Fans of Over the Rhine, the ranks of whom grow every day, may know that husband and wife duo, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler live near Cincinnati, Ohio. Few however, realize that Bergquist's roots are in Barnesville.
Karin is a 1984 graduate of Barnesville High School. Classmates may remember her as Karen. Bergquist said she changed the spelling of her first name to reflect her Swedish heritage after re-conncecting with her father and his family. Her father had no sons, so she also chose to keep her maiden name to honor her family.
"My grandparents came over to America from Sweden through Ellis Island. Keeping the family name is my gift to them," she said.
While attending BHS, Bergquist was on the Shamrock staff and involved in both the art club and choir. She said she attended her 25th class reunion in 2009 and keeps in touch with some former classmates. The class reunion was the first and last time that she had been back to Barnesville in a long time.
"It was really fun," she said. "I know some people dread class reunions, but I really wanted to see how we all turned out and hear everyone's stories."
Telling "stories" is Karin's approach to song writing, one that she says is "never disappointing."
Bergquist's positive outlook on her class reunion could be attributed to the fact that many would consider her successful.
"I have defined and re-defined success all throughout my life," she said. "I know success does not have a monetary value because that is fleeting and temporal. Happiness and contentment are how I measure success, that and how you cope with the unexpected."
"I count myself as fortunate, but a lot of people are more successful than me. I do feel blessed."
Another measure of her success is her ability to work so closely and tour with her husband Linford Detweiler.
Karin said that early on, she defined a successful marriage as one in which husband and wife were able to work well together.
"My parents divorced when I was young," she said. "It was painful for me, but the right decision for them."
Bergquist said she knew she wanted to be in a marriage that was also a partnership. She met Linford while they were college students and both working as musicians.
"I admired him as a musician," she said. "The musical chemistry came first and we learned to work together first. Our relationship grew out of that and that has been important for both of us."
Whatever their secret, it clearly works. The couple have been recording as Over the Rhine since 1991.
Another thing important to both of them is a love of literature and connections with other people. The songs on The Long Surrender are very personal and reflect the mature writing and singing voice of Bergquist.
In an Entertainment Weekly music review of The Long Surrender critic Chris Willman wrote, "There may be no more soothing voice in music than Karin Bergquist's. She could be interpreting jazz standards, but fortunately she applies that balm to her and husband Linford Detweiler's beautifully languid originals, which invoke hard times and celebrate the survival of the least fit. Producer Joe Henry (Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette) well understands that quiet doesn't equal dull, and when a Lucinda Williams duet isn't even The Long Surrender's high point, things have gone very right."
"'The Laugh of Recognition' is about oppression and job loss due to the economy," Karin said. "It is a song of encouragement."
Perhaps the most personal song on the CD is "Only God Can Save Us Now", which tells the stories of some of the people who live in the nursing home where Karin's mother, a nurse herself for 50 years, resides after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke.
"Each of those people have a novel within them," she said. "The experience has been a head on collision of comedy and tragedy."
The song is both heart-breaking and whimsical.
"You have to find the humor in all things or you will drown," Bergquist said. That advise is echoed in lyrics from the" Laugh of Recognition", in which she intones, "You have to laugh. You just gotta laugh".
Taking a departure from the other songs on The Long Surrender, "The King Knows How" is an upbeat tune told from the perspective of a lonely woman listening to Elvis sing Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".
"Sometimes you just have to turn up the radio," Karin laughed. "It's a playful, fun song." "We don't usually write songs like that. Usually we're a little more introspective."
She said she had a great time recording the song with soulful back-up singers chosen by Henry, whose approach to recording Bergquist called "old school."
"Joe is masterful at bringing in the right people at the right time," she said. The trio worked so well together that the CD was finished within a week.
"Most of the recordings were first takes," Bergquist said. "When you're part of an ensemble, you make sure you're at the top of your game. You don't want to be the one bringing everyone else down."
The Long Surrender also resulted in a duet with Karin's "song writing hero", Lucinda Williams, on Undamned.
"It was a real bucket-list moment for me," Bergquist said. "Lucinda is remarkable."
She said Henry suggested a duet with Williams and sent her the lyrics, which she loved. On the third evening of recording, Williams arrived and the rest is music history.
"We have performed several shows together and she has become a lovely friend," Bergquist said of Williams.
Bergquist, who studied voice in college, also plays the piano and acoustic guitar, which she uses to write her songs. While growing up in Barnesville, she took piano lessons at Neal Music Studio. Her teacher was Becky Hannahs.
"I learned a lot from her," Bergquist said. "She was a big influence on me and had a wonderful spirit."
Karin said Hannahs, now Director of Title Services for the Barnesville School District, attended one of her shows in Columbus.
Over the Rhine will begin their tour in support of the fan-funded and critically-acclaimed CD on March 25 in Boston. The group comes closest to the Ohio Valley on April 1 with an 8 p.m. show at Mr. Small's Funhouse in Millvale, Pennsylvania and another the next day in Akron at Musica.
"I am really looking forward to playing the Ohio Valley and hope to see some familiar faces in the crowd," Bergquist said. "I really believe I have something to offer that an audience can take home with them that is meaningful."
The Millvale show will feature opening act Lucy Wainwright Roche, whom Karin calls, "an incredible singer/songwriter." More information about the tour can be found on overtherhine.com's tour link.
Over the Rhine has toured extensively over the years in American, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This year they were scheduled to perform in Japan for their first time touring in Asia. Those plans have been waylaid due to the earthquake and tsunami.
"We are hoping we can perform at the festival as a benefit now," Bergquist said. "We have been glued to the media, gleaning any information we can. We are really hurting for the people and their absolute tragedy," she said, adding that the scariest part of the disaster is the fact that Japan as a nation is the most prepared for earthquakes.
The 2011 release is the 21st for the couple and was recorded on their own label, Great Speckled Dog (named after their Great Dane Elroy).
It is the follow-up to the 2007 critically-acclaimed The Trumpet Child.
Bergquist said fan-funded albums are becoming a trend among recording artists. When planning The Long Surrender, Karin and Linford wrote letters to their fans saying they had the opportunity to work with Henry and asking for their financial support.
"We were overwhelmed by the response. We have an incredible core of fans," she said.
"We have recorded on major labels before and it was a good experience, but it is more lucrative and secure to have our own label and answer to ourselves," Bergquist said.
Looking back on their earlier recordings, Bergquist said their fourth album, Good Dog, Bad Dog was a turning point for her as an artist.
"That is when I got my legs as a performer and became confident as a performer and a writer," she said.
"On our first albums we were young, keen, excited and hungry. Now we are hungry in a different way. We have found our voice, so to speak."
"I am glad for the documentation of the first four albums," she continued. "They are proof of our growth."
Although Over the Rhine's "voice" has been refined over the years, they are still a group that defies classification.
"We like to consider ourselves a moving target," she said. "American music is the best way to describe us. Linford and I are real students of American music and so are our idols."
Karin said American music incorporates Americana, rock n' roll (not rock), gospel, country and folk music.
Operating outside of the music industry is a deliberate choice that works for the duo.
"There is a lot to be said for music that can't be said by the music industry," Karin said.
Use of their songs on television and movies has helped build their fan base as well.
"We've had interesting placement in t.v. shows and movies and that is a privilege we are really grateful for," she said. "That has helped propel the careers of many artists and is how it works now."