The reader’s companion to Saint Anyway’s ‘Two’Track-by-track commentary on Saint Anyway's second disc, "Two," by the two Cloquet kids who are responsible for all the easy-flowing folk tunes: Jamie Kallestad and Tony Petersen.
The two kindred spirits behind Cloquet’s Saint Anyway are growing up. And fast.
Not only are Jamie Kallestad and Tony Petersen preparing to further their musical careers out in Boston, but they’re doing so with the brand-new “Two.”
The disc isn’t so much a follow-up to last year’s debut EP, “Paper Town,” as it is a full-on restart.
“It was somewhat of a bootleg operation,” Jamie said of “Paper Town,” which was limited to a 300-copy run. “They weren’t actual CDs; we got them printed the cheapest way we could because we were on a tight budget that summer. We made little cardboard cases and hot-glued the labels — which were printed off of our own computers — by ourselves. It was a smaller-scale project.”
“Two,” which they’re calling their first official release, is also making the rounds in a way “Paper Town” couldn’t.
“Having this as our first big CD,” Jamie said, “we’ve sent it to be reviewed, we’ve sent it to radio stations, things like that.”
Even though “Two” was recorded in the same workmanlike basement studio at Yale, Jamie and Tony approached its material in a more “honest” manner.
“We were sort of trying to capture the feeling of a live show with this album,” Jamie said. “… The cellos in the background and the overdubbed harmonies (on ‘Paper Town’) weren’t as true to our sound as we could’ve been.”
Tony agreed, saying they were concerned with that authenticity on “Two.”
“We sort of stripped it down to just the acoustic instruments,” he said, mentioning an album by the Floorbirds that its members recorded in a kitchen. “We tried to make it sound more like our live shows: more energy, a little bit faster.”
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on with the new Saint Anyway album. To shed a little more light on this terrific follow-up album — even if that’s not what they’re calling it, per se — we asked Tony and Jamie to come in for a track-by-track commentary, as they did with “Paper Town.” As expected, they were a delight to chat with.
1. “Back to the Start Again”
“Two” kicks off with this spritely little number from Jamie.
“This is the song we always started our live shows with last summer,” he said, referencing the back-to-basics, live-sounding aesthetic of “Two.”
Jamie then took the opportunity to try and decipher the album’s name. While “Two” may seem like an open-and-shut case of “the alternative to coming up with a clever name for album No. 2,” it’s not as black and white as you might think.
“It’s just about the two of us and whatever chemistry we can create between us with the two instruments and two voices,” he said.
2. “Goodbye Carolina Rose”
Not to be outdone, Tony, who wrote this track, had another theory about the title “Two.”
“It’s a relationship thing,” he said. “These are all heartbreak songs, and they’re all coming from me.”
If you look at the album’s cover, you’ll notice a bird flying away.
“Goodbye Carolina Rose,” despite its bouncy, Devil Makes Three-worthy charm, is “another anti-love heartbreak song.”
“I can’t say too much,” Tony said sheepishly about its lyrical content.
He was willing to divulge one little secret: The middle name of the girl in question here (and later on “I’ll Never Be the Same”) is, indeed, Rose.
“I actually didn’t know that,” Jamie interjected. “Wow, so that’s way more brutally apparent than I thought it was. I thought it was at least a little subtle.”
After a quick “uh-uh” from Tony, they both laugh.
Even when they’re revisiting broken hearts, they’re both still able to get a good chuckle out of it all.
Jamie isn’t really one to write about specific relationships, however. He’s more of a “big picture” kind of guy.
“We have different styles, to be sure,” he said.
But that’s just not the case with Tony. The kid loves his heartbreak.
“Those songs are just more fun for me to write,” he said without even a hint of irony. “They’re more fun for me to listen to. … I never really got into the flowery fluff of a lot of the love songs.”
He prefers the down-and-out soul of acts like Old Crow Medicine Show and Ryan Adams.
“Those songs just resonate with me,” Tony said. “The songs that make you want to cry are the ones I really love.”
Some Internet radio station in Pennsylvania picked up “Goodbye Carolina Rose” and the track recently made its way up to No. 1 there.
“We’re thinking about taking Pennsylvania by storm,” Jamie joked.
Tony was also quick to make a self-deprecating “Big in PA” dig.
“Some people get Europe and China, we get Pennsylvania,” he said with a laugh.
3. “Supernatural Wine”
Another Jamie song, another only-so-revealing look at it.
“Not a love song, definitely,” he said, before a noticeable pause. “A lot of these songs are really personal, and it’s kind of hard to … it can almost feel kind of cheap just going line-by-line and explaining it, but I encourage people to listen to the lyrics. They’re about religion.”
Just before “Supernatural Wine” winds down, Jamie gave us a little something to work with: “It’s about some tough things I’ve been wrestling with.”
4. “Another Song”
Surprisingly, Jamie opened up a lot more when describing this Storyhill-leaning gem.
“It has a lot to do with changes,” he said. “This is a big year for me. … I wrote this song in the fall, thinking ahead to what was going to happen [once I graduated from Yale]. It’s a song about transition and about indecision and becoming brave enough to take in another big change in your life.”
On the issue of big changes, Jamie seemed cautiously optimistic about his move to Boston from New Haven.
“We’re going to continue to make music, hopefully,” he said. “Saint Anyway will continue out East.”
5. “Revelation Bluegrass”
“Bluegrass is kind of an interesting idea for us,” said Jamie, this song’s lyricist. “We have a lot of the same ideas as bluegrass, but, after going to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, we know that we’re definitely not bluegrass.” He laughs.
