The Rosebuds: Interview
Tales of Tapes, Tobacco, and Swedish Furniture
people these days write break-up music like The Rosebuds, which is kind of
strange considering that most of the songs on their most recent Merge Records
CD, Birds Make Good Neighbors, are actually kind of winsome and happy.
But those songs -- with their jangly riffs and sing-along choruses, are happy in
the way a lot of Smiths songs are happy, which is to say, you can dance along
with a smile on your face, but if you really consider some of the slightly
lovelorn lyrics, you just might burst into tears.
Husband and wife duo Ivan Howard (vocals, guitars) and Kelly Crisp (keyboards,
vocals) lead this North Carolina band. To get a good sense of how domestic
relationships (human and avian) and North Carolina history play into the duo's
musical outlook, you should take a look at the Rosebuds Manifesto, which is on
blog. Ivan and Kelly expounded a bit on both ideas in a recent e-mail
Do birds REALLY make good neighbors? I mean, I read your manifesto and the
story about the cardinals who lived on your porch, then took off when they
realized you were there. That seems kind of rude to me. So here's your chance to
tell me (and the world) once again why birds make good neighbors.
IH: I will leave this one up to Kelly. The birds did leave us, and only seemed
to be bothered by the sight of us. I hope they survived. They were cardinals.
KC: Well, the whole thing is that there is so much to learn from birds. By
watching the birds who eventually left our porch, I realized that choosing
survival for yourself is in everyone's best interest. Everyone makes
generalizations like, "Family is the most important thing," and "put others
first" or whatever, but really, looking out for your own best interests, and I
mean safety and happiness, not anything wicked, is a better policy.
In your manifesto, you keep coming back to the idea of survival, how it
affected the actions of those birds, and how it may have affected the English
colonists of The Lost Colony. How -- and what -- have The Rosebuds survived?
IH: As people, I think a whole lot. To come from where we both grew up, to be
traveling around the world and releasing music on a great record label, is
pretty unreal. The Rosebuds will probably be surviving for as long as Kelly and
I can keep it together on the road and keep moving forward as a band.
KC: The link is in the term "fight or flight" which we never use in the album
but which is present throughout. In my discussion of the Lost Colony, the first
group of English who attempted to settle America, I mentioned that I think after
considering all other options, and after realizing John White would probably
never come back, half the group decided to press on, through hostile Indian
territory to the location they initially meant to permanently establish
themselves, and half the group disagreed, deciding to go live with the friendly
Croatan tribe nearby. The story about the Lost Colony sounds like fiction, like
a movie, but this was a real dilemma for these people. I identified with the
group who chose to live with the nearby tribe because it was the more difficult
decision since there's not much pride in giving up your dream and the reason you
came to this new country, giving up your entire life as a British school teacher
or banker and, basically, becoming Indian. But, the group who pressed on toward
Virgina were slaughtered and the people who moved in with the Croatans survived.
The tribe became known, years later when other Englishmen arrived, for their
members with mysterious blue eyes. The Croatan later became known as the Lumbee
Indians. On a side note, when I was really small, my first crush was on a Lumbee
Indian boy named Eddie who had teal blue-green eyes.
Also, I lived on Cedar Island as a child, and the people on the island believed
themselves to be the descendants of the Lost Colony and they did have a British
accent that had been so carefully preserved on the remote island throughout the
years that it was found to be closer to the original English spoken in Queen
Elizabeth's day than anything spoken in England presently.
wish I would never write a sad song. That would mean that life was perfect for
me I guess." -Ivan Howard
Ivan, what was it like playing your big
hometown festival in Fuquay-Varina? Was it like a homecoming for you? Did you
see any folks from your childhood, and if so, what did they think about the
IH: It was actually better than I expected. FV was once a really very
conservative tobacco town. It still is really conservative, but I have friends
that I went to high school with who are still in town, and they planted the seed
in the town counsel's ear to have us play. Some friends I grew up with and some
family came to the show with their new born babies and little kids. It was a
safer environment with less commitment for them than a rock club. I think
relatives and some friends still have the idea that if you are playing music,
that you are in Hell's Angels biker bars every night. To be honest though, some
musicians in my family were in that scene and made a good living playing biker
bars and biker gang get-togethers. So playing the festival gave everyone the
chance to see us without being scared basically. I try to tell them, there is a
difference between bars and "music venues," but they can't understand. So it was
pretty great for them to see what we do.
