Divorce, new beginnings and music

Former husband-wife duo The Rosebuds find inspiration in separation

photo by Ashlie White

Kelly Crisp talks of Loud Planes Fly Low, the recently released CD she made with her musical partner in The Rosebuds, Ivan Howard, as if it’s the duo’s first album all over again.

“It made us feel new, like we had pressed reset,” she says. “I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s like we’ve grown as people and we have grown as artists, and there is a lot of excitement we have about this sort of coming-of-age we have discovered, here. That we can become excited about music this far into a career and feel like it’s your first record is an incredible experience for us. It is just a powerful thing that we want to keep doing.”

That Crisp talks about Loud Planes Fly Low feeling like a new start, despite it being the fifth Rosebuds CD, makes sense, considering the events that preceded the writing and recording of the CD.

In 2008, after releasing their fourth CD, Life Like, Crisp’s marriage to Howard fell apart.

It may seem surprising, but Crisp says she knew the split wasn’t going to end The Rosebuds.

“Ivan and I have always connected creatively, and I feel like our creative partnership, that never changed,” Crisp says. “We’re a really good team.”

Crisp says she and Howard didn’t know what kind of album they would make in the wake of their split, but it soon became obvious that it had to be about their marriage.

“What else could we write about?” Crisp observes.

“It was the most important thing. And so anything else would have seemed contrived, really.”

As a result of being able to honestly explore their feelings about their marriage, Crisp and Howard created a CD in Loud Planes Fly Low that is richer, more revealing and more emotionally raw than anything they’ve done before.

When Howard repeats in “Without a Focus” that “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel,” there’s no mistaking the fear and vulnerability he’s feeling as his once-settled life crumbles into a far more uncertain future. And Crisp touches a nerve in “Come Visit Me,” where she longs for her partner even though she knows a tryst will probably do more harm than good. One key couplet goes: “I wanna feel something way out here / I need something to happen now / even if it fucks me up.”

Those sort of heavy emotions have not been typical for The Rosebuds before now. Instead, words like fun, light and spontaneous seemed like appropriate terms to describe both the band’s beginnings and its music before now.

In fact, Howard and Crisp became a band in 2001 when Howard was asked to sub for a band at a bar in their then-home base, Wilmington, N.C., literally a few hours before the gig. He had his wife come along to play keys at the show, and the group was born. A year later, the duo had moved to Raleigh and had a record deal with Merge Records. But Crisp and Howard retained their cheerful, unpretentious attitudes as their albums (2003’s The Rosebuds Make Out, 2005’s Birds Make Good Neighbors, 2007’s Night of the Furies and 2008’s Life Like) built the group a solid following.

But Loud Planes Fly Low, whose music fits the emotional weight of its lyrics, is something different for the group. Often, the tone is melancholy (“Go Ahead,” “Waiting for You” and “Come Visit Me”) or sad (“Without a Focus” and “Cover Ears”). Fortunately, the melodies are often downright pretty and so appealing that it’s hard not to be pulled into the CD’s sway.

Crisp says she enjoyed making Loud Planes Fly Low, and if the CD has its share of sadness and uncertainty, it ultimately has a positive message.

“We were very lucky to be able to do this together and have this language between us that we speak, in common, [and] that we have this ability to make music together,” she says.

“I don’t know what [Loud Planes Fly Low] is going to do for other people, but I know what it did for me, and it makes me really appreciate the family that we are, and the creative partners that we are,” she says. “And it really has me feeling celebratory for what we do have. There’s a very hopeful quality to the record for me. So it gives me a lot of inspiration.”

Considering how strongly Crisp and Howard feel about the new CD, it’s no surprise that the group’s live set is built around the new songs.

And Crisp says the end of the marriage has not had an adverse effect on how she and Howard communicate and relate on stage.

“I guess making the record felt like a really great way to sort of cleanse ourselves and be new people for each other,” she says. “So the live shows are very — we’re both really happy with the shows and being on stage together.”