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Over a Cup of Coffee with Over the Rhine:
Christmas, Films For Radio, Cowboy Junkies and the X-Files
by Jessica Aguilar Walker

I recently met up with Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler at Kaldi's, a bohemian coffeehouse in downtown Cincinnati. Over the clatter of servers and the noise that only one of the best cappuccino machines can make, they discussed their accomplishments as musicians and shared glimpses into their
future. Cultivating tradition and mystery, this is what these core members of the band Over the Rhine had to say.

Jessica: Every time I've seen Over the Rhine (OtR) perform as of late, I catch the band with a different ensemble. Regarding the guest musicians that have performed with you, are there any permanent additions on the horizon?

Linford: That's an ongoing discussion in the band. We started off as a quartet with four of us that had met in northeast Ohio. We grew from there. We started adding players in 1995, messing around with the line-up. In 1996, Ric Hordinski and Brian Kelley left. Brian came back for a while. The band has evolved into something that is primarily about Karin's voice, and the songwriting collaboration that continues to evolve with the two of us.

We haven't made up our minds yet if we want to pursue each tour as its own separate adventure. We may continue bringing in players that we admire, players who we find inspiring as both people and musicians to be a part of a particular tour, depending on the circumstances. Or we may want to put together a more permanent, locally-based ensemble comprised of people who would actually relocate and be available all the time. We are auditioning a few more people soon to keep this discussion open.

We're in a position now where we can call up someone we've heard play on a favorite recording, or someone we saw performing that moved us, and we can say, "Hey, would you be interested in playing together sometime?" I can't tell you how exciting this is for us, to play with people that we look up to,
and I hope that excitement translates to the audience, and keeps the songs growing in new ways. So the line-up could be something that just ebbs and flows depending on the tour.

Jessica: Who was in your line-up for the shows around the holidays?

Linford: It was Jack Henderson, Terri Templeton, Karin and me, as well as Chris Donohue on bass and Chris Donohue on drummer.  Jeff Bird, multi-instrumentalist for the Cowboy Junkies, joined us for the Cincinnati show and the concert the night before in Lafayette, Indiana.

Jessica: Within the past year, you've acquired the backing of a label. How did this relationship with Virgin/Back Porch develop?

Linford: The Vice President of Virgin Records had seen us open for the Cowboy Junkies at a couple of shows in California. Without a bunch of craziness, he and one other mainstay at Virgin started expressing interest in the band. About a year later we began to feel good about the idea. We decided to pick it up where IRS had left off with the re-release of Good Dog Bad Dog, a record which had really never been formally distributed. GDBD was a special record for us. I thought it was the most honest work musically I had participated in to date. It was a very personal record that I cared a lot about and I was happy to see it finally get distributed. We had already started a record on our own which we've messed around with some more. We'll be done with it in a couple of weeks. Films For Radio is supposed to be out March 13, 2001.

Jessica: How do you see this relationship aiding the evolution of OtR as artists?

Linford: The've taken a pretty hands off approach so far. I think Virgin is basically letting us make the record that we want to make, then we will hand it over and they will take it from there. Whether that changes will remain to be seen. They seem pretty open to giving us a blank canvas and the freedom
to evolve as writers and players. I think they've afforded us a lot of freedom. Hopefully we will continue letting the songs lead us where they will, and expand in new and interesting ways on what we have already done.

Jessica: What is the concept you are trying to portray with the upcoming album, Films For Radio?

Linford: I don't know if this is a concept album, but I have noticed that all of the songs are written in the first person.  I didn't really plan on that happening. I think it is a pretty confessional record, and it is
probably a bit more up emotionally than Good Dog Bad Dog. There is a lot more energy in the rhythm sections. It might be a little less introspective overall.

Jessica: What are some of the underlying themes within the songs?

Linford: Well, there is a lot of soul searching going on about why we continue to pursue something like music, which is such a wild card. There are quite a few songs that explore the journey of trying to be creative without being self-destructive. Most people our age are starting to settle into a groove. But when music is your life, there just tends to be no guarantee about what the future is going to hold. No security to speak of. (Laughs.) It is more of an ongoing adventure that you have to continually get up for.

There are also some songs on the album that talk about telling the truth and what that might be about. What it means to truly be honest with yourself and with other people. Why some people find it more or less impossible to speak the truth.

(Karin arrives and picks up the thread.)

Karin: Some things on Films For Radio that we did both musically and lyrically are a little more "devil may care." Not that it was anything intentional, but just a natural expression of what's happened to us in the last four years. That "healthy apathy" thing. There is still an honesty intact within the work which is
important to us, regardless of what happens with our career.

Jessica: Your work has been reaching people in unique ways as of late - the Roaring Lambs compilation, a tribute album, the TV shows Felicity and Third Watch... What are your thoughts on being included on the Roaring Lambs (Squint Entertainment) compilation?

Karin: It's great. Steve Taylor is a great guy with interesting ideas. He's always warm and supportive.

