With the release of 2010’s Dark Light, Portland trio Lovers found itself parting ways with its folky roots, exchanging acoustic guitars for fresh-sounding synths and electronic beats fit for a dancefloor. On new album A Friend in the World, the group takes a softer, more organic electronic journey filled with spiritual adventures, hills of lavender and sage and new romances inside the walls of art museums. We caught up with singer Carolyn Berk to talk about the new album, borrowing from J.D. Salinger and why Lovers isn’t trying to be the next big thing.
Dark Light came out during a time rife with anti-gay politics, and there are some really strong moments about love and rebellion on that record. A Friend in the World sounds a bit gentler. How differently did you approach it? On Dark Light I remember feeling excited to explore different versions of reality. I was kind of interested in exploring a certain sort of playfulness and earnestness and cockiness, or a little bit of masculinity. [I was] really interested in trying on different genders and just kind of being bold. This time I think it was just the next step of living and learning. I still continued to enjoy playing with variations of gender, but I also wanted to reclaim a sensitivity ... I wanted to sort of own my own sensitivity and go a little bit deeper on certain things. I enjoyed skimming the surface on certain areas in Dark Light, and I guess that I wanted this whole thing to be a little more, um ...
Personal? Maybe so. I think at the time Dark Light felt very personal. I don’t claim to be ... the people of the songs. It’s just like this moment or whatever—this song thing that comes together in this weird way. I think at that moment that felt [like those were] really exciting things to be singing about.
You’re the primary songwriter, but do Kerby [Ferris] and Emily [Kingan] ever throw in their two cents? It’s mainly my thing. I had this one moment during this record where we decided to add something and I was a little stuck, and I got unstuck talking to my bandmates. That was really cool. I write on acoustic guitar, so they start out as songs in that most stripped-down kind of way. And then we translate them into an electronic thing that’s more fun to perform live.
I’ve heard you don’t really venture into your old material live. Well, I may again at some point. I don’t know. I sometimes miss some of that old stuff. I guess it feels weird to take old feelings that I don’t necessarily want to go back to all the time. There’s a part of me that feels like it might be really empowering to reclaim some of that stuff and do it in the present tense and be like, “Wait, no, I can love these things.” [But] there’s this part of me that subscribes to the whole “don’t look back” thing a bit. I love to write songs and I don’t really want to spend the time reworking stuff that doesn’t feel as exciting as present-tense stuff. I’m open to it, but I’m someone who really cherishes my time, and other people’s too.
You’ve played here a couple of times. Do you like playing Vegas? Yep, I do. I’ve just always had a really fun time there. We’ve just always had really nice people and really nice shows and fun, funny, weird nights.
Everyone says it’s weird, but whether it’s a good weird or a bad weird is subjective. Yeah, it’s like nowhere else I can think of. It is really a different city from the rest of the world. I mean, it’s really unusual. We’ve just had nice reception there, and we’ve had a nice time there, nice support.
There are some interesting literary references on A Friend in the World. In “Lavender Light,” for example, you say “Raise high the roof beam,” which I thought was a J.D. Salinger reference, but then I learned he borrowed it from the ancient poet, Sappho. Are you referencing either work specifically? I’m referencing the concept, honestly. It really sat with what I was trying to say. I get these little things in my head, and they just resonate in this way that’s translatable and worth keeping in the collective consciousness. It’s cool that it’s from Sappho, but I really associate it with J.D. Salinger. There’s so many different levels of that little phrase, within people trying to understand the poetry of Sappho and in the J.D. Salinger novella. Whether or not it’s tongue-in-cheek and sardonic in the song, it’s such a potent moment ... I can’t pretend to even understand the beginning of where it stands. It’s also just such an interesting concept if you take it literally—I really love it as a “raise the roof”-type thing. I could only touch the surface really. I borrowed it because it’s powerful in a lot of different ways. Everything about it is so magical and mysterious.
I don’t know if you’re a fan of Tegan and Sara, but their latest album Heartthrob did really well this year. What are your thoughts on an out lesbian duo making it in the mainstream? It’s really great—they seem like really nice people.
It seems like T&S made the conscious decision to make a pop record and achieve that level of success. Will Lovers ever go in that direction? I just don’t know, honestly. I wonder if the mainstream would just come to us. I would love to have production values that high. That is something that would be fun to explore, although I love stuff that was recorded at home or whatever. I would love the opportunities that would come with it, but I really cherish my time, and as much as it would be great to have a certain kind of success, I just don’t know if that’s exactly why I’m here or what I’m supposed to be doing.
I think for some people it is. [Tegan and Sara] are very, very good songwriters, and I think it’s super rad that they are in the mainstream … but I just don’t know. I don’t even know what mainstream is exactly. I can’t see myself intentionally doing something. I don’t feel physically capable of it. I never really considered myself at all a punk, but I really wound up in that scene. And it’s been very supportive. We would love to have more opportunities, but we’re pretty stubborn—not stubborn, but we’re weird.
Lovers With Same Sex Mary, Orange Cougar. December 16, 9 p.m., free (accepting donations for the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada). Artifice, 489-6339.