Weatherproof: Annie and Rod Capps Celebrate Life’s Highs and Lows on “Love and Rain” Album
Those moments also serve as lighthearted and serious reminders about gratitude on the married duo’s latest album.
“There’s an overarching theme of love and rain being that contrast and balance of life,” said Annie Capps, the duo’s vocalist-guitarist, who’s based in Chelsea with her husband Rod Capps. “It’s about not taking the rough stuff too seriously, yet it’s also about being grateful for the good stuff and not taking things for granted.”
The Capps demonstrate that mindset personally and professionally on Love and Rain, which features 10 tracks filled with perceptive lyrics, vibrant Americana instrumentation, and rich harmonies.
“Annie is fortunate because she has an outlet to write songs about these things,” said Rod Capps, the duo’s guitarist-violinist-violist, who will celebrate 30 years of marriage to Annie Capps in June. “My role in the songwriting is to color around the edges. Annie builds these structures, and I help flesh them in and put filigree in.”
I recently spoke to the Capps about celebrating their anniversary, working with their bandmates, exploring different themes on the album, writing and recording tracks for Love and Rain, preparing for their annual Valentine’s Day show at The Ark, and planning for other performances and projects.
Q: You two first met performing together in cover bands in the ‘80s, later reconnected in the early ‘90s, and got married in 1994. What plans do you have for celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary this year?
Rod Capps (RC): We’ve been saying, “Whoa, it’s our 30th anniversary, what are we going to do?” And I said, “Let’s make it an anniversary year so that we can do things throughout the year.” We’ve got a couple of vague ideas, but one thing we’re heading towards is the two of us recording [at home], probably in the first to the second quarter of this year. One option is to do something live with just the two of us playing, but we can also play several instruments, and we can play around with cloning ourselves. We have to see how far we want to take that. There’s something to be excited about initially at least.
Annie Capps (AC): Where are we going is what I want to know, or where are we going that’s warm? We need a trip, and we’re gonna go south.
Q: Love and Rain also explores themes of wisdom, growth, and loss through your own experiences and the stories of others. What inspired you to reflect on these personal themes throughout the album?
AC: When we’re together, we’re like any other couple. We know how to push each other’s buttons and we also know how to come back and just take a breath. We have learned there’s nobody else we’d rather spend the rest of our lives with and nobody else would want us. We’re pretty much stuck with each other.
The idea of Love and Rain came up, and I looked at the list of songs and there wasn’t any one song that felt like a title track per se. I’m also really happy with this album in general because it doesn’t make sense to put a record out with just a bunch of songs that don’t have any connection to each other.
[As for the album’s theme of loss], death is also part of life … and we can let it paralyze us or we can find an outlet. We just lost a person who was instrumental in our lives … and I [wrote] two new songs [about] it.
RC: We’re fortunate to have the chance to play the long game because it’s all in the long game to me. The steady state is there in the ups and downs, but it’s only there if you let it get long enough to equal itself out in the end. There are aspects that I hear on this album of us accepting that sometimes that’s going to be the way the cookie crumbles. I’m very happy with the way this album sounds, and to me, it’s almost like getting a chance to go back and peel the different layers apart again and enjoy it in that sense.
Q: In addition to working together, you also have been recording and performing with mandolinist-vocalist Jason Dennie and bassist Dan “Ozzie” Andrews since 2006 and 2012, respectively. How have they each contributed to your sound over time?
AC: By the time we were doing [2007’s] In This Town, we had a home studio setup … and Jason had come over to the house. We just laugh [now] because he’s such a great musician, and he wasn’t doing a lot of singing at that point that we knew of. But we made him sing on the record, and we don’t even have any mandolin on that.
From [2009’s] My Blue Garden on to these latest albums, Jason’s very involved in the arrangements way more than as a side player. He’s not afraid to say, “Hey, what if we try this?” He’s always got great ideas, and I can point to several different things in some songs, especially on [2019’s] When They Fall album. The instrumental play between Rod and Jason is one of the best examples of what they do together that’s so incredible. It’s the two of them bouncing ideas off each other. We’re so honored [Jason and Ozzie] are invested in the music. Jason has told us that he loves the music that we make, and we enjoy singing together a lot, too.
RC: [Jason] doesn’t play on [In This Town]. By the time [that album] was in production, we had started putting it in the car and taking it to gigs with us … and he had already started to play some shows with us. Ozzie had been a friend via another longtime friend and he had been known to us, but he hadn’t been in town. When he came back to town, we bumped into each other again, but I can’t remember how we got his musical attention because he works constantly.
