With a cover that features a pair of interlocked star-crossed lovers—dramatically embracing and longing for the cover of some steamy Harlequin novel—Eight Golden Greats, the debut recording from Portland-via-Alaska duo the Old Believers, is steeped in both romance and travel. The two equal factions of the band, Keeley Boyle and Nelson Kempf, are intertwined musically, with each fading in and out of their delicate take on soulful country, vintage dustbowl storytelling, and an ethereal haunt similar to Quix*o*tic's long-lost classic, Night for Day.
Boyle and Kempf met in Kenai, Alaska (150 miles south of Anchorage), and soon traveled to Athol, Idaho, and eventually Portland, all the while preparing the material for Eight Golden Greats. Freshly back from his hometown, Kempf took a moment to talk about the band's migration, recording style, and home state.
MERCURY: How did the move from Kenai to Portland come about?
KEMPF: We met in Kenai, we were friends since we were younger and have been playing music together for quite a while in different bands and decided that Portland is where we wanted to move just because it's such a thriving scene. I guess we were following a lot of people. I was really excited to get out of small town Alaska, but Keeley is sort of a homebody so leaving her family was definitely a very hard thing for her to do. We were both excited about it and we both love it and think it was a great choice.
There is a very restrained vintage sound to the songs on Eight Golden Greats, did you set out to capture a specific time period when you recorded the album?
In a lot of ways I wanted to make a record with a modern perspective on vintage sounds. We started recording the album probably two years ago and we just didn't have the money to finish the project. So we gained some objectivity and distance and came back at it with a whole new approach.
Now that you have lived in both Portland and Kenai, do you think growing up there has a role in the Old Believers' direction?
I think it is a huge part of it. Not so much as style, but when you grow up in a city like Portland, you're immersed in so many different things that it can be intimidating. You really need to find a niche from a young age. Growing up in Alaska we were comfortable doing what we were doing. There really wasn't that need to be doing something different, you do what you do, and that is special.
The Old Believers celebrate the release of Eight Golden Greats at an in-store performance at Music Millennium on Thursday, July 10, at 5 pm (all ages), and later at Berbati's Pan at 9 pm (21+).