"Pop music is contagious," says Carolyn Berk of Lovers. "I really love the way music can cling to you. I guess I'm interested in putting little messages in music—philosophical or personal—and then making them accessible." The new Lovers album, I Am the West, is filled with messages, but they're dressed in hooky, heartfelt frivolity, and Berk's introspective lyrics are made airy with modern, danceable rhythms. "Basically what I want to do, first and foremost, is communicate," she says. "That's why I choose music as the medium I'm most interested in working in, because I feel like it has such massive potential to connect people."
Berk started Lovers as an art student in Athens, Georgia, and the band's lineup over the years has revolved around whomever Berk was working with at the time. The excellent I Am the West is the work of Berk and producer/multi-instrumentalist Suny Lyons, and it's a pop album through and through, but it's markedly different from what Lovers has done before. Gone are Berk's acoustic confessionals and hushed, candlelit lamentations; in their place are Lyons' bright, synth-laden arrangements and poppy beats—with Berk's defiantly emotional songwriting lending the songs a gut-wrenching power.
I Am the West—the title refers to Berk's relocation to Portland four years ago—doesn't represent a shift in Lovers' stylistic direction so much as an expansion of its musical palette. Berk is maintaining different lineups of the band: One version of Lovers, including musicians Eric Lucas and Eric Kuehne, keeps in line with the acoustic-based music that older Lovers fans are familiar with—"farmer music," as Berk calls it. But Berk is also fronting a new, all-female lineup of Lovers that features musician Emily Kingan and performance artist Kerby Ferris. With programmed beats and Ferris' dance moves, it's "a work in progress," Berk explains, one that showcases Lovers' blossoming electro side.
To add to the confusion, there's also a third variation on Lovers—a multimedia art project that's a collaboration with Tim Karpinski of Together Gallery—and the three versions barely cover the expanse of Berk's output. "I write three songs a day," says Berk. "I'm obsessed with writing songs. It's difficult in terms of the business-y aspect because there's this way people are supposed to run their musical careers. And I'm trying to work with that because I know it's important. But I have a difficult time with it creatively because I keep moving forward."
For Lovers' upcoming show, the all-girl electro version will be showcasing the side of the group that's displayed on I Am the West. Although the album only came out a few short weeks ago, it's made up of songs Berk has been working with for a while. In fact, Berk and Lyons actually recorded two separate versions of the album before arriving at the final product.
"This album still has some of that sadness and darkness in it, because I was coming out of my 20s, which were pretty dark," says Berk. "But now that I've turned 30 I've become the biggest optimist. Everything since then has been a lot brighter. So this album dictates that shift. It's beautiful to see the turning point in my own life—all that singing as an act of prayer finally worked."