Publish Date: 17-Nov-2005
If you like to have the shit scared out of you in abandoned graveyards, then Pete Heitzman and Karen Savoca's home is the place to be. The two musicians live in rural New York state, in a converted church surrounded by woods, corn fields, dairy farms, and a cemetery.
"When you're sitting on the john, you're looking at the old postmaster's tombstone," says guitarist Heitzman, reached at the home where the couple have lived for the past 16 years. "There are about 250 graves here, and the average tombstone dates from the 1850s."
Upstate New York holds deep personal roots for singer-songwriter Savoca. She spent most of her early life in New Jersey, but every weekend her parents drove north across the state line to camp on land they'd bought. When she was 13, they built a log cabin and moved there. "It was right on top of a mountain, beside 100 acres of state land that couldn't be developed," recalls Savoca, on another line. "But some years ago, my parents got divorced and had to sell it."
"Just Let Go", the opening track from the pair's latest release, In the Dirt, expresses the sadness she felt about the loss. But it's not a downer. The conga-playing Savoca's music is always brightly syncopated, and Heitzman's an unusually imaginative arranger. The slow calypso strumming at the start of "Just Let Go" is soon joined by Stratocaster distortion effects that sound like a recording played backwards, though that's not how it was achieved. "I used a volume pedal," Heitzman explains. "If it sounds too much like a regular guitar, it's not very interesting to me. I'd much rather try turn someone's head around."
It's certainly hard to label the music of Savoca and Heitzman. The songs are funky, bluesy, and pop-like, with touches of jazz and rock. But the sensibility behind Savoca's lyrics is closest to folk. "Let It Go" could be a Gaelic emigrant's lament that's been translated into English: "Pretty the light they call the gloaming/How can I bear to leave this place/When I have always called it home".
The meditative feel of much of the couple's music is balanced by an off-the-wall sense of humour, as found on their Web site's list of "Souvenirs": odd businesses, jobs, and restaurant names they've seen on the road or been given by fans. "It started when we were driving south and there was a crudely made sign on a barbed-wire fence that said "Used Cow'," Heitzman remembers. "We laughed so hard we said, "We've got to start posting these.' We're looking for unique items, and it's great when we can get a photo."
There's a shot of the sign for Aves Taxidermy & Cheese, the roadside Diesel Fried Chicken joint, and the Lube 'n Latte Shoppe. Savoca confirms that the Squat and Gobble is a local restaurant, and that Brown's Pianos, Organs and Waterbeds is in nearby Albany. "As for the job of thong inspector at Myrtle Beach [South Carolina], we're not sure exactly what was involved, but we were told there was a limit as to how skimpy it could be," says Heitzman. "It had to be at least visible," adds Savoca before cracking up.
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