I'd heard some time ago that the Twin Cities duo The Okee Dokee Brothers would be writing their next album as they traveled down the Mississippi River, and those plans finally appear to be taking shape. On June 1, canoes in hand (though I'm not sure they're actually portaging), Joe and Justin will spend thirty days going down the Mississippi. They tell me that they first came up with the idea for the trip way back in the summer of 2009, when they took a short road trip following the Mississippi River down from Minneapolis to Davenport, Iowa along the Great River Road. "We ended up camping along the river," they say...
"meeting incredibly interesting people, writing some songs, and conceptualizing the idea of an adventure album as we drove. We noticed that the river represented so much of what we stood for in our music; the Americana tradition, folk culture, community, adventure, nature, so we decided it would be the central theme of our next album."The duo is partnering with Wilderness Inquiry, a Minnsota-based non-profit, who's outfitting the trip with canoes, paddles, life jackets, camping gear, etc and have applied for a couple other grants. [Unrelated and self-interested note: I used to live down the street from the Inquiry offices.]
As for the trip itself, Joe and Justin will be joined by a couple of "close friends with very creative minds" -- one, a wilderness expert who will "help [them] stay safe and sane on the river," the other, a photographer/videographer who will document the trip. They've set aside two hours each day for songwriting and six days for writing and research with museums, musicians and storytellers. (They're also visiting the Smithsonian archives in DC next week and meeting with a Folkways archivist to do some research on traditional river songs and hope to incorporate some public domain songs on the album.)
Finally, I asked them, "How do you deal with the 'Mark Twain Problem' -- meaning, do you directly write Huck Finn (or other Mark Twain-inspired) songs, or do you avoid them entirely?" Their response seems to me the appropriate one when faced with Huck Finn's overwhelming cultural influence:
"While we love Mark Twain, we're not going for a Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer angle on this album. We might mention them briefly in a song, but they are not our focus and we'd like to distance ourselves from that cliche a bit. The river is big enough for lots of characters and stories."
Photo courtesy of Alex Johnson.