Chain Letters is certainly made to soundtrack black and white saloons as sleazily noirish events begin to unfold in every corner. Chain Letters is the sophomore effort from husband/wife duo Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney, better known as Big Harp, and it is out January 22nd on Saddle Creek. As its opening notes unfurl (on “You Can’t Save ‘Em All”), you assume that Chain Letters is the best album Nick Cave’s recorded in nearly a decade… And while it turns out to not be quite that Satanic, is is quite a bit heavier on the dark stuff than the band’s debut, White Hat. However, the melancholia and depression to be found in Big Harp is more along the lines of soberly blunt and poetic musings on the world that they see before them… as opposed to lightning bolts of Old Testament prophecy being hurled at anyone who dares to listen… but it does ring out as a gospel of sorts to those wise and disenchanted. It’s best track, “It’s Easy to be Strange” is a quirky folk ballad of Waits-ian proportions… playing like a warm hand on the shoulder to all of those smart enough to be discontent. I recently got a chance to chat about the new album with “Big Harp’s two headed dragon, Chris and Stef.” Here’s what they had to tell me.
Izzy Cihak: Oddly, I think I’ve interviewed more husband/wife outfits since Kim and Thurston broke up than I have ever before (Or maybe I’m just now noticing it.) Do you have any particular favorites, other than yourselves?
Big Harp: There have been a lot of musical couples over the years, for sure, but not many manage to stick it out long term. It’s great to see people like Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo, or Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, who seem to make it work.
IC: How would you describe the dynamic of “working” with the person whom you “share your life?” Does it make certain things easier, more difficult? What is your process… if you consider yourselves to have one?
BH: For us it’s easy. Having kids together keeps all the little stuff in perspective, so we don’t sweat too much. We’re having fun.
IC: Is there a specific type of person that seems to most “get” or gravitate-toward your music? Your backgrounds are quite varied, with each of you exploring various genres throughout your careers, which all sort of seem to meet in Big Harp.
BH: Fuck, man, we don’t know. Glassy-eyed vagrants, huffing the last faint vapors of long-empty aerosols. Axe-felled saplings crackling in the fires of posed indifference. Pool hall roustabouts slicking their hair under the streetlights. Weirdos. Truthfully, our fans seem fairly diverse. We’re not planning on being a band with a set sound so, hopefully, we’re finding people who are willing to move with us.
IC: You recorded your debut relatively early into your existence, but you’ve been around and evolved quite a bit since then. What would you say is the biggest difference in the sounds found on Chain Letters?
BH: It’s only been like a year and change, but we do sound different. It’s a little more hard-edged, and a little less folky. We made our first record without ever playing a show, and actually never sounded a thing like it live. The truth is we have to keep moving. Like sharks. Or we’ll die. We don’t feel the need to revisit the past, or even the present. We’re already working on record number three, and it won’t sound like one or two.
IC: What were the album’s biggest inspirations, whether musical or otherwise?
BH: Summer sausage, roller coasters, the little game on the table at Cracker Barrel, and a brand new package of socks. Also, we got fuzz pedals.
IC: Out of curiosity, Chris, did you write your own band bio to avoid doing interviews? If so, it’s a nice trick that I’ll pass around to others… But seriously, it’s much better than almost any other self-written band bio I’ve read.
BH: I did, but it’s not working. (Cue laugh track). Seriously, though, I’m glad you liked it.
IC: What are your plans, hopes, and goals for 2013? Any touring in the works?
BH: Hopefully we’ll do some touring, maybe get one of our slick jams placed in a killer commercial or something and rake in fat stacks all night long, then blow it all on summer sausage and roller coasters.