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Check Out Local Duo “The Rutabega”

Lizzy Schroff | Thursday, January 24, 2013


The night before the first day of classes, I got the chance to attend a concert by local band “The Rutabega” at Ignition Music in Goshen, Ind. Josh Hensley, singer and guitarist from the duo, gave me the lowdown on the band and the music that they create.

LS: “The Rutabega” is a pretty unique name. What’s the story behind it?

JH: My dad used to call me The Rutabega when I was a kid. Not sure why! I think it evolved from “Josh the Squash.” I didn’t realize I had misspelled it until after the first album had been released, but I suppose it’s made it easier for people to find us through search engines.

LS: What was that sparking moment when you thought, “Hey. I want to make music for a living?”

JH: I’ve known since I was around 15 that I had to make music. It wasn’t tied to money. I just felt like my heart would explode if I didn’t have a creative outlet, and music felt so natural.

LS: You describe your band’s style of music as “carp rock.” What exactly is “carp rock”?

JH: Carp Rock is our attempt at getting out of describing our style. It’s really just an inside joke. We thought it would be funny to claim we had invented a genre.

LS: Who are some of your musical influences?

JH: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and early 70s Neil Diamond were some of my early faves that never got old. Nirvana changed everything for me and led me to bands like Pixies, The Breeders, The Vaselines, and The Wipers. I love Elliott Smith, Tom Waits and Damien Jurado. I’ve also been fortunate to be close friends with some amazing songwriters that consistently inspire me and push me to be a better writer.

LS: Josh, you started out as a solo act. How did you meet Garth, and how has your music evolved as a duo?

JH: I started putting solo music out as The Rutabega in 2002. It became a three piece for a while, and then it was just me again. My wife Emily has been involved as well for several years.  Garth recorded my old band, Space and Noise Productions, in the year 2000. We knew each other from the South Bend scene and would occasionally catch up at shows. He and Emily had a mutual friend, Matthew Miller, who passed away in January of 2011. After Matt’s funeral we started getting together for weekly dinners and would always end up playing music. Those dinners led to Garth playing his first show with The Rutabega in March of 2011.

LS: Where do you draw your lyrical subjects and inspiration from?

JH: Writing is kind of like self-hypnosis for me. My lyrics are very personal, but they don’t necessarily follow a story line. I often write about my brother, Ben, who I lost several years ago.

LS: I hear that you are in the midst of recording some new material. Can you tell us a little about your project, or is it super-secret? When we can expect to see it come out?

JH: We are working on a new album that will most likely be called “Brother The Lights Don’t Work.” The plan is to release it this spring. Most of the songs we have been playing live will be included on this record, and we are really excited about how it is coming together. We tracked several songs in an old church in South Bend and have also done some recording in the Golden Mallard’s echo room. It sounds big and open and sad and hopeful. Oh, and my daughter’s all-girls choir Bella Voce sings on the first song!

LS: You achieve a really full sound from a duo. What are some of the things you think about or try to do in creating a really well-rounded sound with two people?

JH: Thanks! Garth and I really enjoy the simplicity of playing as a duo. We are both drawn to minimalism, but we also really want our live sound to be as dynamic as possible – from stark and exposed, without being precious, to lush and enveloping, without being overbearing.

LS: Your “Bull Carp” EP is pretty much the coolest packaged CD in my collection. How long did it take you to make all of those personalized EPs?

JH: All the covers were hand stamped from a linocut I made. It definitely took a lot longer than I had planned – each package had to be stamped, folded, packed, and numbered. Our friend Brandon helped with the liner notes, which are die-cut in the shape of either a bull or a carp (of course).

LS: What’s life like out on the open road and touring?

JH: Recording is a blast, but there is something almost spiritual about a good show. We love getting out of town and have formed some great relationships with other bands. It is also really cool to bring good bands into the South Bend area and know that they will have an appreciative audience.

LS: Where can we expect to see you touring next?

JH: We are heading up to the Upper Peninsula (in Michigan) in February for the PRF Thundersnow Winter BBQ. We will be playing Grand Rapids and Marquette [University] leading up to the fest.  We are also planning to do some touring after the record comes out this spring. Hoping to get out to the East Coast and hit a lot of Midwest spots as well.

LS: What’s been your coolest experience as a group/solo project thus far?

JH: There have been some cool things like having songs used on MTV’s “The Real World” and getting a positive review in “The Big Takeover”, but honestly I am most excited about the friendship I have with Garth and the connection we feel to the music we’re playing. We both really believe in what we’re doing with “The Rutabega”.

LS: Vinyl or digital, and why?

JH: Both! I prefer to experience albums I love on vinyl. The artwork is big. It feels good to physically hold a record and set the needle down. It even smells good. It’s like a little ritual.  That being said, it is super nice to have my iPod on the bus and be able to listen to whatever I feel like listening to.  I love that labels are releasing vinyl that comes with a digital download. That is the way to go, in my opinion. Make a cool, personalized package that people are excited about.

LS: Anything else you’d like us to know?


JH: We will be releasing “Brother The Lights Don’t Work” on vinyl and as a digital download (and possibly a small run of CDs). We have been running a “Carpstarter” campaign (as opposed to a Kickstarter) to raise money to self-release the album. Instead of asking for fans to pledge money, we’ve been saving money from shows and doing silly things like selling plasma, cleaning up after raves, and collecting scrap metal. Fun! The first single from the new album will be coming out soon in the form of a video shot by my good friend Jared Myers (Daytime Volume). Think model rockets, gasmasks, and a mysterious briefcase…

 Check out The Rutabega’s music on http://theseknottylines.bandcamp.com/!