The Lowest Pair’s Palmer T. Lee and Kendl Winter are lying on their stomachs on the floor of their Michigan crash pad. Winter’s phone died toward the end of our call, so when she plugs it back in and re-launches FaceTime, it kind of feels like a daytime slumber party for the three of us. Lee and Winter laugh easily and give graciously, with their time and through their stark and poetic music. They seem to understand each other personally and maybe even spiritually, as their conversation is marked by frequent eye contact and occasional completions of each other’s thoughts.
The Lowest Pair, Lee and Winter’s old-timey, banjo-centric Americana duo, played Ann Arbor the night before we spoke and were preparing to work their way east for a string of shows. But before their next gig and subsequent eight-hour drive, Lee and Winter checked in to chat about their two new records—Fern Girl and Ice Man and Uncertain As It Is Uneven, the silence of Minnesota winters, and what their sonic experimentations mean for touring.
: Why release two albums simultaneously?
Palmer T. Lee: ‘Cause we had all the tunes, I think! We put out two records last year and the second one just floated under the radar. This is going to be different, but we didn’t want one to overshadow the other.
Kendl Winter: And we knew that we had a busy summer, so for our own personal entertainment, we thought it would be fun to have this huge catalogue of songs to choose from… Also, I don’t think we were thinking about having a top hit. They’re much more like chapters of our lives. If we wait too long to put them out, they’re not going to be time sensitive to where we’re at performing and where we’re at in our story.
: You could have done this at a double LP, though, or one giant collection of songs. Instead Fern Girl and Ice Man and Uncertain As It Is Uneven have different album artwork, styles, and more, even though they’re released at the same time. What went into those decisions?
KW: We considered having it have the same album artwork colors, but then they’d always be attached to each other. We thought that they’re not actually contingent on each other and they’re pretty separate energetically.
PTL: Also, I think that having 20-30 songs on a record makes it hard to take in. You kind of forget what songs 5-10 were by the time you’re done with the 25th song! We thought it would give a little more attention to and energy to all the songs if you got to choose which group of songs you were going to listen to when you went into it.
: Sure. And Fern Girl and Ice Man is more experimental—using percussion and other sounds for you guys. Was it a conscious decision to keep those songs separate and distinguish them that way?
KW: Yeah, at some point we felt very much that we had specific sounds that these two different records were going to have that helped us know—especially by the last few songs—how to package them.
: But are “Fern Girl” and “Ice Man” nicknames for you?
KW: Yeah, I guess. Both of us spend a lot of time in each other’s home bases and we thought we wouldn’t have problems [in the other place]. As much as we love each other’s respective homes, I think I’m like, “Oh, I’m totally from Olympia” and [turning to Lee] you’ve been like “Oh, I’m totally from Minneapolis.” So in a way, it has been a subtle identity claim to our regions! But in another way I think it was a touch in cheek way of saying that. And then I drew the picture and was like, ‘This is totally Fern Girl/Ice Man!”
: Wait you drew the artwork, too?
KW: Yeah! I’m kind of a habitual doing something-er! My hands are always busy. Even just in school, I started drawing and doodling. I wouldn’t say I’m especially good at having a concept and doing it, but I end of up with happy accidents a lot.
: I read that you spent a winter in Minneapolis to work on the records. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you, Palmer, but for the rest of us, that is actually the frozen tundra. Why subject yourselves to that?
PTL: Well, we wanted to do another record with Dave [Simonett] and there’s this space there, Real-phonic Studio, and we really wanted to work there. We’ve worked there in the past before and it’s a really awesome space. We got to know Erik [Koskinen] a little better… Plus, I just have a big enough network of community there where we could find places to stay and people to hang out with and stuff to do.
KW: You sold me on a Minnesota winter! It was important to you!
PTL: I think it’s important for everyone to experience at some point in your life because it’s intense!
KW: You love it [looking at Lee]. I think it has a lot of poetry about it.
PTL: It’s the quietest place ever—in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the night. All the animals are asleep. You can hear for miles.
: The show I saw in Seattle featured you two with one mic for vocals and one mic for instruments. With all the sounds on the new records, how is that going to affect touring? Should we be expecting a brass band accompaniment or even just a drummer?
PTL: I would love to! We’ve been talking about things like that since the beginning—being able to put out a record with a country band or a string band and be able to tour that record for a month or two with that band. We’ve also talked about bringing amps with us and playing with weird noises and pedals and stuff like that and having options of the type of show that we can put on depending on the venue or the tour. But right now, we’re still touring in a four-door sedan, trying to save money.
KW: Yeah, I think it will also grow with our logistics…We’ve always dreamed big and dreamed big sonically. It’s been interesting playing so many kinds of stages from really intimate living rooms to pretty big festivals. And definitely at the festivals, I wish we had a drum kit and a bass and could just groove out and wail! We holding down so much of the responsibility—it’s just two people—that I don’t think we really get to drop things and sing…
PTL: [interjecting] Yeah like noodle on a solo for a while, do some choreography!
KW: We have songs already piling up for a country band and we’re very excited about that, but we’re just holding it. And we have a similar thing with drums and bass…We’ve been really careful and intentional about this being the two of us, this is all we have to have in order for this project to work. And then as we bring people in, we want to do it really strategically.