Five questions for Wild Violets
After honing their craft on local stages, husband and wife duo Kim and Mark Albrecht have just released their debut CD, "Simple Life," as Wild Violets.
The record captures the Albrechts' rootsy yet ethereal acoustic music layered with poetic lyrics and Kim's shimmering voice.
A baker's dozen tracks lean heavily original, though there are two covers. One, "Livin' in Someone Else's Dream," was written by producer and engineer Kenn Fox, who made the record in his Watertown studio. The other, more familiar one, is a reading of Boston's 1976 hit, "Peace of Mind."
The duo performs frequently around southeastern Wisconsin – including tonight at Art on Main in Three Lakes, Sept. 6 at the Cedarburg Cultural Center, Sept. 7 at Martifest in Concord, and Sept. 25 at Art Bar in Riverwest – but the Albrechts took a moment to tell about Wild Violets, "Simple Life" and working and performing with family.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give us the history of Wild Violets.
Kim Albrecht: We were paired together in a high school caroling ensemble a'la Charles Dickens. Life took the predictable route of college, career, children and a dog. After years playing campfire guitar, I decided to get serious. In 2007 I started studying with Kenn Fox of Spiritone Records. Mark holds a Masters in Piano Performance, but a few years ago he took a hiatus from Steinways, and picked up a Fender Telecaster. With the release of "Simple Life," our debut album, I step out of Mark's musical shadow and spin poetic lyrics about life and the common good.
We started playing together as an acoustic duo 3 years ago as a part of Kenn's Friday Night Song Set student showcase. Last winter, we spent an annoying amount of time trying to commit to a band name and came up with "Wild Violets" during a road trip home from northern Wisconsin on New Years Day. We drove past endless miles of snow drifts and talked about the things that lay dormant in winter but blossom after the cold season passes. It reminded us of the new things we have forged together in our 27 year marriage. Mark is the wild one, and I am the violet!
OMC: Tell us a bit about the music. From where do you draw your inspiration?
Mark Albrecht: I dig Aerosmith, and Kim loves fingerstyle guitar ballads. We meet in the middle – hopefully somewhere pleasant. Our cover of Boston's 1976 hit "Peace of Mind" is a personal favorite and an example of us taking our classic rock roots in a new direction.
We grew up on bands like Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, Eurythmics and we watched the genesis of MTV huddled around a dorm room TV back in the day. Last winter during a snow day, we decided to make a music video of our own in our backyard just using a handheld video and audio recorder. It was a blast, and became our holiday greeting for family and friends, replacing Christmas cards.
OMC: Do you think those influences are obvious in the music?
MA: Everything that you hear becomes a part of you on some level and some of those influences are more obvious than others. "Simple Life" is original, rootsy and wildly positive. Each song is different in just about every way. Our sound is based on Kim's acoustic and resonator guitars and my picturesque electric guitar style. It is a challenge to not repeat what you like or hear, and instead create something totally new, something authentic.
Art contemplates the world around us and asks questions about life. It's uniting ... you know? We find ourselves in fascinating conversations with people we meet when we play out, because Kim's lyrics come from a deep place... out of compassion, looking for hope and the common good. People relate to loving someone through hardship – "I'm on Your Side" – feeling like life is driving you instead of you steering it – "Simple Life" – or leaving the familiar behind to pursue adventure – "Chasing the Light".
OMC: The group is really a family affair, isn't it? Beyond you and Mark, your kids are also on the record, too, right?
KA: Mark and I are an acoustic duo, but when we were recording this spring, our kids, Alexa and Luke, were home doing their own thing, working and making college plans for the fall. I wrote "Under the Onion Dome Sky," a poignant song about adopting them in Russia 19 years ago.
The lyrics come straight from the journal I kept while riding a train winding it's way through the heart of Russia in 1994 and meeting our children, two toddlers, for the first time. For us, the song describes a moment suspended in time. We realized it would be amazing to record it together. Reliving those precious moments through music feels pretty surreal.
Our kids actually sing background vocals on two songs, and for a few other tracks we were joined by some other wonderful Wisconsin musicians, including Mare Edstrom and Garrett Waite. Vinny Millevolte, our mixing engineer, won a WAMI award this year while he was working our album. Other children's voices bring a fresh hopeful sound to two of the tracks and Kenn plays a few solos on the album, as well. We're honored by the caliber of people that were a part of this project.
OMC: "Simple Life" is your first record, right? Tell us a bit about making it. Did it happen over time or did you just go in and do it in one shot?
KA: In 2011 we went into a studio and recorded one song – the title track of a compilation album – "There's a Drought." Fifteen local musicians donated original tracks to benefit people in the Horn of Africa suffering what became a famine. When I heard about the loss of life, I felt paralyzed by the need. But coming together as a musical community, well there's some muscle! It sort of catapulted into a local response to help our world neighbors. I'd never done anything remotely similar before, but discovered that recording music could make a purposeful contribution to the world.
When Mark and I started performing our own material, it took us two years to get up the courage to do a solo project. Kenn refers to this as "drawing a line in the sand." If you wait until you're perfect or until you have all the ideas in place, you can miss out on the "process" of making music.
We're regulars at Blueburg Cafe, part of the Cedarburg Cultural Center's Talent Incubator, which offers an array of resources designed to foster professional development for visual and performing artists. The Milwaukee music scene is thriving, we really enjoy meeting people who make music as a way of life, better or worse, richer or poorer, it's just who they – and we – are. But we aren't quitting our day jobs, we're just drawing that line in the sand!
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