The Apocalyptic Party Jams And Secular Gospel Of Birds Of Chicago Allison Russell and JT Nero harmonize perfectly as both a couple and a band. "If we can tap into some words and music that have a certain grace and power, then we can get closer to each other."
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The Apocalyptic Party Jams And Secular Gospel Of Birds Of Chicago

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The Apocalyptic Party Jams And Secular Gospel Of Birds Of Chicago

The Apocalyptic Party Jams And Secular Gospel Of Birds Of Chicago

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The duo Birds of Chicago calls their music secular gospel. We hear the smoky, soulful voice of Allison Russell twinned with the harmonies of her husband JT Nero.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIM STAR OF THE PALISADES")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Twilight, midnight then dawn. A billion stars, then was one. Twilight, midnight then dawn. A billion stars, then was one.

BLOCK: Allison is from Montreal. JT grew up in Ohio. They each had their own bands and would cross paths on the road. They joined up musically and then, as these things happen, they became a couple.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIM STAR OF THE PALISADES")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Hold on. Hold on. (Unintelligible) Storm's coming through. (Unintelligible) Hold on tight. Don't let your baby go.

BLOCK: Allison and JT told me they see secular gospel as tunes that have the power to connect people.

JT NERO: I still have a certain amount of faith in the notion that words tied to melodies - that there's kind of a collective consciousness in humans - that we connect through song in a way that is not afforded to us in other avenues.

ALLISON RUSSELL: Yeah, I think there's just a really visceral, deep, emotional connection that can happen with music. And I think about my grandmother that had Alzheimer's and eventually died of it. But I remember shortly before her death in 2006, language was gone. She didn't know who we were. But if I sang her songs that she had sung to me as a child, songs that were from her childhood as well, she could sing with me. I was so struck by that with my grandma, and that was one way that we could still connect when everything else was - everything was fear and confusion for her at that point. But when we sang together, she sort of came back to us.

BLOCK: Is that where the song - that you wrote, Allison - is that where the song "Barley" came from?

RUSSELL: Definitely. That song is inspired by her and that experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BARLEY")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Wind that shakes the barley will not shake me. The wind that shakes the barley will not shake me.

RUSSELL: She had a wealth of traditional British Isles tunes and songs that came out of the oral tradition. And "Barley" is definitely influenced by the things that she taught me, the songs. And she was quite an amazing lady.

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) The rain that floods the valley will not drown me. The rain that floods the valley won't drown me. As my grandma told me, this I sow though that I see.

BLOCK: Let's shift gears just a little bit and bring this back down to a real carnal level with the song...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...So much fun to hear - "Estrella Goodbye."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTRELLA GOODBYE")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Tomorrow's going to come and kill tonight, least you could do is put up a fight. Go ahead, get loose, keep it tight. You could do both, man, if you work it right. So get out on the lawn, shake it till those stars are gone. See me, babe, I'm drunk on wine. Roll me in those dandelions. Come on. Na, na, na, na, na....

BLOCK: JT, when you're writing this song - I mean, if you're getting all spiritual and sort of highfalutin in other songs, this must be just pure release, right, just to write something sexy and fun.

NERO: Well, it's the same deal. It's just a different take on it. You know, time is the enemy. I have sort of a genre in my head, what I think of as apocalyptic party jams where you're somewhat aware of time, darkness, shadows encroaching, but that just makes you really, like, dig in on the good time. You know, I think of, like, exhibit A, that is, like, the Sam Cooke, like, let the good times roll. You know, might be 1 o'clock, might be 3, time don't mean that much to me. What is it? I haven't felt this good in I don't know when, and I might not feel this good again. You know, like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTRELLA GOODBYE")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Another day wiser is just another day older. And I don't care what they told you. Another day wiser is just another day older. So get out on the lawn, shake it till those stars are gone. See me, babe, I'm drunk on wine. Roll me in those dandelions. Come on, na, na, na, na, na, come on, na, na, na, na, na, come on...

BLOCK: The two of you spend a huge amount of time touring on the road. And I wonder if there are times that you wish you had more separation between your musical life and your home life.

NERO: I think being on the road has become our...

RUSSELL: Our normal.

NERO: ...Our natural state.

RUSSELL: We're first-time parents, and our daughter's 2 now. And she's very - she's been on the road her whole life. So it's her normal and natural rhythm as well. But as she gets older and closer to school-age, I think, for me, I would love to see us knocking it back to, maybe, seven months of the year.

BLOCK: What do you think you're going to do when she does go to school?

RUSSELL: We may delay when she begins school. We might wait till...

NERO: She's 17.

RUSSELL: No (laughter). Not that long. But we may homeschool until she's about 6 or 7, depending - I mean, we're not settled on this yet. But we're going to be sort of playing that by ear and figuring it out as we go.

BLOCK: Until she's 17.

RUSSELL: (Laughter) Yes.

BLOCK: Well, Allison Russell and JT Nero, thanks so much. It's been fun talking to you.

RUSSELL: Thank you.

NERO: It's been a blast. Thank you.

RUSSELL: It's been a delight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REAL MIDNIGHT")

BIRDS OF CHICAGO: (Singing) Real midnight's going to come. Real midnight's going to come. (Unintelligible) with blood on the tongue.

BLOCK: Birds of Chicago, their new album is titled "Real Midnight."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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