Under the alias Du Nord, the deliriously talented country-folk artist Caitlin Drinkard (Golden, Drinkard Sisters) has finally released her first solo album. It's on the cassette format via Chris Butterfield's Tool & Die label, but you can also check it out online at dunordmusic.bandcamp.com. Drinkard recorded all the parts on the album. "I'm calling it A Right Response, but it could also be called Caitlin Learns How to Use a Four-Track," the singer/songwriter says.
In celebration of her tape release show at Hatch Art in Hamtramck with Andrew Barrett and Jeremy Waun on Friday, Feb. 26, Metro Times interviewed Drinkard. I enjoyed Drinkard's thoughtful replies so much that I'm presenting them here "in their own words" style; I yanked out all my questions, so these are just her answers woven together. At the end she mentions three songs and talks about them, because I asked her to.
"By day I am a school counselor at a super diverse public high school in my neighborhood. The main functions of my job are to help kids learn to filter pain and frustration, and to make sure they graduate. It's hard work and really heavy work a lot of the time. Music helps me shake off a lot of that pain and frustration so it can just flow through me and not get stuck to me. Very few of the kids know I make music at all or if they do, they are completely uninterested when I tell them it's folk music. I don't know what they imagine when I tell them this, but I am fairly certain it is not cool.
"I grew up listening to a lot of songwriter music my parents were into — the Beatles, Dylan, Cat Stevens, John Prine, CSNY — music that still feels like it is at the core of my being. I still listen mostly to stuff that can be filed under 'Dad Rock' — a lot of Neil Young, a lot of AM 580, and a lot of classic country. I just got back from Nashville where I cried not once but twice in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mother Maybelle Carter's 1928 Gibson and Gram Parsons' Nudie suit were the culprits.
"I have always loved to sing. My family is widely musical, though not a lot of songwriters. My grandparents played in a basement jazz combo with their neighbors in the '60s. My dad plays bluegrass and leads singalongs in nursing homes (Matt Drinkard, North Oakland County's premier eldertainer). My aunts and uncles and cousins all sing and play music. We are the kind of family where seven people are singing seven different harmonies on "Happy Birthday." It's sick. My sisters (Bonnie, 27; and Lindsay, 33) and I have been singing and harmonizing together since we were really little, always making up songs, weird little barbershop-style ditties that we could never get through without laughing.
"We didn't sing in public together until 2010, when our friend Phreddy Wischusen talked all three of us into joining him for a one-off a capella performance that never was, but instead became our first band, Cap'n Jerry & the Mermaids. We traded instruments after every song, dreamed up really elaborate and as-yet-unrealized theme musicals, learned how to write songs together, and sang Wesley Willis covers in four-part harmony. It was loose and silly and fun.
"Lindsay left the band to teach overseas, Joni DeFrancesco joined us on drums, and we called ourselves Golden. I really started digging into writing songs with Golden. A lot of the songs were dark, kind of psyched-out, spacey folk songs. We played around town a lot for about a year, never recorded anything but voice memos, and broke up in 2011.
"Bonnie and I kept writing songs, playing as a duo at friends' house shows, birthday parties, weddings, square dances, funerals. We recorded an EP in 2012 with Adam Pressley (from Ohtis and Jamaican Queens) that we never put out but can be found on the Internet (soundcloud.com/drinkardsisters). I had wanted to get a band together for a while, but it took a long time for it to be the right time. We were asked to play Mittenfest this year and I asked some friends if they wanted to play with us, initially as a one-time deal that again turned out to be way too much fun to be a one-time deal.
"Drinkard Sisters' present sound is rounded out by our spirit brothers Ryan Harroun (Mountains and Rainbows) on bass, Dan Clark (lovable door guy at the Lager House) on guitar, Nick Landstrom (Earth Engine) on drums, and Matthew Milia (Frontier Ruckus) on pedal steel.
"Singing with Bonnie is almost too easy. We can tap into this freaky sibling brain frequency where we can just sense each other's vibrations and we know exactly what to sing, we can find harmony in a way that feels as natural as breathing. Harmonizing with other people is always harder, always takes more tries to get it right. Even harmonizing with myself took more tries than singing with Bonnie does. We have been backup singing with the Craig Brown Band recently and it has been a good exercise in pushing beyond our usual style and stepping into someone else's musical mindscape and finding harmony there.
"I don't listen to a ton of new music but the stuff I do is mostly local. I really love Bonny Doon — great songs, and a vibe that I want to live inside of. Mountains and Rainbows are so good I almost can't stand it. I got to sing a little on their new record, and it was such a blast. They are writing some real dazzlers these days.
"With this tape, I just wanted to see what happened when I took it all into my own hands. I'm bossy by nature, so only being able to boss myself around was a good lesson in recognizing my own borders. When left up to me, the music is going to be kind of spare and rough and loose. Having the band play some of these same songs has already transformed them in really surprising ways that I could not have done on my own. We are all better together.
"'Hot Ashes' — This song came from a poem I wrote in 2007 when I was living in Seoul, spending a lot of time down by the Han River in little nooks where nobody would ever find me. An ode to the act of happy, willful disappearing.
"'Do I Do I' — a meditation on the plum foolishness of certainty. I can either rage at the universe for not bowing to my every demand, or embrace the mystery with a grateful heart. This song helps me choose B.
"'Wild Geese' — this poem by Mary Oliver has become a mantra for me. I wrote the melody as a way to memorize the poem and like a lot of Mary Oliver poems; it just kept ringing and ringing in my heart. Just a single track, one take. Like Willie Nelson said, just three chords and the truth.
"This year, I want to record with the full band, play more shows, and hopefully get a little tour together this summer. I love playing in strange places, so I'm hoping to book at least one dog fashion show or ice cream social in 2016."
The Du Nord tape release party is Feb. 26 at Hatch Art; Doors at 8 p.m.; 3456 Evaline St., Hamtramck; hatchart.org; Free.
The Drinkard Sisters perform on March 5 at Bumbo's as part of the Hamtramck Music Festival; 10 p.m.; 3001 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck; hamtramckmusicfestival.com; wristbands are $10 and provide entrance to all shows during the four day festival.