Lisa: Here in Portland, we’re really quite fortunate that we have a vibrant musical scene and that individuals who have been working in the business tend to create new creative collaborations overtime with others who are in the industry as well. Today, we have with us Dave Gutter and Anna Lombard. Dave is a singer, songwriter, composer and performer from Portland. He is best known for his work as the frontman of indie rock groups such Rustic Overtones and Paranoid Social Club.
Anna Lombard is a local singer and performer. Her debut album, Head Full of Bells is a powerful meditation on love, loss and ultimately redemption. Thanks for coming in today.
Dave: Thank you for having us.
Anna: Yeah, thank you.
Lisa: You’ve both been working in a duet you call Armies. We’re going to start with a song here today. Dave, tell me about the song.
Dave: This song is called Let it Burn. It’s a song that I wrote about how when beautiful things evoke almost a melancholy or sadness. Embracing sadness rather than shutting it out especially in something like love that there is lots that you can learn from that low point that has lots of feeling down there. You need to let yourself go to that so you can feel those deeper feelings and not be like I need to take Prozac so I’m happy. I’m supposed to be happy and smiling. I think those are more true emotions, the ones where you’re unsure of yourself where you’re scared or you’ve been sad or whatever (singing).
Lisa: That was beautiful. I always enjoy having people in the studio but it was especially wonderful to hear the harmonies that you created this morning. How long have you been working together.
Anna: Just about a year, right?
Dave: Yeah. It’s almost a year.
Anna: We went in the studio, mid-December … You had started it a long time ago but we started working together mid-December of last year.
Lisa: When we think about collaborations, you can’t always count on two people being able to actually work together. Just because you are musicians, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can become a duet that you can sing together, that you can create music together. What is it has worked for you? What is about your partnership that you think enables you to create this music together?
Anna: I mean, I know for me at first when we first started working together, I was not immediately convinced that it was going to work. It wasn’t until we really spent time singing together and getting that comfortability, just the two of us where I felt like it really struck a chord, a hook. Get it? It just became really easy and I love singing with him so much so I feel really lucky to be around that.
Dave: Anna’s beautiful is like the Instagram filter to my voice. It smooths everything from the top and makes me feel better about it. I think that we worked really well together. We put this album together really, really quickly. I think it’s just a matter of being able to say when something sucks and just being like no, let’s move on and let’s keep working. It’s really a diligent process but it’s fun. I think the idea is that you throw out the most important ones. Her and I are both very willing to sacrifice our egos and all that to get the record to be the best it could be.
Lisa: Why Armies? Why do you call your collaboration Armies?
Dave: I liked the name because it insinuated lots of people fighting for something but my ex’s name is Amy and we had a rough relationship. My friends would be like, “Why isn’t Dave hanging out anymore, man? We never see him.” They were like, “He joined the Amy.” That was like the joke for a while. I made the title track that says we’re like armies. We fight like armies which is like a play on words for that. I also like the connotation of it that has this strength in numbers kind of thing.
Anna: It compares heartbreak to war, right?
Dave: Yeah, exactly.
Lisa: Both of you grew up in the Portland area and you’re from Cape Elizabeth. Dave you’re born in Portland but went to Gorham High School. Tell me about being a part of this music scene for so many years.
Anna: Do you want to take that?
Dave: I would like to address that in Gorham High School, when I went to high school, there wasn’t this footloose scandal that’s happening now where kids can’t dance because they’re twerking too much. I was just bouncing all over the dance floor. You could jiggle anything you wanted back then but now, things have changed. I’ve been playing music for a long time. I don’t know. I think that I feel really proud of myself being able to keep my head above water as a musician in this scene. This is a very …
Dave: It’s not even competitive. There’s this camaraderie and there’s this upping the anti thing that all musicians around here do that just keeps it really fresh. We’re not really concerned if some huge record label likes it or not. We just play it for our friends and have a beer and have our musical cohorts approve and evolve the music scene. That’s the way it’s always been. Ever since I’ve been playing in this scene, people have always been pushing it and not fixated on success but fixated on good music.
That’s my experience being in this scene for so long has just made me really proud. I mean, just think of how many restaurants and bars and businesses that you see not being able to stay above water so the musicians in this town that has been working hard for years. Not the easiest music scene, not the easiest music industry, I have a lot of respect for all those people.
