Americana Highways had a chance to talk to Soren Staff of the band Them Coulee Boys, whose new album Namesake was produced by Brian Joseph and is due to be released August 6. Enjoy the interview and find the video for the song “Given Up” just beneath it.
Americana Highways: The new album is titled Namesake. Seems that there are a lot of familiar ties in this band and on this album. Can you unpack that for us? The title track seems to set a very specific tone.
SS: The word namesake is a gigantic word, containing so many emotions. When we choose to name our children after the ones we love, we honor them, but also pressure them. There’s a nod towards legacy, letting their namesake’s memory live on in someone else. But there’s also the implication that they will live a life worthy of that name. During the forced break of 2020, the band experienced familial loss but also the addition of a child. Legacy came to the forefront when we considered not being able to do what we love with the people we love again.
The title track pairs experiencing the loss of a grandparent with the birth of a child. I wanted to honor what I had received from my grandfather while also detailing what I hoped for this new god-daughter of mine (via banjo player Beau). Family is what you choose it to be, be it by blood or otherwise. We wanted to start the album with this song as a way to let the listener know they’re part of the family too, if they want.
AH: The origin of your band name “Them Coulee Boys” is storied, give our readers some context of how you came be to called/call yourself “Them Coulee Boys.”
SS: Around 10 years ago, Beau Janke and I met as camp counselors at a Bible camp in northern WI. We were fast friends, having similar interests in music and humor, as well as having grown up relatively close to each other in the coulee region of Wisconsin. The coulee region is named for the word the French fur trappers used to describe the numerous valleys with rivers in them.
At camp, we had gained such a reputation for our antics together that another counselor took to saying “them coulee boys are at it again!” When we started playing music years later and it became time to pick a name, the answer was obvious. We never expected to escape those practices in the basement, but we’re happy that the name has stuck with us, however goofy its origins are.
AH: What do you hope listeners take away from Namesake?
SS: I hope that the listener can see the beauty in talking about tough things. We have always prided ourselves on being able to sing about the difficult stuff, and we believe that Namesake is our best effort yet. There’s an intention in the music to support exactly what these songs are saying. Life isn’t black and white, it’s a spectrum. We hope that the listener can feel it all through this record: joy, heartbreak, anger, forgiveness. We put so much of ourselves into this work, and we hope the listener can find themselves in it too.
AH: Talk to us about the music scene in Eau Claire, WI. What inspires you most about the musical community in your city?
SS: Eau Claire is blessed with generations of both musical talent and also musical supporters. From the ground up, there’s community support for those trying to make a career in music. It includes Grammy winners, generous donors, and large festivals in the city, but also world class music programs from elementary on up. Most of our members are transplants to Eau Claire, but that hasn’t stopped the city from welcoming us. Eau Claire values sincerity and hard work, which are two things we pride ourselves on. We are most inspired by the people in Eau Claire that value what we care about.
AH: The Hive is a legendary venue, talk to us about recording in that room and with producer Brian Joseph, who is a legend in his own right.
SS: When we were considering the idea of working with Brian, it was hard not to feel intimidated. This is the guy who has worked with Paul Simon, Sufjan Stevens, Ani Difranco, and more. There’s a Grammy sitting on the mantle for his work with Bon Iver. But when you meet Brian, it’s quickly clear he’s a normal guy. Warm, intentional, detail-oriented, and intensely focused on serving the song in the best way possible. His care for these songs is evident, and it was refreshing to work with someone who shared that feeling with us.
The Hive itself is intensely intimate, and I think you can feel that in these recordings. The physical closeness in that space was not lost on us after a long period of quarantine. We felt entirely at home at the Hive, and spent each night at our actual homes with our families. That felt fitting for the record we were making.
AH: Now that touring is back, what venues and cities are you most excited to get back to?
SS: This feels like a cop out, but at this point we are excited to play EVERYWHERE. While we adore the experience of recording, we are very much a live band. We pride ourselves in making our shows special for the audience, and where that audience is located really isn’t important to us right now. We are just thankful to be doing it again.
AH: Talk to us about the track “Phil’s Song.” A beautiful tribute to a dear friend. Walk us through the instrumentation and how the song’s composition helps tell the story.
SS: “Phil’s Song” is a song about a dear friend we lost to suicide a couple summers back. Phil was a man that defined joy and care for the ones he loved, and when it came time to write a tribute, nothing quite resonated with that reputation. Beau showed me a verse paired with a riff that felt playful, and we ran with it. We wanted the song to feel like a celebration, because oftentimes that is what it needs to feel like when we lose someone we love. The song says it best with “Do we ever really die if love is what we left behind?”
This song is pure rock & roll. But it also features a section that almost falls apart in the middle, only to culminate with synchronized solos that drive off to the end of the tune. We wanted to show that it’s ok to feel it all, to fall a part a bit, then come back stronger. Mainly we just wanted to honor our friend, and I think we did that.
AH: What’s next for Them Coulee Boys? What are you looking forward to as we move into the last half of 2021 and 2022.
SS: Our goal has always been to keep making music and moving forward. We were originally moved to make music by finding something in the bands that came before us, and we hope we are able to return the favor. We’re looking forward to a full year of adding more fans to the family all over the U.S. and beyond. It feels so good to be back, and we have so much lost time to make up for. I look forward to being able to do what I love for the people I love once again.
Them Coulee Boys craft songs that delve into life’s complexities with the most pleasing Americana musical arrangements. Pre-save and find more here: https://show.co/rnoKBIV
and here: https://www.themcouleeboys.com