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over the Rhine’s chief songwriter and one-half of the married musical duo digs deep to give CCM a
glimpse into the heart of OTR’s fine folk-rock and their latest recording, The Long Surrender (Great
Speckled dog Records).
CCM: what is the thematic pulse of The long surrender?
linford: letting go gracefully. In his book Brendan, Frederick Buechner wrote about his main
character learning to “not white-knuckle everything, to leave room for grace to billow his sails.” I
buried my father a few years back. When you put loved ones in the ground you realize that much
of this stuff we work so hard for, the stuff that society tries to sell us as being so important—it will
all be surrendered. I’m working on a new song that says, “I know one day I’ll look back and think, ‘My,
that happened fast.’”
CCM: This record is yet another menagerie of melancholic carols. where did this relationship
between heartache and melodies begin for over the Rhine?
linford: Menagerie of melancholic carols: love that! Both karin and I grew up around a lot of old
gospel music. Hymns can certainly break a heart, and spirituals were born out of suffering. We also
lived through a lot of difficult things as children. So the pain you hear in our music is authentic.
What initially drew me to karin’s voice was that I thought she sang from the place where her pain
CCM: Joe henry on The long surrender: “naked in its finery, fiercely tender and thorny with sweet
promise.” Sounds like redemption. what role does faith play in the music-making process?
linford: God and music have always been inseparable to me. But I don’t separate the world into
broken and unbroken or sacred and secular. We’re all broken and it’s all sacred so there are very
few boundaries in our songs. We want all of life to be represented in our music. We often write
towards what we aspire. John lennon didn’t write about peace and love because he was peaceful
and loving 100% of the time. But he knew what he was aspiring toward.
CCM: Ok. Flip-flop. What role has music played in your spiritual heritage?
linford: Music has helped me to be honest about my own brokenness. When I was in the third
grade my father let me pick out an old upright piano. That piano was where I went as a child to
figure out stuff that I didn’t have words for. My Dad grew up on an Amish farm where musical
instruments were forbidden. As a boy, my uncle Rudy hid a guitar in the haymow and would sneak
out to the barn to practice after dark. one unfortunate day, Rudy’s brother accidentally ran a
pitchfork through it. But Rudy had a back-up plan: an accordion hidden under the horse’s manger.
Think of it! A heritage that taught me music was so amazing it was dangerous. Songs can be so
alive they should be forbidden. A guitar hidden in the hay like the Christ child… I believe it.
Over the Rhine