Like Trampled by Turtles’ early standouts, a lot of the Saint Anyway material has fast-tempo banjo jams — though they don’t necessarily pack the intensity of a five-piece band.
“A lot of bands are doing that now, alternative bluegrass or whatever you want to call it,” Jamie said. “That said, we still really love bluegrass, and I think this was my attempt to write something as close to a straight-ahead, fast-moving bluegrass song as I could.”
6. “Mississippi Mile”
“Mississippi Mile” is Tony acting out a shoot-em-up boyhood fantasy.
“It’s sort of the story of my life — if I were Clint Eastwood, I think,” he said. He mentions Bruce Springsteen as a primary influence. “It’s about being an outlaw in the wild west, a rambler. It’s kind of a fantasy, of trying to capture that wild life.”
Jamie joked that it’s a “genre piece,” but he was quick to confess his love for his friend’s composition.
“It’s a fun song to play live,” he said. “I love this song. It’s got that catchy chorus we get to shout out. … I just love the feeling it gives me.”
For Tony, it was an exercise in creative license.
“When you’re an artist, you can become something else,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to write something that makes you larger than you are.”
7. “Trouble and Worry”
“It’s another relationship song,” Tony was quick to announce. “Trouble and worry is what happens when you find a girl.”
Jamie isn’t so sure.
“Well, maybe what happens when Tony finds a girl,” he said.
Tony, ever the romantic, said it’s a song for everyone out there in a long-distance relationship.
“You’re not always around them, and they’re constantly on your mind,” he said. “Once you find a little darling, she takes over your head.”
In other words, it’s another “anti-love song” (Tony’s words), something its author is trying to get away from.
Jamie is quick to come to his songwriting partner’s rescue: “But that’s what all folk, bluegrass music is: unhappy.”
8. “Operator (On the Line)”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned what this song is really about,” Jamie began, “but, again, it’s about not being sure about yourself, the direction you’re heading in life.”
He wrote “Operator” about looking forward to living in the big city.
“I was imagining my life in Boston, seeing people riding on the trains,” he said of the song’s lyrical imagery.
That’s not to say he hasn’t enjoyed his time at Yale.
“New Haven is a great city,” he said. “Over my four years I’ve come to really like it. It’s going to be weird to try and make a new city my home now.”
9. “I’ll Never Be the Same”
This one’s another relationship song by Tony (go figure, right?), but this one has a twist: None of it actually happened.
“It’s a hypothetical song,” Jamie said.
Tony wrote it on a ukulele in the back of their crumbling-apart tour van — which has been lovingly dubbed “Emmylou” — while waiting for Jamie to get done in a coffee shop. He was envisioning what it’d be like to be dumped by his girl and how that could forever change him.
He said it didn’t happen like that, but it is about ... well, we’ll just call her “Rose.”
“I don’t know if she’s heard any of these,” Tony said. “I’m a little worried about what will happen when she hears these, actually. It’s a very private thing. It’s interesting. It’s obvious when you’re writing about a specific person, and if that person were to hear it I think it would be weird. I’d be weirded out if I heard a song I knew was about me.”
On the plus side, the songwriter said he hasn’t received any “hate texts” from Rose yet.
“She just happened to be that kind of muse: the kind you don’t want to be,” Jamie joked.
10. “Paper Town”
While the original plan for “Two” was to revisit material from “Paper Town” in the aforementioned more-honest manner, its title track was the only one to make the cut.
“We wanted to keep this one, because this album’s a much bigger deal than our first one,” Tony said. “We want this one to go many places our first one didn’t.”
Not all is lost for the “Paper Town” EP. The duo still regularly performs at least half of its material.
One of the earlier tracks that has since fallen by the wayside, “Turtle on a Fencepost,” was recently enshrined as a tattoo on somebody’s arm — a huge milestone for any musical group, to be sure.
“I think we can safely call the guy a fan if he has a (Saint Anyway) tattoo on his arm,” Jamie said with a big laugh.
That fan’s bold move has the Cloquet-raised songwriters reconsidering that blissful track’s ongoing appeal: “Now that it’s tattooed on somebody’s body,” Tony said, “I think we should start doing it live again.”
“I’m in a new, healthy relationship now,” Tony said, perhaps anticipating a question or two about this track’s cheerful disposition.
Jamie was quick with a quip: “What do you know, a new muse.”
Joking aside, Tony said its lyrics (“Angels from above / Deliver me from this wicked world / ’Cause Lord, well, I fell in love”) also touch on the darker side of a beating heart.
“Being in love hurts,” he said. “It’s not always fun. There’s a lot of pain that goes along with liking someone so much.
“It’s a bunch of relationship stuff and emotions all wrapped into one song.”
Upon settling down to decipher my nearly 40-minute interview with Saint Anyway, I realized that, hey, there’s a secret unlisted track tacked onto the end of “Two.” I shot off an e-mail to Tony.
“Well, I’ll just say that spending all that time down in the studio can get to you after a while,” he responded. “This is just one of the many weird, half-finished ‘songs’ that we would make up off the cuff, just to keep each other entertained.” Then, almost cryptically: “It’s also the only track on our album to feature the mandolin.”
NEWS TO USE
The Boston-by-way-of-Cloquet acoustic duo Saint Anyway has a number of local dates left this summer, including shows at Gordy’s Warming House in Cloquet (July 13), Red Mug in Superior (July 24) and Fitger’s Brewhouse (Aug. 6). See SaintAnyway.com.