KC: I was really surprised by some stuff that happened that day. When we
arrived, there was a band already playing. It was five men and one woman (the
singer) on stage in dark blue jeans, matching American flag shirts and white
cowboy hats. They were doing some covers like God Bless America and shit like
that. The woman was advertised as a "Nashville recording artist" so I think
everyone was mainly curious but no one was really very into it. And there was a
street fair going on so there were tons of people walking by and even the old
folks you'd expect to be into it would just walk up, stop for a bit, and then
stumble off. Just before we played, a dance troupe of little girls, the Main
Street Dancers, performed some ballet, some jazz and some interpretive dance and
everybody really enjoyed that. I thought they were great and just fearless. The
whole time they were performing the "Nashville recording artist" band was
loading out into a trailer hitched to a stretched Lincoln Navigator limo and
when Ivan and I saw that thing we both cringed and sort of laughed a little out
of embarrassment for them. It was really sickening. Like, "What are these
assholes trying to pull?! Anybody can go to Nashville and buy studio time and
sing covers. Therefore, anybody can be a Nashville recording artist."
Every time I complain about something like that, I think, well, there is a
market for this stuff I guess or else American Idol wouldn't be so big but then
I think about all the old folks who just passed on by the bloated flags and my
shrunken heart grows a little. Anyway, back to the festival. We went on after
the Main Street Dancers and were hoping they'd stick around but their mothers
whisked them off to a post-performance buffet (I can imagine) and so we started
to play to a relatively thin crowd and then something amazing happened. After
the first song I looked around and some people walking by had stopped and a
little crowd of one and two-year-olds started to gather in the center and bobble
and dance, and then some old folks wandered up and sat in the grass and then
teenage boys walked up and stood with folded arms. When it was over we had a
respectable crowd and we sold almost all the CDs and shirts we had. A 70
year-old lady bought two CDs (which she kept calling "tapes") and two Rosebuds
shirts. I couldn't believe it. She said they were big fans of ours. And you know
Ivan is still the town's biggest basketball legend so some old men and women
came up to say that they never missed one of his games and that there will
"never be another Ivan Howard." It was really special for me to meet all these
people and see how supportive a small town can be. I mean, it was like the
saying "it takes a village to raise a child" and I could tell they all still
felt that Ivan is theirs.
How did you end up sharing a bill with Ronnie Spector?
IH: The magazine Stomp and Stammer from Atlanta, GA asked us to play the show.
It was their anniversary party. When we were living in Wilmington NC, I used to
read the magazine because it was free at CD Alley there. They were just really
sarcastic, and would rip a lot of bands to shreds, and it was sort of funny as
long as they were not talking about someone I liked. But somehow, four years
later, the editor of the magazine fell in love with us and we ended up on the
cover of the magazine. They've been good to us. So recently, they contacted us
to see if we'd play the show. She was really great by the way. The venue was
small, and it was a one-time opportunity seeing a true vocalist like her close
So many of the songs on Birds Make Good Neighbors seem happy when you
first listen to them, but there's always something about the melodies, or about
Ivan's voice, that seems sad, and full of longing. Is everything alright between
you two? And if it is, how were you able to channel such sadness? Or, am I just
reading things that aren't there?
IH: I guess that is the way the songs just come out. Not trying to channel
sadness into songs on purpose. I wish I would never write a sad song. That would
mean that life was perfect for me I guess.
KC: A lot of the lyrics are personal. Because Ivan and I are so close, I have
begun to revise my personal history and now, when I think back on bad situations
when I was a young girl, I have inserted Ivan in the story. I was raised by
wolves. So, when anything bad ever happened to me, I always felt like there were
three stories, the one I was seeing, the one the other person in the situation
saw, and the one seen from above. It sounds spiritual, like I'm saying it was
God watching everything, which is how I felt then, but now I think I've inserted
Ivan. So that, if there was anyone, a third-person standing outside the conflict
who could observe and silently take my side, I imagine now that it was Ivan.
