Eleventh Dream Day’s Rick Rizzo and Antietam’s Tara Key are known for making some of the greatest indie rock noise around as listeners know from a recent Eight Forty-Eight in-studio with Eleventh Dream Day, but when the pair began collaborating, it resulted in a decidedly quieter, wordless musical conversation. They caught up with music reporter Althea Legaspi to discuss their unusual way of album making.
“I think this is a pretty apt way to do it, considering the way our records are made,” says Tara Key. She’s calling from New York while her songwriting partner Rick Rizzo is at WBEZ studios. The interview mirrors the way they make records, where the musical dialogue travels long distances. She adds, “When you get older and have families and life gets a little bit more complicated than when you’re on the punk rock scene all living in the same neighborhood all playing on the same equipment, you have to find new ways to have partnerships and make commitments to each other and this is just you know helped by technology.”
Their relationship has traveled time and location, too. Rizzo says it was forged through the punk scene. “She played in a band called Babylon Dance Band and she was in the Louisville punk scene and I was in the Lexington punk scene, which were totally different. The Louisville people wrote their own songs mostly, the Lexington people did a lot of covers,” Rizzo recalls. “But the Babylon Dance Band came to Lexington and I went to see them and I hadn’t, actually this was before I met anybody in Lexington that was a punk rocker – and there were only about 20 of ‘em – and they were all doing pogoing, this is the ‘70s. And I just stood on the side, I was just nervous about interacting, but I saw Tara for the first time then. And later on we didn’t actually meet until that time you walked out of that rehearsal space at 1069 in Louisville in 1983.”
They became friends and in 1997 Rizzo’s band Eleventh Dream Day invited Key to play second guitar on tour. Key was in her own band Antietam. The pair complimented each other and so they began sending A-DAT tapes back and forth between New York and Chicago. One would record a guitar line, and the other would build on the track. It was all instrumental. “The songs ended up having a certain amount of space to them, that I know I didn’t really feel like I wanted to fill it in,” Rizzo explains. “And so I don’t think either of us felt the need to put vocals on.”
Key says it was a refreshing approach. “I find our partnership really exciting because I think we both spend a lot of time really paying attention to the words we sing when we write songs for our respective bands. And it just feels like a holiday to me to be able to speak through sounds because that’s kind of where even in my band, that’s where it starts for me,” she adds. “I’m not the type of person personally that sits down and writes a set of lyrics and puts music to it. And so that’s the well spring for me anyway, but to be freed to nail it all down in black and white and just let there be sonics to express what I feel just always feels like a holiday for me.”
They’d finalize tracks when Rizzo would visit New York once a year. The resulting music was hushed, acoustic and atmospheric, and very different than their respective bands. But Rizzo says when they’d get together, some of their natural tendencies would emerge. “When I actually went to NY, and we were in the same room, we tended to get a little noisier and when we went to the rehearsal space to play together, yeah, we did make a little bit more of what people would find our typical sounds, but I think the distance you know when we weren’t together lent itself to the quieter conversations.”
In 2000 they released their debut Dark Edson Tiger album, but while they continued to work on a sophomore effort, Key says they had challenges. “I think Rick at one point wanted to call our record ‘The Inevitable Delay,” she says, laughing. “It just took a while, I mean you know we had we had commitments to our bands and life commitments, too. You know the one rule about this is it’s done as a pleasure and it’s done in its own time, there not like any fitting square pegs in round holes. So it just took as long as it needed to take.”
Over the decade between records, technology grew. ProTools replaced A-DAT this time around. It would seem new technology might speed up their music-making process, but ironically it just created new possibilities. “A-DAT was a creeping into digital and then using ProTools and me kind of mastering that, it was really cool because I’m a visual artist, a collagist to some degree and that allowed me to apply some of those same principals of collage,” Key says. “Like with ‘Interruptive Organ,’ taking something, lifting it, and putting it somewhere else. So, I don’t know if it made it easier because at the same time it presented more options, but I was excited about the options it had presented.”
They released Double Star this year, after some prodding from Rizzo. “We were up to about 18 songs, I’m like, ‘Tara, let’s put this one to bed and make some decisions,’” he says. “‘Cause Tara needs an editor for her brain. You know, she had - the last Antietam record was three discs, so. We had enough material, and then she worked like crazy, she’s like me, you know I have to compartmentalize. Hhe has a lot of artistic projects, she did a great ‘Star Spangled Banner’ for NPR. There’s a lot of things competing with this project, but it’s like, ‘C’mon. Let’s make the time, finish it, and put this baby to bed.’” Key agrees. “Yes, and that’s when I need an editor and his name is Rick Rizzo.”
And while they both agree space and time adds volumes to their collaboration, Rick Rizzo and Tara Key won’t let another decade pass between albums. “It has to come out before I join the AARP, come on!” Key jokes.
“Right,” Rizzo laughs, “If it’s 10 years, you know, no I don’t think that’s gonna be the space in time.”
“Yeah, the world’s speeding up,” Key adds.
“So let’s get busy, Tara!” Rizzo says.
The duo will perform at The Hideout on Saturday, June 4. The same gig is also Antietam’s Tenth Life record release show.
Songs from Rick Rizzo & Tara Key’s Double Star featured in the story:
“Yes I Wait”