Band of the Week: Clint Michigan

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Hometown: New York City?
Album: Hawthorne to Hennepin?
Band Members: Clint Asay (vocals, guitar, banjo), Amy Bezunartea (vocals, guitar, banjo)
For Fans Of: Ida, Low, Sufjan Stevens 

Amy Bezunartea and Clint Asay comprise the duo Clint Michigan, but the band's unsung hero is the mutual friend who first pushed them to listen to each others' music. “He was convinced we would hit it off musically,” says Bezunartea, a Brooklyn singer/songwriter who grew up idolizing Joni Mitchell. “I kept ignoring his pleas. I finally listened to [Asay's] song, and I absolutely loved it.” Asay, a veteran of an all-gay comedy pop group called The Isotoners, was similarly reluctant, but when he finally broke down and listened to Bezunartea's demo, he says, “I knew that this would be the female voice of the band.” 

Despite their early trepidation, the duo immediately gelled and christened themselves Clint Michigan, a play on Asay’s name and the town of Flint, Mich., and a nod to Sufjan Stevens’ album Greetings from Michigan. Playing quiet, melodic folk, Asay and Bezunartea's voices blend easily and evocatively. “Amy and I have relatively few disagreements on the sound that we want,” says Asay, the primary songwriter. Adds Bezunartea: “I think we have very similar instincts. We read each other well.”

The pair spent a year and a half making their debut, the delicate and devastating Hawthorne to Hennepin (out now), recording sporadically with a small group of friends and like-minded musicians. They eventually signed with Kiam Records, the label owned by singer-songwriter Jennifer O’Connor, whom Asay had met years before while working as a bartender. “A lot of this record was inspired by the death of my younger brother, getting sober and falling off again, struggling to find love in New York,” Asay says. “I feel like if I perform these songs honestly that it proves to be a very healing process.”

The album is subdued, intensely intimate and emotionally direct, powered by the interplay between Asay and Bezunartea’s voices. On the title track, Asay eschews songwriterly abstractions for real-life observations, setting small goals for himself (make the commute without breaking down, survive the fiscal year) that render the song deeply affecting with their heartbreaking simplicity. “Basements of Churches” examines the potential for hope at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (“It appears my ears will listen when my feet remain in pace / I think I’ve found a reason for everything to change / in the afternoon in the basement of this church”) but he throws that optimism into relief with a “hallelujah” chorus that’s striking in its stark ambiguity. Says Asay: “I wanted to convey the loss I have experienced in my life in an honest way, how I feel it without dramatic effect.”

Asay’s lyrics read like postcards from various points on the road to and from recovery, and references to real landmarks in Minneapolis, New York, and Oregon anchor the album in the real world. The title refers to two streets in Minneapolis, while “Alameda” is set on a dreary day in the Portland neighborhood. “This is the most important aspect of these songs for me,” he explains. “I see these songs as memories before I actually write them, and by using landmarks or streets or bridges, it brings me back to that place in my life. I feel like it tells more of a story.”   

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