Just before their recent Bush Hall date in London brothers Page Burkham and Jack Torrey, aka The Cactus Blossoms, freed a little time up to answer some questions for us. Their latest record, You're Dreaming is out now.
Your sound is inspired by The Everly Brothers. How did you get into listening to them?
Our sound is inspired by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, The Beatles, The Band, the Louvins, the Everlys, and a million other artists that you probably wouldn’t hear in our “sound”. I love Thelonious Monk, but you probably can't hear it in my guitar playing.
We’ve always loved the Everlys, but we’re not trying to be them and we certainly don’t sit around listening to their albums all the time. We had their greatest hits album around the house as kids and loved it, but their music is something we sort of came back to in a round about way. Page and I started getting in to folk, country and blues when I was around the age of 19 and really dove deep. A few years later we started doing laid back bar gigs in Minneapolis and slowly started to incorporate more duet songs as we went.
We both play guitars and sing harmony together in a kind of folky-country-rock’n’roll style and I think The Everlys are the first and best known band to really knock that out of the park. I think the comparison is natural, but there is a lot more to what we do than just walking in the Everly's footsteps.
What can you tell us about You’re Dreaming?
About five years ago we put out our first self-released album and a couple of years after that we recorded a live album of old country songs at a bar where we had a weekly residency. I think we recorded that first album in ten hours and the live one we did about four or five, so we were really excited to get in the studio for more than a day and get the chance to take a little time and work on something in earnest.
We had played a show with JD [MacPherson] and met him right after we did the live album and he expressed interest in helping us produce our next record. He got us hooked up in Chicago with Alex Hall who played drums and engineered JD's first record, Signs & Signifiers, as well as guitarist Joel Paterson and bassist Beau Sample. We booked a few sessions down in Chicago and started working out new songs I had been writing and reworking some songs off of our first two records. It was a wonderful experience all around and it really pushed us in a new direction. We also got our oldest brother Tyler involved on the record as well. He's an amazing guitar player, so after all the years since we were kids it was really special to work with him musically for the first time. He added so much to the album.
Harmonies are such a key part of your sound. How much of that fantastic sound is genetics and how much is lots of practice?
I would say half and half, but we’ve never really practiced that much. Having a similar tone and timbre is part of the whole sibling thing for sure, but that weird knack brothers can have for finishing each other's sentences or saying the same thing at the same time is what has really come in handy for us. I think if two people spent as much time together as we have without going crazy they could do it too.
If people could only listen to one song from the album what would you recommend?
I like the song 'Mississippi' a lot, but maybe that's just because that one was really fresh when we recorded it.
What was your process for writing/choosing songs for the album?
I’m not the kind of writer that has a thousand songs laying around, so there wasn’t a lot to choose from. We went with the songs we felt the strongest about and then bounced them off JD to get his opinion. We agreed about things most of the time, so it was a pretty painless process. He had the idea of having us do the Alton & Jimmy song 'No More Crying The Blues' which we had a lot fun throwing in to the mix. Slow sad songs seemed to be my specialty for a while.
‘Clown Collector’ is one of my favourite songs, what’s the story behind it?
If I told you she’d kill me.
You’ve got a real old time feel to the record, how did you achieve that?
By sounding old I guess. You should have heard us before… we sounded even older.
And how much of an influence was JD McPherson?
I had heard of JD before we met him, but I actually didn’t listen to his album Signs & Signifiers until after we did our first session with him. So his influence was very first-person, in the moment and direct. I never took music lessons, so being around people like him one on one is my chance to learn and steal as much as I possibly can. I definitely remember feeling a little bit of his magic dust rub off on me and I’m forever grateful.
What was your best experience in 2016?
Playing in New York outside at Lincoln Center with Dwight Yoakam was definitely a highlight. If you would of told me we’d be doing that five years ago I would have laughed in your face. After having such a crazy packed year it’s hard to pick a favorite though.
What does 2017 hold for you?
More shows and hopefully some time in the studio.
Touring; everyone has to do it. Have you got a place you’ve loved? And hated?
Man, I love travelling and seeing new places. I can’t tell you the places I love because there are too many! I can’t tell you the places I hate because it’s rude. Maybe I’ll tell you over a beer sometime!
What’s the toughest thing about touring?
Long days and short nights. Bad beds and burnt coffee.
And what makes it all worthwhile?
Meeting great people and getting away with playing music for a living!
You’re about to play Bush Hall, how daunting is that?
We are so excited!
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
'Tell It Like It Is' by Aaron Neville.
Finally, how do you take your coffee? (Or alcohol?)
All sorts of ways… Depends on the day. Strong coffee or a cold beer is fine with me.