Anna: Definitely. I feel the same way. I think that the part about that I love the most is probably that I have so many friends who are in this scene so it’s kind of like you’re learning and you’re growing and you’re evolving surrounded by your friends which is really special. Like Dave said, just the supportiveness of everybody, everyone wanting everyone else to do well and pushing the envelope, not really just being satisfied with where you’re at. It’s funny that a small town, city, I guess like Portland has that wealth of talent and music and art.
Lisa: Between the two of you, you have 3 daughters. You have 2 Anna not with Dave, obviously.
Anna: Thanks for making that clear.
Lisa: Dave has his own 9-year-old.
Lisa: You have a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old.
Anna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa: Do you feel as though you’ve been able to raise them musically?
Anna: I mean, I’m still in the early stages of that because Hazel is 5 and June is 1 but I think the most important part as a mother for me, is for them to see their mom doing what she really loves to do. Not just being defined as a mother but also incorporating how I raised them and what I love into just enriching our lives and them being able to be a part of that is really important to me.
Dave: I’m the band dad that’s like calling some pub in Massachusetts and saying, “I know the band. Is it cool if I bring a 9-year-old to your tavern?” I always try to infuse her into the music scene. She has grown up being in a studio with me. My daughter, Connie is a co-writer on the new Aaron Neville record that I wrote a record with Aaron. She attended one of the sessions and we were stomped on a lyric and she just got up from bed and wondered down to the studio rubbing her eyes and it was like why don’t you just say this.
Then it was like this beautiful, simple thing. I immerse her in any form of creativity and art anytime I can. This is all I do for a job. The apartment is always cluttered with musical instruments and we paint on the walls and have food fights. It’s very fun and laid back.
Lisa: She also plays the cello.
Dave: She does. She just began playing the cello. She seems to love it.
Lisa: Each of you also has an addition to being a vocalist. Each of you has a background as straight up musicians with musical instruments. I don’t know how to say that. Anna, you play the piano.
Anna: I did far more than I do. I mean, I took piano lessons when I was very young. I started with vocal lessons for about 4 or 5 years and then I grew up playing the baritone tuba and the trumpet and the French horn but I haven’t played any of those instruments in so long. It certainly not as well versed as this guy.
Dave: She’ll act tomboy and then she’ll sit down at the piano, drop some Beethoven on you. It’s crazy. It’s true. I would say that that’s your only weakness is your humbleness.
Anna: Wow. It’s a good weakness though.
Lisa: It’s good to be humble.
Anna: It could be worse.
Lisa: Dave, what types of instruments do you play?
Dave: I’m very much like a listening player. I don’t read music but I just like to sit down and bang around at any instrument.
Anna: He’s an incredible guitarist. I didn’t even realize the level of his playing until we started playing together last year. I mean, I’ve been to Rustic shows and Paranoid shows and known him but his playing is absolutely insane.
Anna: It’s incredible to think that so much of that is just from self-taught and doing it by ear. You know what I mean?
Lisa: How did that came to be? I mean, there are some people who sign their kids up for lessons. It’s a little bit more straightforward. If you’re a kid who sits down with a guitar and just picks out chords and educate yourself.
Anna: He was telling me on the way to the studio last night how his parents would walk into his bedroom when he was a kid and his fingers would be like bleeding, all busted up and they’d be like, “God.”
Dave: Frothing at the mouth. What I really owe it to is I was the only child and my mom unfortunately was very ill when I was growing up. She was constantly at doctor’s appointments. I got a guitar and I was like I’m just going to chill in the car while you’re in there and I’m going to play my guitar. It was so frequent that I was in this position just killing time and waiting, I taught myself how to play the guitar. I just dragged it around everywhere I went. It was one of my first friends as a young child.
Lisa: When did you start writing music?
Dave: Right away. I didn’t know how to go about learning a song of somebody else’s. The first thing I really played was just me making up songs on the guitar. I used to think I was terrible because I could write a song but I couldn’t play a Motley Crue and I was really bummed out about that. I’ve gotten over that.
Lisa: I’m interested because I’m thinking about the way that we learn, that way that we’re taught and it’s often divided out into people who are more verbal or people who are more special. People who are more kinesthetic and then the musical is lumped into one enormous category but what you’re describing is you are learning a very different way, musically than perhaps somebody who is a classical pianist learns.
Dave: Very much.
Lisa: It’s not really that there is a musical way of learning. There are probably many ways of learning.
Anna: Yeah, absolutely.
