“Did someone call you crazy once, Jack?” asks the Cactus Blossoms’ Page Burkum, calling from his hometown of Minneapolis with his brother and band mate Jack Torrey also on the line. Burkum is referring to the duo’s newest track, “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy,” the first sampling from their sophomore LP, Easy Way, premiering today on Rolling Stone Country. Maintaining the rock-solid, freak of genetics harmonies demonstrated on their debut album You’re Dreaming, “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” finds the twosome pulling back from the more delicate, early country melodies and scuffing up their sound in Roy Orbison-meets-Television style.
“Part of the inspiration was this local legend named Curtiss A,” Torrey says about “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” and its Minneapolis-based muse. “He does an annual John Lennon tribute that everyone in town loves, and he’s been playing punk and rock & roll since the late Seventies. So it’s looking at the world through the eyes of an old rocker in the age of Facebook.”
“Computer in your pocket, nobody has to know/ two fingers in the socket, breaker’s gonna blow,” sings Torrey alongside a drumbeat that walks an appropriately tense, tight procession. “Trouble on the line, fodder in the feed/ What you want, not what you need.”
For a band inspired by the melodies of years past (“We still haven’t found a way to take inspiration from the future,” quips Burkum), pondering the plagues of the present day is an appropriate pastime, and it’s also a concept that surfaces more than once on their self-produced LP Easy Way. Assembled from songs composed on the road and on breaks from touring with Kacey Musgraves, Nick Lowe and Lucius as well as an appearance on the new season of Twin Peaks, Easy Way was recorded in a bit of a creative silo at Reliable Recorders in Chicago, and features Dan Auerbach as a co-writer on two tracks.
“Dan invited us down to Nashville last year,” says Burkum. “We were writing some songs with him and brought in some ideas of our own, and it was just us and Dan and L. Russell Brown, who wrote [the 1971 Tony Orlando and Dawn Number One hit] ‘Knock Three Times.’ It was a very fun and very creative experience. We were still coming off the road and had a bit of writer’s block, so that knocked some of the cobwebs loose.”
Beneath those cobwebs was a set of songs steeped in Sixties rock and a more textural take on their signature harmonies, shaped around infectious grooves, measured percussion and even a bit of meandering, Rubber Soul-era psychedelia. As self-producers as well as siblings, Burkum and Torrey had to trust the insular nature of their world all the way to the end.
“There was a bit of curiosity on our side to see what would happen if we didn’t have much outside influence,” says Burkum. “There were a few points where I thought, ‘Maybe we should show this to more friends,’ and then I was too scared to show anybody.” Adds his brother, “Because there was no Plan B.”
They eventually landed on a tight 10-song collection, mulling love, joy and the need to connect on Easy Way. Though clearly written among the unease that is our modern political state, it’s meant to offer more of a salve than any sort of rallying cry. “Singing about love was more attractive than singing about divisive subjects,” Torrey says.
Easy Way will be released March 1st on their own Walkie Talkie Records. A 2019 headlining tour is forthcoming, and they’ll be kicking off the New Year with a month-long residency at the Turf Club in St. Paul.
“It’s fun and lighthearted and more universal than before,” says Torrey. “But there wasn’t really any driving force. It’s a concept album without a concept.”