Linford: I was happy to be included. I hadn't discovered the book prior to Steve Taylor asking us to participate. I sort of leafed through the book before we gave him an answer. I never did actually sit down
and read it front to back, but it seemed to cover some ground that we had thought about a fair bit. The book was addressing questions regarding how one's worldview should affect the art that one makes.

There are some artists on the record that I don't know a whole lot about. We've hung out with Sixpence None the Richer on occasion and have struck a pretty good rapport with them. And of course we know Bill Mallonee from way back.

Karin: And it's a compliment to be on the same record with a band like Sixpence. They've done so well in the past couple of years. I am so proud of them. They got started about the same time we did. Matt Slocum is about as humble as it gets. He doesn't seem to be affected by his success at all. It is good to see that--very encouraging and inspiring.

Linford: I have a lot of respect for Steve Taylor. If I had any question mark about the project it would be that it must have been hard for Steve Taylor and a partner at his record company (Squint Entertainment) to pick just a handful of bands that had some connection to a life of faith and who were also out in the general music marketplace making an impact of some kind commercially or artistically. To me it would be
impossible to come up with a concise list of people who are doing that. If you are going to go to the Roaring Lambs record, for instance, and say it represents people that have something to offer spiritually and artistically, it just seems like such an incomplete record to me. I think it would be a bit laughable to try to represent all the numerous artists that have compelling spiritual depth. I thought
it was a very casual, very incomplete tip of the hat to the many people making music who resonate spiritually and artistically in exciting ways. It felt very incomplete to me, but then again, it was only one record.

Jessica: 14 diverse tracks spanning released as well as unreleased OtR material are being put together on a tribute album as performed by your fans. The CD's proceeds will benefit Cincinnati's City Cure and it is scheduled for a January 2001 release. What are your thoughts on this unique effort?

Karin: I don't know much about it, really. I just know that they are doing something. I am curious to hear what it's going to be like. It is so humbling that people are thinking of us and wanting to do something like that. But at the same time I think, "Gee, what have we done to deserve it? Who are we?"

Linford: I am anxious to hear the project and I am flattered that people would do something with our songs. What I have heard so far has definitely intrigued me. There is a singer named Ashley Peacock that did a version of "Etcetera Whatever." I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it, but it positively destroyed me. I thought it was absolutely stunning. I'd like to spread that around a little bit, see if we could get his version into a film or something. He did a really great job. I heard a track by Hypersomnia,
Jay and Lindsey Harnish's industrial version of "Murder."  I guess that would be two things I have heard. I was very impressed and humbled. I can't really discuss the other contributions because I haven't heard them yet, but what I have heard has very much interested and intrigued me.

Jessica: One of your songs was recently heard on an episode of Felicity, what do you think of that?

Karin: Well first of all, you never really know when something is going to air. Often they say it will and then it doesn't. That has happened so many times and we just take it all with a grain of salt. So when it did actually happen in this instance, we were happy to see the music get spread around some more.

We've got a handful of people at the record label that are just really keen on the record (Good Dog Bad Dog). We have people at our publishing company that are the same. They are pretty excited about it and continue getting the word out. So it was definitely through somebody's hard work that it was heard. I'm not real familiar with the show, but we were pleased with the way they used the song, and they played over four minutes of it.

Jessica: Over the past two years, you've been consistently touring with a well known band from Canada. How have you enjoyed working with the Cowboy Junkies?

Linford: It has been wonderful. I have learned a lot from them as musicians and as human beings. I don't know how specific I can be off the top of my head. They're very unique and I consider them to be pretty special people in a lot of ways. I just enjoy their company and I'll leave it at that.

Karin: I love it. They are so great. Margo Timmons (lead vocals) and I have become really good friends, which is something I never expected. We go through phases where we email each other every day. The most you can typically hope for is a reasonable, professional relationship and this just went so much farther. And it is so much fun when we all get together. I always look forward to it - it's just a good time.
They are good people to work with and I can't say enough about them.

And it's been good for me. I just feel like I love what we have done together, and whenever there is an opportunity to do more, I hope I can go. I want to do what I can to continue that relationship. The recordings that we have been doing together are fun as well.  Maybe there will be more in the future -
working and collaborating on this or that--which is great. I don't want to put any demands or expectations on the relationship. It is just what it is. Mike Timmins did contribute a wonderful guitar solo to Films For Radio.

Jessica: What has been your most unique experience in working with them?

Linford: There have been lots of firsts. Experiences like playing on David Letterman's show, or Sessions. 
When OtR toured with the Junkies for four months in late '98, it was the first tour where we hopped on our own tour bus and just did all of North America. From Victoria, British Columbia, to the tip of Florida, Santa Fe, NM, to Portland, ME, we played pretty much every major city in between without looking back.

