The Cactus Blossoms horizontal photo by Jacob Blickenstaff
The Cactus Blossoms photo by Aaron Rice
The Cactus Blossoms Reflect On The Creative Road That Makes One Day Fitting For These Times
The Cactus Blossoms deliver their new album, One Day, on February 11th, 2022, bringing us another expansive dose of layered vocals and classic sounds, but there are plenty of qualities that make the new collection exciting and unique. Many of the songs suggest relationship narratives with very different perspectives at work, and the sound of the album was intentionally crafted with a minimalist approach in working methods that called for the rapid assembly of a home studio space. The result may be brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey’s most sophisticated album yet perhaps due to the more intensive collaboration on songwriting that’s been developing since their 2019 record, Easy Way.
We spoke with Page Burkum and Jack Torrey from their home base of Minneapolis about the eventful creative road that led to One Day, how they captured this album’s very specific aesthetic, and why they keep looking for the silver linings in their songs and in their lives.
Americana Highways: I heard something about a mobile recording unit being used to make the album One Day. That sounds incredibly retro. How did that happen?
Jack Torrey: Actually, it wasn’t a truck rig, but a small mixing console that Alex Hall could bring up to Minnesota from Chicago. We also used a computer and a bunch of microphones. He brought a light amount of gear, but it was enough to turn Page’s basement into a makeshift studio. He did bring a really cool 8-channel mixer from the 70s, a British thing called an Alice 828, that was pretty fun to use.
AH: Were you tempted to lock Alex up somewhere and just keep all this equipment for yourselves? That would have been a sweet set-up.
Jack: Alex’s wife would not like it if we kidnapped him. It already felt like we kidnapped him because it had been a whole year of not seeing people during the pandemic. We started recording at the beginning of February of 2021. There had been a lot of isolation and it was so fun to have Alex Hall come up here and be with us non-stop for a week. We worked on the music, laughed, and remembered what it was like to hang out with people again. It was that community and friendship thing that we all need. We also made a couple of trips down to Chicago later to finish things up.
AH: Alex is a frequent collaborator with you, right?
Jack: He actually recorded and mixed our first record, You’re Dreaming, that J.D. McPherson helped us produce. Then on Easy Way, we also did a lot of recording with him in Chicago. So we were sticking with what we know, but getting him down here. It was really fun to be in a house rather than a studio. It had a good, warm vibe.
AH: Did you have any conversations with him about the sound directions for this album or things that might be different between the approach to One Day and the approach to Easy Way?
Jack: Yes, we wanted to go into it with a more minimalist approach in terms of instrumentation. We tried to keep things consistent between how the songs were written and how we played them in the studio. We tried to keep it simple and warm. We knew we were going to be in Page’s basement a lot, which has carpet on the floors, and acoustic tiles on the ceiling, with a low ceiling. That led to keeping things warm and tight sounding, and a little drier than the things that we have done in the past. For instance, we were not going for a huge reverb-drenched sound or anything like that.
Page Burkum: We had originally hoped to record this as live as possible, with a simple set-up. It would have just been us, a drummer, a bass player, and someone playing some keys. Though we did have a very live approach to recording, we couldn’t have every member of the band there who we wanted to be there at the same time. That was partially due to keeping the circle small and keeping people from having to fly here. We still tried to keep a similar approach, without layering extra things onto songs just because we could. We tried to pretend it was the same amount of instruments involved throughout the album.
AH: So you kind of put the brakes on yourself to prevent it from being an ornamental, elaborate album?
Page: Exactly. It was like five people playing together in a room.
Jack: Yes, even if we couldn’t make that happen, we imagined it to be that way. [Laughs]
AH: Have you had experiences in the past where you let yourself run wild with layers of instrumentation?
Jack: Yes, a little bit. On Easy Way, we did some recording in a studio here in Minneapolis and our engineer friend had a Mellotron. We were goofing around with that and putting string sounds and weird flute sounds on that album. We were layering crazy bass organ parts here and there. It was still very simple in a lot of ways, but we were having fun going out on a limb and trying things.
Page: We’ve never been the most experimental band in that way. [Laughs] I think because of that, in some ways, though, we wanted this record to be even more simple, stripped down, and personal, than we approached the last album.
AH: I feel like I can definitely hear that on One Day. I hear a lot of sonic relationships among the different songs on One Day, too, probably because of how you set out to record them. I heard that there was a big pause on making the album due to the pandemic and all the big events in Minneapolis. Do you think if you had made the album earlier it would have turned out quite differently?
Jack: I don’t know exactly, but it definitely would have been different. It’s interesting, because of the pandemic and all of our touring getting cancelled, it’s the longest stretch we’ve had without getting together and playing music with our band. There was a rustiness factor that was interesting to overcome. Getting back into the studio and making music with people was so refreshing because we hadn’t done that at all for a year. I have no idea what direction we might have gone if we had recorded in the summer of 2020 as we were planning. Maybe we’ll find out next time when we can all get together!
AH: How did the songwriting fit into this timeline?
Jack: Some songs had been started in 2020, but they shifted as we shifted plans. We definitely did put the brakes on things. Some were started before and then finished during the pandemic. The pandemic definitely put things on the shelf for a while.
AH: It seems like relationships play a big part in the new songs. When I look at them together, I notice a specific perspective in each song. I was aware that there was a character, or a narrative aspect to the speakers and I started wondering about their relationship stories. Were you thinking that way?
