Beki Hemingway and her husband/guitarist/co-producer Ranky Kerkman are kind of a big deal around MusicTAP headquarters. We’ve been fans since her time with punkabilly stalwarts This Train, and on with her solo works including the E.P. I Have Big Plans For The World and Whins and Weather. She and Randy currently have a Kickstarter campaign in the works their new record, Earth and Asphalt. You can find out more at their campaign page here.
We caught up with them – unfortunately quite easily – because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantines. This may have complicated things, but have not stopped them by any means. On the contrary, Beki and Randy have embraced technology even more by hosting a live “Song of the Night” live from their home in Ireland and on their Facebook page here.
MusicTAP: You’re in the process of a Kickstarter campaign for a new album, the follow-up to 2017’s Whins and Weather. Give me a little background on the new project.
Beki Hemingway: Earth and Asphalt does seem like a natural follow up to Whins and Weather in the sense that many songs on W&W thematically document a time of transition and crisis in our lives. Musically, it also began to indulge our Americana leanings.
Earth and Asphalt sees us more settled into that musical vein and grappling with a new dilemma of road vs. routine – the longing to put roots down and feel that we belong somewhere and yet, the constant necessity to tour and the love of that process of making music and touring. It may not be an obvious theme to the listener but it makes sense to us. There are also songs that have been half-written for a while finally getting finished that seemed to work well with the new songs.
If we get the funding, we’ll have a new CD with 10-11 songs recorded at home and Camden Studios, with Conor Brady and Randy Kerkman co-producing ready for summer touring. Currently, the project funding is hovering about about the halfway point with 14 days to go.
You were in a different situation prior to the recording of Whins and Weather than you are now for Earth and Asphalt. Can you give me some insight into where you both were then, where you are now, and how these are reflected in the music?
When we made Whins and Weather, we had left our home and jobs to take up music, travel, and service – our “year of yes.” Partway through, while basing in Ireland and volunteering in Romania, I found a lump which turned out to be breast cancer. I was treated in Dublin and we finished recording Whins and Weather during radiation, leaving for a 2-month U.S. tour just three days after I completed treatment. It was a real whirlwind – life was certainly not dull, and I returned pretty tired. It has taken some time in the intervening years to get our heads around life in the new normal.
We’ve since made Ireland home, bought a house in the border town of Dundalk, which is slowly being fixed up, and find ourselves learning a new balance. I am three years cancer-free, but life is different, my energy levels are different, my diet has changed, and I take handfuls of pills every day. We live far away from family and long time friends. I think you will see some of the songs reflect that longing for connection that goes with moving country and being the new kid in town and that constant push and pull between wanting to enjoy the benefits of putting down roots in a beautiful new place, and being a restless soul that longs for the road pretty often too.
When one hears the new album will be called Earth and Asphalt, there’s immediately the sense that you both are working on a thematic through-line from the previous album. Would you say that is the case, or is it simply that this title best reflects this batch of songs?
It’s not a deliberate sequel – only in the sense that so much of what we write is personal and the new songs will be a continuation of where life has taken us. The title is pulled from a line in “California,” a song about losing touch with a constant and steady friend, and realizing that sometimes just “being” and not saying a word is the best thing. I’d say the album is reflective, but that makes it sound really somber and soft – it’s not!
You’ve got a nice group of musicians lining up to be a part of this record. Figured we’d talk about them one by one. First off is Conor Brady who will be a co-producer. He has worked with Sinead O’Connor and had involvement with the music from The Commitments, the Alan Parker movie from the 1990s about an Irish musician who seeks to start a classic soul band. Could you explain how you came together with Conor?
We usually bring in a producer at the end of each project. Randy is a great producer, but we’re married and we need a tie-breaker, and someone to tell us when we’re done with a song! When we got toward the end of the last album, we were in a new country and didn’t know very many people, so we called up an Irish musician friend Peter (aka Duke Special) and he connected us with Camden Studios and Conor. Immediately, there was easy chemistry between Randy and Conor in the studio, and we have great trust in his instincts. We feel really lucky to be working with him again, and he will play a little guitar on E&A as well this time.
