Last week I met a lovely kindred spirit, a former [and still part-time] punk, who is now primarily focused on roots, or Americana, music… Well, except she actually plays the music and I remain simply an admiring listener of the two beautiful, working-class genres. That individual is Kendl Winter, one-half of The Lowest Pair, a band of dueling banjos, with Palmer T. Lee serving as Winter’s musical other half. Mid-way through our chat Winter admits, “I kind of grew up on punk music and DIY and then got into roots music with the banjo, but I love great songwriters, like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Gillian Welch, and with roots music you get a lot of genuineness in it, that you can get in electronic music, but with this you’re holding that organic matter and coming together in that.”
Although Winter and Lee’s collaboration began in just 2013, they’ve already released to LPs, 2014’s 36¢ and The Sacred Heart Sessions, which hit shelves this February, and they’ve already got a third full-length, I Reckon I’m Fixin’ On Kickin’ Round to Pick a Little, Volume 1, which comes out July 24th on Team Love Records. The 12-song collection is primarily comprised of traditional songs that the band has included, at one time or another, in their live sets, recorded in a manner that includes their own “liberties.”
I ask Winter about the relatively short history of The Lowest Pair, who split their time between Minnesota and the Northwest, and what she considers to be the “highlights” of the band are the best I’ve heard in quite some time.
“Steve Martin just Tweeted about The Lowest Pair, which is pretty awesome… That’s kind of a big deal [laughs]. And we got to play with our good friends, Trampled By Turtles, at Ryman Auditorium, with Charlie Parr, and it was incredible. It was mythical. Just the soundcheck felt really weird… But we’ve had a really warm response from a lot of people, which has been great.”
But when I ask if she’s had any particular favorite responses to The Lowest Pair, Kendl is somewhat puzzled, but then quickly enthusiastic: “I’m not really sure I know how to answer that… Oh, my mom! – we were singing in the basement of her house and afterwards she said, ‘I didn’t know which one of you was singing,’ which was cool that the harmonies were that good.”
And while I Reckon I’m Fixin’ On Kickin’ Round to Pick a Little, Volume 1 is admittedly the hardest to remember and accurately name album I’ve heard in a while, it’s also the best “covers album” I’ve heard in recent years (although it does include a couple of originals). Kendl laughs, agreeing at my assessment, but also confirms that she’s more than perfectly happy with the album’s moniker: “That’s the perfect name for an old time album.” And when I ask why the band decided to put out an album of Americana standards, she tells me, “It’s a great way to bring people into trusting us, playing songs they already know. Palmer and I played those songs a lot when we first started playing together… When we started playing before we even really knew each other, so it was a good way to bring us together.”
Despite the fact that The Lowest Pair are set to release their third full-length in just two years, they already have an additional album in the works. When I ask Winter about what the band has planned for after an upcoming batch of live dates, she tells me that not only can fans expect more new music, but also additional gigs: “We’ve been working on another record with Dave Carroll, from Trampled By Turtles, and I spent the winter in Minnesota recording that album, which will be out next year, but we’ll be on the road through November.”
As far as the immediate future goes, The Lowest Pair are about to hit the road, beginning with a date in Duluth, Minnesota on July 11th and wrapping up with a date in Salem, Oregon on July 31st. Kendl tells me that while the shows aren’t all likely to be the same and, in some cases, not even terribly similar, that they will likely all embody the spirit of having a good time.
“We have a lot of fun. We really like having fun with the audience. We play from all our records. We’re still learning, but we think our shows are getting better and we’re getting tighter. We are still a relatively new band, but we’re trying to bring in more guitars and trying to fill out our sounds. We blend our show to the space that we’re in. We adjust our set. We love listening rooms, but we can get down at a bar.”