This is probably because I have told him so much and he's been so supportive of
me learning to be an adult on my own after having been raised like I was. So if
it seems like there are bad things brewing in the music, it's true but it's not
necessarily a sign anything is wrong between us.
Which came first: the relationship or the band? How would things have been
different if it had been the other way around?
IH: The relationship was first. We have always stood behind whatever the
other was doing, no matter if it was acting, writing, cooking, academics,
sports, or just watching TV. I think that support is what makes the band work
now. Without it, the Rosebuds would have never gotten off of the ground.
KC: I agree. If it weren't for the courage that comes with having encouragement,
we wouldn't have anything going. I certainly wouldn't have ever done this if it
weren't for knowing Ivan would back me up.
What's going on with your drummer situation? Do they just keep spontaneously
IH: We actually keep killing them off by introducing them to a world where they
can have anything they want, including self-induced alcohol and drug binges.
Sometimes it's not that dramatic. The drummers who played on the records are
great but they're not able to tour. They have their own bands that are their top
priorities or good jobs that limit the touring. Kelly and I can tour constantly.
There has been financial instability, especially in the beginning, but we saw it
as an investment in the future. Most people can not make that sacrifice. It
makes it hard to tour. So we treat the band like Dan from the band Destroyer
does. Sort of like a solo project of two people. Then we get our friends to help
us out in the studio and on tour. It takes a load off of everybody that way. It
is the hardest on us though.
"We started to play to a relatively thin crowd
and then something amazing happened. After the first song I looked around and
some people walking by had stopped and a little crowd of one and two-year-olds
started to gather in the center and bobble and dance, and then some old folks
wandered up and sat in the grass and then teenage boys walked up and stood with
folded arms." -Kelly Crisp
(To Kelly) In your blog, you mentioned the
desire to "nest" via satellite while on the road. Tell us what it's like to be
the only girl in a van full of guys for an extended period of time. And tell us
what you've been ordering lately from Ikea.
KC: From Ikea. Well, our closest Ikea is in DC so I have to just look at the
catalogue and scheme ways to get their new platform bed to my house. I think
I've decided to have it shipped, which costs as much as the bed itself, but it's
the easiest way. I've been holding out to see if I can find something around
here that I like as much. Nothing yet.
Being on tour with boys. Well, I've never been a girly girl so this bohemian
lifestyle fits pretty well. I also really like boys--I like talking to them and
joking with them and I like the guys we bring because they're the more artsy,
poetic types with a good sense of humor and they are respectful. The worst thing
about having guys around all the time--I can't put up with the smell of beer
sweat--that putrid smelling hangover sweat--and there have been boys on tour who
haven't been asked back because they like to party too much. We've been spoiled
lately though because we have good people with us now and have for a while. Our
guys now are intelligent, funny, caring, and they have so much going on. We're
in a good place with our group now.
Why does the song "Wildcat" make me cry? Did you do that on purpose?
IH: That's sweet. But we just thought it was a beautiful story. I remember when
Kelly and me were putting those words to that song together with just the
acoustic guitar. When Kelly came up with the hook, "He'll worry and miss her,
but he knows when cornered," I was pretty blown away. It just brought the whole
story together perfectly.
KC: Well, Ivan wanted to use the word "wildcat" but he said it was a sad song
and played some of the chords and we developed the story about a boyfriend who
tries to get his young girlfriend away from her abusive family, but she says she
can't go because she can't leave her younger sister alone there. My favorite
part of the song is, "Those born foreign to flight, they say teenage kids can't
get it right, but they don't know some older sisters," then the words, "He'll
worry and miss her, but he knows when cornered, a wildcat will fight."
Have you guys ever played The Cover-Up at Kings? If so, what bands did you
cover and why? How much would I have to pay you to get you to cover Deep Purple?
IH: I did Roy Orbison one year. That was fun.
KC: That was so much fun. The Cover-Up is our big thing here. Nobody misses it.