You have Chris Bland on board as well. He was a member of the band Vigilantes of Love. I know you both have been friends with him for some time. Could you discuss where that relationship began and what Chris will be bringing to the project?
We met Chris when VOL came to Illinois, and he’s not just a great bassist – he is absolutely family to us. He’s played on most of our albums, visited us in Illinois, Colorado, and Scotland and we have visited him in Atlanta. He’ll be playing bass on some of the songs, and has learned Logic to record at home especially for this project!
Next up is Dennis Holt, who will be providing drums. This one caught my eye, not only because Dennis has drummed for Emmylou Harris and T-Bone Burnett, but way back in the day, he was the drummer for Kerry Livgren’s post-Kansas band A.D. How did this arrangement come about?
Dennis came to Ireland along with Phil Madeira a few years ago to record with our friends the Sweet Sorrows (Sammy & Kylie Horner). At the time, we would have been living nearby, having house-sat for Sammy & Kylie before getting our own place there. We got along great with him, and he played on a few of the tracks on W&W. He’s so great to work with, and we’re glad to have him on board for all the drums on E&A.
I hedged a bit here, I’ll admit. When I saw that Mark Robertson was going to guest, I had a bit of a fanboy moment. Of course, Mark’s been in your lives a long time, through the bands This Train and Under Midnight. What is it like bringing him in for this project?
It’s so fun to have Mark play on this album! To be honest, we haven’t been in close touch over the years because Mark stays so busy, he’s hard to catch, but I always like bringing him in. After my departure from This Train, he helped me get my first e.p. rinse. repeat. made and sang with me on “Just Remember I Love You” (Words for Loss for Words. We had a couple songs that sounded like they needed his touch, so I emailed him to see if he had time to send us some tracks. For better and for worse, this lockdown has him off the road for the first time in eons, so we were fortunate to find him home and ready to record.
The recording is being done in your home studio in Ireland and, hopefully, Camden Studios in Dublin. At the same time, a lot of the folks we just mentioned are from the Nashville region. Are they coming to Ireland, provided travel restrictions ease up, or are you going to work digitally?
Digitally. The travel would be too much, and as you said, the restrictions are in place. Even Camden Studios is shut down at the moment, so Conor has been working a bit with us from home. We sometimes miss the old days of bringing the whole band to the studio and knocking it out all at once. There was a lot of camaraderie and stress and sleep deprivation and laughter, but we are quite blessed with technology that allows us to work with world class musicians from afar so each era has its pros and cons. The success or failure of the Kickstarter campaign will also determine a lot as to whether we continue to do everything from home piece meal, or whether we can finish up on a stricter timeline at Camden.
Beki, your songwriting has always come from a very personal place, but could also be mixed in with, I suppose you’d call them ‘position pieces’ where it doesn’t have to be biographical in any sense. It could be about the feelings one feels right now, or a strongly held belief…but there has been so much life in general between I Have Big Plans For The World and Whins and Weather. I feel like, as a listener, there’s an imperative to be more reflective now. Any validity to this, or is it more a perception thing?
This album is definitely more reflective, so I don’t know if it’s imperative but it’s definitely what has been happening. It is probably the natural outcome of settling in to a new normal after years of travel, crisis, and transition. Themes so far are reflection on growing older, restlessness, comfort for the weary (often talking to ourselves!), the cost of our choices good and bad, and true friendship.
Beki Hemingway and Randy Kerkman are working on Earth and Asphalt right now. You can help by supporting their Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bekihemingway/earth-and-asphalt-help-beki-hemingway-make-a-new-album
Tune into Beki and Randy’s Song of the Night on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/bekihemingwaymusic/