Everything’s happening all at once for the Drinkard Sisters. It’s appropriate that this new video, by filmmaker Andrew Miller, frames Bonnie and Caitlin Drinkard at several locations, be it rooms, streets, beaches or front porches, where they had formative experiences. The montage that Miller creates while the songwriting duo sing “Apples & Oranges” from their debut full-length album, affectionately looks back at everywhere they’ve been as a means of keeping them grounded, even as the busyness of their musical lives accelerates.
Bonnie and Caitlin have been performing around the local music scene for more than a decade, and have been singing together and working on music for even longer than that. But it wasn’t until last autumn when we got to hear their debut LP, Enough Already. They put out an EP in 2012, then a few singles and Christmas songs, but now they have a record, on vinyl, recorded/mixed/mastered with Warren Defever and featuring several stellar contributions like Pete Ballard’s pedal steel, Nick Landstrom’s drums, Ryan Harroun’s bass, and Dan Clark’s electric guitar. The star of the show is, of course, the dazzling harmonies between the Drinkards, trading off leads in the verses and then melding their voices together into a beautiful flourish. On the song featured in this video, you’re also hearing guitar playing by one of Detroit’s most recent breakout-names in the world of country-rock: Craig Brown.
The Drinkards had only recently returned from Europe when we were able to conduct this interview. Their melodious voices add harmonies and adorn the background of the songs of the Craig Brown Band. Brown’s The Lucky Ones Forget was released on Third Man Records last year. Enough Already came out on the Detroit-based label Tool and Die Recordings—and the Drinkards would quickly sell out of the copies they took with them across the pond to include at the CBB merch table; expectedly so—because fans of what CBB is laying down could easily fall in love with the Drinkard’s progressive Americana, neo-country, indie-twang, melody-centric music.
WDET: Let’s talk about that video.
Caitlin Drinkard: We shot over three different days with (Miller) and were on a major time crunch to try to finish shooting it before we left for Europe. We drove up to Port Huron and shot in the places we spent a lot of our summers as kids, on the beach at Lake Huron, at our cottage, and at the Palms Krystal bar, a Port Huron institution! We’ve known (Miller) a long time so it was really fun to make this with him. We shot the live scenes at Outer Limits Lounge during my last bartending shift before we left for tour and the Hamtramck alley shots we did three hours before we had to leave for the airport. A totally magical blast of the fluffiest snow fell at just as we started shooting the last shots, the urgency made for some perfect accidental timing.
Bonnie Drinkard: The video was shot in places that are very close to our heart. Our family cottage was built in 1924 by our great grandpa with the help of friends and family. So, needless to say, it’s a very sacred place to us. Our songs are very personal so it only made sense to show those personal places. Making the video was SO much fun! Andy Miller is definitely in the top tier of my favorite humans on this planet. He came up with the concept for the video and together we selected the locations.
WDET: Music has been a big part of your whole lives, but the last three years’ worth of experiences have seemed to bring even grander adventures and even grander shows/accomplishments. Talk about that whirlwind! Talk about how it feels to have the band to perform with! And about how this album feels—or how it feels to have it done…
Caitlin Drinkard: We’ve spent most of the last three years singing & touring with Craig Brown Band and have gotten to sing in some really incredible places - caves and barns and apartments and arenas and a lot of strange little bars in the middle of nowhere. We’ve gotten to open for big heroes (Dwight Yoakam, Wanda Jackson, Margo Price, Jack White, Dwight Twilley,) we just got back from a five-week tour in Europe. It’s been a really wild ride so far with those guys; we’ve had a lot of fun. But it feels totally different to be able to get our songs out into the world.
Bonnie Drinkard: The last 3 years have been quite the whirlwind! Touring with Craig consistently while keeping our band alive and moving forward has been a lot of work but so exciting and reassuring at the same time. This past Labor Day (Hamtramck Labor Day Festival) was our first performance with the current, powerful lineup and it nearly moved me to tears. Later that day Martha Reeves performed, so it was awesome to share a stage with her! Our album release party in October at Outer Limits Lounge was a wild success, we had friends and family from many parts of our lives come out and we could really feel the overflow of love. That night definitely felt like a life milestone, as the record was a long time coming. Most of the songs were written over the past 5 years and to have it all come together and for the songs to be in a tangible, complete form, ready for the world felt better than I can even describe.
Caitlin Drinkard: It felt great to put out a physical version of our music in a proper way for the first time ever. We took some records to Europe and sold them all within the first couple weeks. I’m excited that there are people in Spain and in Italy and in France listening to our record…maybe even right now! Playing with the band we have right now is also an absolute dream - we’ve got Pete Ballard playing pedal steel and Warren Defever who produced the record playing guitar along with Nick Landstrom (drums) and Ryan Harroun (bass) who’ve been with us from the start. They are so much fun to play with; I really love all those guys.
WDET: Some of the lyrics of Apples & Oranges, to me, suggest that anxious-urgent-curious feeling of not knowing what might have happened in some past experiences, or even not knowing what’s gonna happen next…never being able to tell what might happen next. Is that, in a way, a kind of philosophy or mindset that you have found might be necessary when it comes to being a musical artist and trying to build a career or establish a presence or even book a tour or even write the next song?
Caitlin Drinkard: Yes! Apples & Oranges is about accepting uncertainty and appreciating another person as they are, not as you want them to be. Nothing is certain. Anything could change at any minute. So I guess the idea’s not to be scared about it, just to appreciate it for whatever it is, even if you were hoping for an apple and got an orange. Having no expectations for what might happen next takes a lot of the pressure off. It’s definitely easier said than done—especially because I am a planner and a schemer by nature, but being open to wherever this takes us seems to be working so far. When nothing is certain, everything is possible.
Bonnie Drinkard: Embracing the unknown and remaining open to the possibilities of the universe are definitely philosophies I live by. I don’t make many plans in life because I feel that there are constant curves in the road and doors opening and all those metaphors (laughs), but just keeping the music alive and saying yes to playing lots of nontraditional gigs, performing on a bus for example, and just being open and available has seemed to work out well for us. I don’t know that I can speak for both my sister and I but I’m more of a generic goal setter than a specific plan maker.
WDET: Hamtramck is prominently featured in your video. Can you talk about that, this city, or even just the Outer Limits Lounge… What place Hamtramck holds in your hearts…
Caitlin Drinkard: I’ve lived in Hamtramck for the last six years; it’s really such a special place to live. I love having neighbors from all over the world; I love the community of weirdoes making music and art here. It’s such a tiny town but when you go other places, people somehow have heard of this little two square mile town - it’s THAT special! Outer Limits Lounge has a huge place in my heart. It’s the perfect bar! John & Kelly have worked so hard to make it a welcoming place for everybody in town. It’s also a great place to play as a musician, we’ve played there a ton and they really care a lot about the sound and the lights and treating bands well. That matters. But full disclosure: I also tend the bar there on Sunday nights!
Bonnie Drinkard: (Outer Limits Lounge) is basically our Cheers…
Bonnie went on to say that they’ve both been very inspired after five weeks’ touring Europe, and intend on writing a lot (solo, and together) of new material as they focus on their second album. “We are shifting the focus inward for the winter,” said Caitlin. “Writing and recording new songs! Then more touring come spring time.”