Dave: It’s a discipline. If you put the time in, no matter in what direction or what mode you’re in or what your background is, if you put enough time into it, the result is going to be something and you’re going to eventually play your instrument, but I think the people that are unorthodox about their approach to their instrument tend to be more creative. The people that don’t have, like, A doesn’t go with E flat minor. All those things are what kills music or keeps it in a box. It’s when it is totally wrong. You‘re not supposed to do this but I like it.
I think that’s where you get creative musicians when you have piano players that turn keyboard players or I mean guitar players. When you take someone out of their comfort zone and you put them on an instrument they’re not familiar with, it’s a whole new thing. It’s like the exploration of a child playing or making up something. There’s no parameters.
Lisa: Your primary instrument is your voice.
Anna: Absolutely, yeah.
Lisa: As you mentioned, you began with vocal lesson when you were very young. It’s an interesting idea. This is something not unlike a tuba or a piano or a guitar that you continue to train and practice with and explore and be creative with because I’m not sure that everybody thinks about the voice that way.
Anna: Right. Yeah, I mean, when I listen to recordings even 10 years ago, recordings from after my first child, I mean, my voice has changed so much in the course of that time. I think what is important for people to know I guess is that it is very much like an instrument that continues to grow and that you have to work on. There are so many elements that affect it much like an instrument, cold weather, being sick.
It’s funny, the way that Dave has expressed that he learned and taught himself yes, I was classically trained as a vocalist but it wasn’t until I was beyond that training when I was younger where I really began to come into my voice and find it and it changed dramatically from there on I guess.
Lisa: I also think about the intersection of voices and the harmonies. I mean, not unlike the intersection of instrumentation that you have two people who can harmonize really requires whether it’s using an instrument such as a piano or an instrument such as a voice. It requires really listening and not just listening but tuning in a different way to that other person.
Anna: Not everybody can do it. You know what I mean? I think it’s harder than people probably think for some people but I don’t know. There has to be a connection between two voices. It’s not something that can be forced. Like I said before, it’s just really easy to do that with him so it makes it fun.
Dave: There’s some songs where we can go around like her voice and there’s other songs that are built around my vocal part. It always changes. if you could have heard us last night, 3 in the morning, when I talk about the process of writing the songs and coming up with these harmonies is not flattering.
Anna: I was listening to a recording on the way in here today and I was like, “Oh, god. That needs to be deleted immediately.”
Dave: I mean you have to do all that. It’s humiliating. If you’re really going to get the good stuff, you have to be able to just willing to do the musical equivalent of running down a street with your clothes off. That’s what it’s like.
Anna: That’s what it felt.
Lisa: That’s true. I think about how many people have been on the show and then I’ll say, “Did you listen to the show, the radio show?” They’ll say, “No. I don’t like to listen to my own voice.” Here you guys are like this is what you do. You have to listen to your own voices.
Anna: I mean, that’s not to say it’s not extremely difficult to listen to your own voice sometimes but yeah, you have to flush out the ideas and get the song to a place where you’re happy with it.
Lisa: What do you have coming for your duet?
Anna: We’re a full band. We front Armies but we have drums and base and our DJ Mikey. We’ve got some shows coming up, just working on booking through the winter. We’re already starting to work on the next record to so that’s going to keep us busy. We play some shows.
Dave: We’re trying to get as much content out there, the chemistry between us. Writing has been a really fun one and also a lot different than anything I’ve done musically and I think you too. We made an album and then we want to play a show. We were like oh, we can only play an hour. We want to play all night. That forced us to write songs so we have a longer show and we can be up on stage for more time and give the audience more. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re just stockpiling. We’re like chipmunks in the winter. I mean, we’re stocking on our nuts.
Lisa: How can people listen to more of the work that you’ve been doing?
Dave: For me, therusticovertones.com. We Are Armies on Instagram. You can’t listen, you can see pictures of us on there. Facebook we have updates on when our shows are. We just released a video with our friends OHX that you can check out on YouTube. It’s called FMHU. If those are enough letters for you, OHX FMHU.
Lisa: I encourage people to do that. It’s quite wonderful to have you and to be able to bring the music into the morning certainly having singing and having a song in the radio studio is always just a treat but you guys were a special treat. We’ve been speaking with Dave Gutter who is a singer, songwriter, composer and performer from Portland.
Also Anna Lombard who is a singer and performer both of whom are part of the group, Armies and have been part of any other important collaborations. Thank you for doping the work that you do. It definitely brings joy into the world.
Dave: Thank you.
Anna: Thanks so much for having us.