women that sang their hearts out.

The album is put out by Earthwork Music, tell us about that.
Earthworks is a music collective Seth started, a group of friends really, that is trying to enrich Michigan culture on many different levels.

Seth Bernard and Daisy May Erlewine can be found on the web at Visit the Calumet Theatre online at

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