For Raleigh people, it's a unifying experience. As well as the Gong Show, which
happens once a year at King's. For example, "Do you know Jeramy Lowe?" / "I
don't think so." / "He was the Motor City Republican. He sang "Cat Scratch
Fever" at the Gong Show." / "Oh yeah, I know him. He's in The Greatest Hits,
black hair, works at Jackpot."
What's the best movie you've seen this year? What movie do you wish you'd
written the soundtrack for?
IH: The movie "Junebug." Our friend Phil Morrison directed it, and it takes
place in NC.
I think the song "The Lover's Rights" sounds just a bit too much like a
Smiths song (particularly the rhythm section and Ivan's voice). Am I being to
harsh? Do you listen to The Smiths a lot?
IH: I do not think you are being too harsh. I am a Morrisey fan but I don't know
a lot of his songs. I just like some songs a lot. "There is a Light," "How Soon
is Now," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," and a few of his solo songs. We didn't really
try to make it sound like him though. I never noticed until my friend Roman from
The Oranges Band said the guitar riff sounded like something The Smiths would
do. The Supremes is what I had in mind. But whatever happens, happens once the
song gets going. It builds itself for the most part.
KC: As a side note to this comparison, a girl at our show in San Diego recently
told me that we're huge in her town in Mexico (no actual distribution to Mexico
notwithstanding). She said Morrissey is really popular there and that people
think Ivan's voice is similar. Then she said that in her town people dress like
us and there's a Rosebuds cover band and that people have bands that sound like
us and they say, "My band sounds like the Rosebuds." Then, probably because of
the look on my face, she said that she was telling the truth. I think we should
play in Mexico and find out what's going on down there. I can imagine what
dressing like the White Stripes would look like, but us? I can't imagine. Maybe
there's a platinum blonde wig involved.
If you could fix one thing about Myspace, what would it be?
IH: Not really thought too much about it.
KC: I haven't gotten to the stage where I have developed issues with it.
For Ivan: How did you survive growing up in Fuquay-Varina? Were you a
sensitive kid who listened to The Smiths and prayed that the Bon Jovi-loving
jocks would leave you alone? Or were YOU a Bon Jovi-loving jock?
IH: I was an athlete who grew up on a tobacco farm on a dirt road and listened
to the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Tom Petty, and the Beatles. Pretty much
whatever I could find that looked interesting at the Roses Department store up
the street from my house. Thinking back on my high school years, I probably
looked really strange to the other kids around there. But I didn't really much
care what they thought. I mean, it didn't occur to me that they would think
anything. I could hold my own with the jocks too.
Is it possible NOT to sing along to "Shake Our Tree"?
IH: Unfortunately, it is. I have seen it at one of our shows. But it does not
look like much fun at all.
THE ROSEBUDS MIX TAPE
If you could go back to the Lost Colony with a boom box and a tape of current
N.C. bands, what would you play for them and why?
requested by: Karen Mann
compiled by: Kelly Crisp
Note from Kelly: There are plenty of great bands from NC at the moment
that, aside from being wonderful, have a respectable work ethic, they put
themselves out there, have continued doing their own thing, and believe they are
fighting a good fight. Some major label people have been sniffing around here
lately and it makes me sad to know that our little special music community could
potentially be everybody's business. I wish I could protect it. Keep them secret
like the Lost Colony.
Here's a mix of NC bands we love at the moment:
Bella Fea - "Seasons"
Des_Ark - "Some are Love"
Schooner - "My Friends band"
Work Clothes - "Over the Moon"
Portastatic - "Bright Ideas"
The Sames - "Coney Island of the South"
Ben Davis - "Time a Bind"
Greatest Hits - "Out of Touch"
Ticonderoga - "Why do you Suppose?"
The Loners - "Teenage Rebel"
The Cherry Valence - "Can't get enough"
Strange - "Armistice Day"
Rooster For the Masses - "Left Coast"
Summer Set - "Crackhead in my Car"
The Nien - "Handout"
Superchunk - "Fishing"
Kingsbury Manx - "Pageant Square"
Ashley Stove - "Fire"
Polvo - "Tragic Carpet Ride"
Anderson Airplane - "Sweet Tea"
Bandway - "Four Day Weekend"
Jett Rink - "Candy Pants"
North Elementary - "Turn Up, Stay Home"