Jack: Yes, in some ways. I kind of love having a perspective that’s not necessarily my own. I don’t always know who the person even is, but I love having a really rich slice of someone’s position that they are in. Living in that world for three minutes is something that I enjoy trying to create. With the song “One Day,” for example, you don’t know what happened. You don’t know if it’s between friends, or lovers, but you get this whole vibe from what’s being said.
You know they’ve gone through something hard, but it’s going to be okay. You’re not sure how okay it’s going to be, but there’s some reassurance there that everything will be cool at some point. I don’t always know where stuff like that comes from, it just comes out that way. But I think there are different slices of peoples’ perspectives, like what you’re saying, throughout. It’s not all the same person.
Page: I would add that Jack and I have each sometimes been the person who’s starting to write a song, and maybe the other one will end up joining in and collaborating on it. There’s a little bit of randomness to the ideas that we are having and bringing to each other. We aren’t sitting down and writing a story together, or saying, “Here’s what we’re going for with this album. These are the stories we are trying to tell.”
It is, in some ways, a collection of different songs that come from our different perspectives. Those get combined, but it’s interesting to me sometimes when I see things that are running between songs or repeating in some ways. I think it’s interesting to think there’s something a little subconscious coming through in the songs that tie the album together. That comes in from the ideas that end up banging around between me and Jack.
AH: I understand that you started collaborating together on song ideas at an earlier stage than previously when it came to One Day. What led to that development?
Jack: Yes, we had started writing more together on our last record, Easy Way, and we had also written a couple of songs with Dan Auerbach and L. Russell Brown down in Nashville. That got us into a more fun, collaborative songwriting space with each other. We kind of carried that into this record.
I think part of it was also that because we weren’t playing music with the band, we were getting together and playing songs with each other. I’d play bass and Page would play drums. We’d work through songs together and share things that had just come to us, like, “Do you think there’s anything here?” and “I’ll help you work on it, if you want my help.” I think that’s part of why that happened, but maybe we are just speaking a little more of the same language than we were six years ago. Maybe we’re loosening up a little bit with old age!
Page: I think we are more comfortable sharing ideas over time, and ideas that are a little bit less worked out. That could potentially be a little embarrassing, sometimes, but it’s really fun since it might really help a song go somewhere faster. It’s been good to get more comfortable with that. But there are a few songs on this record that we did write separately. Jack has always written more songs than me. We all end up affecting each other’s songs when we record together.
AH: I think the two songs “Hey Baby” and “One Day” form an interesting opposition to each other. “Hey Baby” seems kind of upbeat, in a way, possibly because I have a positive association with road trips and driving. But I feel like it’s not 100% optimistic somehow, and that makes it seem more realistic to me.
Jack: I think you’re right. It’s kind of a “wink, wink” song, saying “Everything is going to be alright, even though the car is going to break down and you’re not going to get where you want to go. But you’re still going to get out of town and be together.” I think it started out kind of as a joke, like “Do you want to take a gamble on this situation?”
Page: It’s like a great offer from a loser, maybe.
Jack: I’ve had my share of insane road trips and looking back at it now, I think, “My God, I can’t believe I made it over those mountains in that Datsun pickup. I went on a couple of pretty epic road trips in a 1978 Datsun camper. I got it for $800 bucks and tried to fix it myself. No one died, but the amount of work I did on it to get it road worthy still did not make it road worthy. I made it through alive, so that’s part of where that song came from. I had to retire that thing and then forgive myself for taking the risk.
Page: You lived to tell the tale.
AH: With the song “One Day,” I feel like there’s a little bit more of a twist in there too, alongside knowing that everything is going to be alright. If you think about the song as a romantic relationship song, the idea that “one day you’ll have a chance to move on” is pretty devastating.
Jack: I think transitions always take time and sometimes it can take a long time to heal from something even after it’s over.
Page: In terms of moving on emotionally, certainly.
AH: Also, this song being the title track made me look back at the album title and think about it again. There is some of that silver lining optimism in many of the songs, but the idea of “one day” reminds me how determined human beings can be to hold onto hope. It’s a pretty astonishing quality.
Jack: I was actually catching up with an old friend and we had just had a Tornado watch here in Minneapolis in January. So we were talking about climate change and the weird stuff that’s been happening. We were talking about the fact that though things may seem like they might be past the point of no return, you have to have some positivity because if you go 100% negative, nothing good will come of that.
But you also don’t want to live a delusional life where everything’s fine, because no, it’s not fine. We were talking about how to reconcile this. When is it healthy to admit when something is messed up but also acknowledge that we have to be okay somehow? There’s so much of that happening in every area of public life, but also in people’s personal lives right now due to outside forces. It’s something that’s on my mind a lot.
AH: I get that, because if you just freeze up or collapse under the weight of the direction things are going, you kind of speed up the destruction or fail to make a crucial move that might avert it. Can you have a perspective that enables you to be okay in order to be useful?
Jack: Absolutely. It’s insane.
Page: I was thinking, with the way that the words came together for “One Day,” the title and maybe also the other words feel fitting for these times. Because it’s hopeful, but almost in a tough way. It’s like tough love or trying to have strength: “You’ll heal from this one, one day. You’ll have a chance to move on.” It’s definitely not all roses. But it is about trying to have strength and trying to keep hope alive.
Thanks to the Cactus Blossoms for sharing with us!
Find more information on the Cactus Blossoms here: http://www.thecactusblossoms.com
Enjoy our New Americana Music playlist, here: New Americana Music playlist by Americana Highways