Minneapolis’ The Cactus Blossoms have a sound that has a similar quality to what their name evokes. Their brand of gothic country and crystal clear harmonies between half brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey can silence a crowded room after the tears are done falling creating music that is timeless and untouched by passing trends in pop music. The band became a live sensation after touring relentlessly behind their 2016 debut “You’re Dreaming” landing an opening slot with Kacey Musgraves and even being cast by David Lynch in the hallucinatory return of Twin Peaks.
This year, the band is poised to have their big breakthrough as they have just released their long-awaited follow-up sophomore album “Easy Way” which sees them co-writing two songs with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. We had the chance to speak with Jack and Page ahead of their national headlining tour.
The Cactus Blossoms talk about their brand new album ‘Easy Way’
The new album “Easy Way” is great and really expands upon your sound with some louder guitars and bigger instrumentation. What was writing and recording like this time around?
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Jack: This time around, we had a few ideas kicking around but we started recording before we even had all the songs together because we just we knew we were going to have to start working on it at some point. Even if we were still playing a few shows, so it was really different going into the studio and experimenting with songs as they were being written. So that was a big difference, and you know, playing larger guitars with really small amps.
Page: You know, I guess we’ve been touring for, what was it Jack? I guess we released you’re dreaming in 2016, is that right? And so, that was recorded probably in 2015, anyways it’s been kind of a long time. We’ve done a lot of touring since then, so I think our sound is just evolving over time. I think people who’ve seen us live in the last couple of years aren’t too surprised by anything on the record, but yeah, we’ve been adding a bit more electric guitar, and just following whatever ideas we have for songs, and however we feel, I guess.
The style of country you play is of such a certain time and place harkening back to some of the earliest country and rock duos like the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. It also seems like your sound could fit in with a lot of contemporary rock as well. Did you guys start playing that kind of music early on or was it something you came to later on?
Jack: We definitely weren’t playing country songs when we were kids. But me and Page used to play in the basement, just bass and drums and goof around. When we started playing songs and learning songs at different points, I started getting into a lot of folk music. Page started getting into stuff like Jimmy Rogers. So that’s kind of when we started getting into songs and exploring all that old stuff.
Page: I would say before we were exposed to folk music and old country music we were big fans of Electric Light Orchestra and The Beatles and this French band called Air and Radiohead. Yeah, all sorts of things, and we didn’t have a band at that point but we were into all sorts of stuff, I think sometimes it takes a while to pull in some of your different influences overtime to figure out the better recipe together, so I think that’s what's happening.
Yeah, it’s hard to incorporate those musical left turns and have it not seem forced.
Page: Yeah, I just mean if you learn a Woody Guthrie song and you love it, let’s say you also like AC/DC. So it may take a while to learn how to put that together in a way. To find the things they love about those different styles, and put them together. Sometimes I think we look more traditional than we really are. I’m not saying that I don’t understand that, I mean we played really classic country kind of stuff, so I can see how people would think we’re really going for that, but I think that came out of what we were into at the time through our own limitations. We’re not purists, I guess.
Is it easy for you guys to get on the same page during the writing process or do you come to the table with your own defined ideas?
Jack: That was definitely the difference between making this record, was that we, not only do we get to write with Dan Auerbach for a couple of songs, but we were writing with each other a lot more this time around so that definitely took the stress off. In the past, it’s always been writing songs and maybe just putting the finishing touch on something together, or something musical but not really digging into making the songs together, so that was a really fun thing.
Page: I think in our case, I mean probably in most people’s case when they’re collaborating, it usually starts with one person’s idea and then one or two other people might finish that idea to develop it in some way. But, we’ve never sat down at a table and we’re like “let’s start with nothing” and write a song. It’s always somebody’s half-formed idea.
What was like working with Dan Auerbach?
Jack: We were just like hanging around his studio, drinking coffee and working on song ideas together, it’s totally without really an agenda, and you know, like I said, we hadn’t been writing with each other much and we hadn’t done anything like that, so it was pretty interesting seeing how people who are used to doing that, do it, and the kind of freedom you have to share ideas, good ideas, bad ideas, and just write a verse together, it was refreshing.
The Cactus Blossoms performing their new single "Please Don't Call Me Crazy".
It was just a whole new approach to it, right?
Jack: I’ve always just had things tumble out of me, and that is still happening in the group setting, so it’s kind of just fun to do things with other people sometimes, instead of by yourself.
Is it cool to see your band in this new breed of outsider country music that is becoming popular? You’re old tourmate Kacey Musgraves just won a Grammy!
Page: Yeah! It’s been fun seeing her take off.
Jack: We got to see her play in Saint Paul and she won all those Grammy’s. That’s pretty wild to see, you know, someone like her who is not getting played on top country radio but is still blowing things up. It’s an honor to play with someone like her.
You guys were featured in the last season of Twin Peaks playing the song “Mississippi”. What was it like working with David Lynch?
Page: Oh, Dave? He’s great! (laughs). This is off the record, right?
Jack: We can’t tell you! We didn’t work with David for very long, we were on set for a few hours max, but we really had a great time. Doing a scene was really fun because we were left in mystery too. We didn’t know if the song was going to get used, or how it would fit in, or if it was going to be in some scary scene and it was. We actually got to watch it and they used most of the song. It was pretty wild.
What was being on the set like?
Page: I was going to say for us, we really haven’t spent a lot of time on any tv show or movie like that, it was a pretty big crew and everything, but it was pretty relaxed and they hardly gave us any direction about how to perform, they just, in some ways it was like getting on stage for any gig we’d have. They'd been working on this show for forever, and so we just hopped on stage for a few minutes to do our part. But it was really cool, just to take it all in, and see a little Hollywood magic happen.
Head here for all of The Cactus Blossoms' upcoming tour dates.