Lambchop (Duo)

Friendship

Thursday, December 15, 2022
Doors: 7pm | Show: 8pm

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Lambchop
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Spotify

The only prophets worth a shit are the reluctant ones, and so it was that right before he started working on what would become his new album, The Bible, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner found himself at the proverbial crossroads. Nearing the end of Lambchop’s third decade as a recording artist, Wagner felt musically isolated. He questioned whether continuing to make music even made sense. “I feel weird because I’m going to be 64, dude,” he says on the phone in between drags of a cigarette. “What the fuck am I doing?” The Bible is the sound of Kurt Wagner asking big questions, like that one, and all the other ones.

Wagner has always considered himself to be a late bloomer—he was 35 when he started Lambchop all those years ago, way back in the first big funk of his life. After losing his girlfriend and his job in a brutal Chicago two-fer, he came home to Nashville and started hanging around a songwriters’ night called the Working Stiff Jamboree at the Springwater Supper Club. He would bring the afterparty home to his house. “I finally started writing songs because nobody else was,” he says. “And we needed something to play other than covers.” This was Nashville, after all, home of the country music machine—there were legions of musicians showing up here every day just to play somebody else’s songs. But Wagner’s distaste for the cover song wasn’t only due to some noble artistic integrity. “I was that bad a musician,” he laughs, a little ruefully. “I literally would only play the chords I knew in the song and skip the ones that I didn’t.”

So he would invent rules to gamify the sessions, to get this demimonde of wannabe Nashville musicians moving in a different direction. “I remember I would try to handicap them somehow,” he says. “If they were a really great guitar player, well, no, you’ve got to play the organ.” Then he would sit back and watch and listen. He found his writing voice in this observational style. “It was like journalism, in a way—just reflecting and commenting on my life, my friends’ lives, whatever.” Wagner would change some details and obscure others to disconnect his insights from the individual, to more closely approach the universal. His lyrics and his phrasing conveyed a profundity that he didn’t know he was capable of—he had found his singing voice through finding the words to sing.

Friendship
Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Friendship’s Merge debut, Love the Stranger, moves like a country record skipping in just the right spot, leaving its fellow travelers longing for a place they’ve only visited in their dreams. Guitarist Peter Gill, drummer Michael Cormier-O’Leary, bassist Jon Samuels, and hawkeyed balladeer Dan Wriggins map out the group’s particular, breathtaking landscape and invite the listener to share in its glory. Love the Stranger’s invitation is all the more wondrous because its characters have clearly been hurt before. “I need solitude and I also need you,” Wriggins reckons in “Ugly Little Victory.” Wide awake, vulnerable, and gimmickless, Friendship won’t hesitate to confide in us, or even ask for help when the moment calls, like on the lyrical centerpiece of “Alive Twice”: Under your eyeball spell, I was losing myself/ Not in the good way you used to talk about/ I remember a day, Cedar Park Cafe/ I was in a bad place and you set me straight/ With your on-the-nose advice Between instrumental pit stops at “Kum & Go” and “Quickchek,” local references in Love the Stranger create a catalog of human perception, presented as roadside attractions. From grape jelly residue (“Ramekin”) to the site of a demolished cathedral (“St. Bonaventure”) to King of the Hill quotations (“Smooth Pursuit”), the record’s images craft a symbolic language of high and low Americana, both evocative and consistently accessible. Spending time with Love the Stranger creates a community—one in which the window between the listener and the music-maker shatters in full, until all that remains are the fragments you decide to pick up together. Like its sprawling lyrical references, Love the Stranger’s production is both familiar and capacious enough for pedal steel, synth strings, airy folk guitar field recordings, and MIDI pad exploration to work in vital harmony. Influenced by Friendship’s punk and indie peers as much as road-star forebears like Lucinda Williams and Lambchop, Wriggins says of the recording sessions: “We all got to stretch out, chase our personal musical fixations, and build on each others’ work. Bradford Krieger, our engineer at Big Nice Studio, has a mind-blowing creative energy and hundreds (thousands?) of instruments.” He recalls further: “I wanted the album to sound like Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band in the ’70s. Pete wanted it to sound like a semi full of spent fuel rods, barreling towards a runaway truck ramp. Jon kept reminding us that the studio is an instrument, and Michael wanted it to sound like the breakdown two-and-a-half minutes into Shuggie Otis’ ‘Strawberry Letter 23.’” Some breakdowns, however, are irreparable. Wriggins, a manual laborer and poet, calls “Hank” “a song about when you go to fix something that’s broken and realize the tools you’re supposed to fix it with are also broken.” Form follows function on the mesmerizing outro of the single, which buzzes with the sound of a shoddy Craigslist guitar from Woonsocket, RI (incidentally, the home of the Museum of Work & Culture) getting chainsawed in two. Friendship is probably already your favorite band’s favorite band, a long-revered IYKYK of DIY with a devoted cult following from Wawa to In-N-Out. With Love the Stranger, the Friendship universe only continues to expand and grow more open-hearted, more inviting, with every passing note. It’s a record that locates the listener exactly where the listener is, and wherever that may be, makes a friend out of them, too. All said and done, the age-old maxim of “Mr. Chill” holds true: “You be real with me and I’ll be real with you.”
The only prophets worth a shit are the reluctant ones, and so it was that right before he started working on what would become his new album, The Bible, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner found himself at the proverbial crossroads. Nearing the end of Lambchop’s third decade as a recording artist, Wagner felt musically isolated. He questioned whether continuing to make music even made sense. “I feel weird because I’m going to be 64, dude,” he says on the phone in between drags of a cigarette. “What the fuck am I doing?” The Bible is the sound of Kurt Wagner asking big questions, like that one, and all the other ones. Wagner has always considered himself to be a late bloomer—he was 35 when he started Lambchop all those years ago, way back in the first big funk of his life. After losing his girlfriend and his job in a brutal Chicago two-fer, he came home to Nashville and started hanging around a songwriters’ night called the Working Stiff Jamboree at the Springwater Supper Club. He would bring the afterparty home to his house. “I finally started writing songs because nobody else was,” he says. “And we needed something to play other than covers.” This was Nashville, after all, home of the country music machine—there were legions of musicians showing up here every day just to play somebody else’s songs. But Wagner’s distaste for the cover song wasn’t only due to some noble artistic integrity. “I was that bad a musician,” he laughs, a little ruefully. “I literally would only play the chords I knew in the song and skip the ones that I didn’t.” So he would invent rules to gamify the sessions, to get this demimonde of wannabe Nashville musicians moving in a different direction. “I remember I would try to handicap them somehow,” he says. “If they were a really great guitar player, well, no, you’ve got to play the organ.” Then he would sit back and watch and listen. He found his writing voice in this observational style. “It was like journalism, in a way—just reflecting and commenting on my life, my friends’ lives, whatever.” Wagner would change some details and obscure others to disconnect his insights from the individual, to more closely approach the universal. His lyrics and his phrasing conveyed a profundity that he didn’t know he was capable of—he had found his singing voice through finding the words to sing.