Personally, I feel that the Junkies have brought a lot out of me musically. In OtR, I tend to be more of a behind the scenes kind of person. Musically, in terms of the live show, I started out playing bass and quietly doing my thing. I have always done a lot of the writing for the band and oversee the visual vibe of the band. But even on piano and organ with OtR, I don't really step forward very often. I sort of help hold things together. But with Cowboy Junkies, they really pass the hat around on stage musically. All of a sudden I was carrying the ball so to speak. They wanted me to play organ solos and step forward on
various sections. I'll never forget the first time Mike Timmins played a long solo on a John Lee Hooker tune, and then Jeff Bird played a long solo, and then they nodded to me. It was like, "Hey, wait a minute, I don't play solos!" But I was soon playing out a lot more. They gave me a different canvas to throw
ideas at. It's been good.

Karin: Every day on tour with the Junkies there is typically something hysterical that happens that has
me in tears usually thanks to Pete Timmins, their drummer and the little  brother.  We did a webcast with them a couple of weeks ago and people wrote in questions. One of the questions was, "What is your favorite cuss word?"and everyone in the band was pretty cool about it. When they got to Pete, he
just said something that nobody would have ever expected and nobody would have ever said. It was one of those Oh-my-gosh-what-did-he-just-do? moments.He wasn't trying to do anything, he's just ornery. But I thought to myself, "I wonder who is listening? I hope none of our parents are!" His wife was in the audience and her expression was, 'Oh, no!" It's always like that with them. There is always something that is going to happen - you just have to brace yourself.

Jessica: Last season on the X-Files, some characters with your names appeared on an episode. Was this a surprise to you? What is your connection to the show and how did you react to this strange phenomenon?

Karin: Jeff Bell is a writer for the X-Files whom we met through the photographer Michael Wilson and his wife. I will never forget when we were on the Junkies tour, sitting on the bus with Jeff Bell's soon-to-be wife, Trish, and he said, "I got this job writing for the X-Files." I just flipped. I am such a huge X-Files fan. I went just bonkers. I said to him, "If you ever need an extra to die in David Duchovney's arms, with something disgusting bursting out of their body, let it be me. I'll do it for nothing." Of course, I was joking, yet half serious. I didn't know it, but that planted a seed. Often, when Jeff writes an episode, he includes the names of his friends or the names of towns around where he grew up, putting just a little bit of reality and personal history into everything. Usually he'll just tell us one of his episodes is going to air. But we had no idea whatsoever he had worked our names and various inside jokes about Good Dog Bad Dog into an episode.

Linford: (Laughs.) Nothing like having your character take a stake through the heart. I was flattered but mostly shocked. I found it extremely humorous. We were watching it cold as it was happening. I had no idea. When the Dr. Detweiler chraracter came on in that two minute opening sequence, I thought,
"Oh, that's cute." Then when the whole Karen Bergquist thing started happening, and then the back and forth rivalry between the two characters, we were on the floor laughing. It was a total surprise.

Karin: I laughed until I cried. I just couldn't believe he had done that. It was so funny. Detweiler was a little odd. And then they brought the Bergquist character who had lupus and was hooked on Duchovney (Mulder). There were all these little lines in there talking about how Bergquist had a crush on Mulder. Jeff had Mulder say her name at least half a dozen times. And Jeff had actually written the story with the Bergquist character dying in Mulder's arms, but it got edited out. In his own way, he had me dying in Mulder's arms. It was hysterical because Jeff has such a mind and remembers all these goofy things. I
called him afterwards to say, "I can't believe you just did that. Congratulations, we loved it."

Jessica: Over the years, OtR has built a tradition of presenting Christmas shows around the holidays. On December 9, 2000 at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, the band presented their sixth hometown concert event to date. What is so special to you as an artist about presenting a Christmas show in this manner?

Karin: I think it is special because now it has become a bit of a tradition for everybody in the area and the people who like to travel in for it. It is just something that we do now. It is a special time of year, and I
think it is a nice alternative for people who might be burnt out on the more traditional holiday fare.

Linford: I guess it would scare some artists off because Christmas has been so over commercialized and exploited in every imaginable way, but this is something that sort of snuck up on us. We started playing Christmas shows in 1994, and soon people were asking about getting recordings of some of our versions of traditional carols. People began asking if it was something we were going to do every December. We have always tried to come back and play toward the end of the year. (We are not real big on New Year's Eve shows. We tried that once. I don't think we were a very convincing party band.) There is just something about those Winter, December evenings that make us look forward to being on the road.
Having people come in out of the cold to hear some warm music. I think Christmas and the last few days of any year have a mysterious element that goes back to my childhood. For me, it's less about holiday shopping and cheer, (although I don't mind that part), and more about something subversive and mysterious.

Jessica: Things are coming along now so quickly after all these years of work developing what has become Over the Rhine. I look forward to the new album and to that anticipated Christmas tour. Thanks for your time this afternoon. 

For more information about Over the Rhine and upcoming concert dates, visit

 Copyright © 1996 - 2001 The Phantom Tollbooth