Over The Rhine: A Whole Life In A Song Named for the Cincinnati neighborhood where the band used to live, Over the Rhine is husband and wife Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. For more than 20 years, the two have written lyrics that they hope connect on a universal level.

Over The Rhine: A Whole Life In A Song

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block with this proposal from the duo Over the Rhine.

(Soundbite of song, "The Laugh of Recognition")

Ms. KARIN BERGQUIST (Singer): (Singing) Come on, boys. It's time to settle down. What do you think you'll gain from all this running around?

BLOCK: Over the Rhine is the musical partnership of husband and wife Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. They're from Southern Ohio. Their band's name comes from the Cincinnati neighborhood where they used to live. Linford and Karin have been making music together for 20 years now. They split the songwriting, but it's mostly the classically trained Karin who sings.

(Soundbite of song, "The Laugh of Recognition")

Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) And we never could do anything half.

Mr. LINFORD DETWEILER (Singer): The first time I heard Karin's voice, I knew there was something special there. And I've thought about it, and I think I loved the fact that her voice came from the place where her pain lived.

(Soundbite of song, "The Laugh of Recognition")

Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) It's called the laugh of recognition, when you laugh, but you feel like dying. Come on, boys.

BLOCK: Over the Rhine's new album is titled "The Long Surrender." We talked about what it's like to entwine their personal and musical lives, which includes being brutally honest about each other's work.

Ms. BERGQUIST: We edit each other shamelessly. But I think we kind of need to lean into that a little bit, because, you know, you want to always improve. You want to get better. And if you know your partner isn't doing their best work, you know, it's a tough conversation, but it goes both ways.

Mr. DETWEILER: I think Karin and I are sort of trying to get these songs a little bit apart from us so that we can look at them almost as if somebody else had written them and trying to just grow as writers.

BLOCK: Linford, you're making me think about a song that you have on the new CD. It's called "Infamous Love Song." And it's - gosh, it's about six minutes long, I think. And it's pretty much - it's just chapter after chapter, I think, of what, to me, I'm taking as, to some extent, the story of your relationship. And it's - for Karin to sing, it seems like it would be a challenge. It's really wordy and chewy, and there's just a lot going on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGQUIST: You hit the nail on the head when you said wordy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGQUIST: That's my guy right there.

(Soundbite of song, "Infamous Love Song")

Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) I sing the bebop apocalypse, lean into you, God's hands on my hips, grip the midnight microphone, steel every cell of my flesh and bone. I wrestle my angel in smoky stage lights, climb Jacob's ladder 2,000 more flights. Tell St. Valentine, hey, give me five. Baby, our love song must survive.

BLOCK: There's a tone of the song of just a relationship that has the real weight of years on it, that has ripened and gone through some really, really hard patches.

Ms. BERGQUIST: Yeah. Some people write love songs about what happens in the beginning of a relationship. We've sort of moved on to what happens during the bulk of that relationship, the work, the investment, the commitment, you know? And, you know, some of it doesn't really sound all that sexy. It's like condensing a novel into, you know, six minutes and, you know, our history together, our partnership. So I was trying to cover a lot of dynamic range in the short span of six minutes.

(Soundbite of song, "Infamous Love Song")

Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) Now I bring all our secrets to show and tell, how we dragged each other through heaven and hell. It's our smoking gun. But, hey, we're still alive. Baby, our love song must survive.

BLOCK: Has there been a time, maybe, when one of you has come to the other with a song and you've read it or listened to it and thought, wow. I mean, you were able to express something here that I didn't know was going on?

Mr. DETWEILER: Yeah, I've felt that. I remember a beautiful song Karin wrote called "When I Go." And I remember thinking, should I be worried?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DETWEILER: She was asking this question in this song, will it make a difference when I go.

(Soundbite of song, "When I Go")

Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) I want to know will it make a difference when I go.

Mr. DETWEILER: Well, I think in our relationship, there are times when the songs intersect with our relationship in pretty specific ways. But hopefully, there are a number of levels happening simultaneously in the songs where anybody can bring their story, sort of to the song and almost lay their particulars over the song like a transparency and find places to connect as well.

So we hope that there's both going on. There's some of our story that's tucked in there. But we're really also very interested in bumping up against those universal things.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh Yeah By The Way")

Mr. DETWEILER and Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) Oh, yeah by the way. Oh, yeah by the way. The thought of you it shook my head just today.

BLOCK: Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, thanks so much for talking to me.

Ms. BERGQUIST: Thank you, Melissa.

Mr. DETWEILER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh Yeah By The Way")

Mr. DETWEILER and Ms. BERGQUIST: (Singing) Oh, yeah by the way.

BLOCK: Over the Rhine. You can hear full songs from their new CD, "The Long Surrender," at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Oh Yeah By The Way")

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