Both of those guys are invaluable to what our voice is right now. We are extremely fortunate to have folks who are willing to give us consistency and to leave their calendars open enough that in our unorganized manner, we can still say, “Hey, we’ve got a gig coming around the corner, can you do it?” We’re very lucky that they give so much more than just phoning in accurate, happening parts. They put themselves into it and it inspires us and the whole thing just keeps blooming.
Q: “Old Spice & Patchouli” and “Bell Bottoms & Leather” share tales of opposites attracting in love and relationships. How did your marriage or the relationships of others inspire these two tracks? How do they also pay homage to couples who may seem totally different, but truly love one another despite those differences?
AC: On “Old Spice & Patchouli,” the woman in that song is very much me and the guy is not Rod. I love the idea of demonstrating that people who are very different can work. It’s very upbeat and playful. It’s this idea of saying “he is” or “she is” instead of “he likes” or “she likes.” I’ve got a new song where I’m using a similar idea when you play with metaphor in that way instead of using a simile.
“Bell Bottoms & Leather” is 100 percent us. I loved exploring “Bell Bottoms & Leather” because honestly Rod and I are both of those things. We’ve taken on each other’s [personality traits] over the years. … There were things I was not and now I am and vice versa. We’re still very much ourselves and we still have our differences. However, sometimes we’re the opposite at gigs. It used to be that Rod was the super introvert and I was very much the social butterfly, but my inner introvert has come out until I’m done with a show. I want to hide and he’s out there being social.
Q: “Mr. Crow,” “The Way It Goes,” and “Anything But You” view life from long-term perspectives and emphasize the importance of gratitude. How do three tracks serve as crucial reminders about not taking things for granted in life?
AC: “Mr. Crow” is also imagining that if we did have a past life as that person [or creature], we were still this weirdo who didn’t go with the flow. We still didn’t learn anything and we were still in our own little world. As I looked back at this batch of songs, they have that piece of gratitude and not taking things for granted, and those [ideas] showed themselves later. It’s so often that we’re writing these songs in little bubbles, and I don’t always know until [they’re done].
RC: “Mr. Crow” feels like a fever dream to me at times, but I dig it because it’s almost like a sci-fi story to me. I certainly think gratitude reigns high as a pulse in this whole thing.
Q: “Little Black Dress,” “We Need the Rain,” and “Love Comes Round” honor loved ones who have left us too soon and offer support to others who continue to struggle in life. How did writing these three tracks bring you some closure and comfort?
AC: “Little Black Dress” is a prompt from Lamb’s Retreat for Songwriters, and it was all about Coco Chanel. That song also has “Jonesy,” or [the late] John Latini in it, and you had to know him to understand [the references], but you didn’t have to know him to get the gist of the song. But if you knew him, you’re going to know the reference because he had a song called “Koko (Don’t Know When to Quit)” that was a Lamb’s Retreat assignment. I was super happy with the whole Coco Chanel thing, but I feel like that song was a gift. [The line about] “That’s the Way the Wind Blows” was Jonesy’s “hit” as we like to call it. He really did love baseball, fishing, and PBR.
As for “We Need the Rain,” I worked hard on that one because when I first wrote [the song] it was a prompt, and the prompt was “welcome.” For me, it was a simple song lyrically, and it didn’t have the level of wordsmithing that I aspired to. I spent quite a bit of time finessing the lyrics for it so that I could feel confident in the way it turned out. It’s about ups and downs, and we can’t appreciate the good without the bad. If it never rains, we’re gonna wish it did.
“Love Comes Round” is about someone letting go of addiction and how that’s hard. It’s also saying we’re always here [for you]. This person may never hear this song, but this is my way of cathartically reaching out to them. I write about reaching out in a lot of ways to our audience, my former self, and the world. So often it’s pointed at a person, but it takes on a bigger meaning or life than just that one person.
RC: “We Need the Rain” could have been the title track or “Love and Rain” could have been the name of that song. It does embody that larger meta of the album and the idea that without the rain, you don’t have the contrast and without the sun you don’t have the contrast to the cloudy days so on and so forth.
Q: Your rendition of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Louisiana Rain” reflects an infectious Cajun sound, especially with the banjo. What’s special to you about that Damn the Torpedoes deep cut? Why did you decide to reimagine it that way sonically?
AC: Damn the Torpedoes was my college soundtrack to the extent that you never get past the first side of an album. Honestly, I didn’t remember “Louisiana Rain.” I just went digging and thought, “Wow, these are great lyrics, and this is so fun!” And what could we do but turn it into a Cajun banjo song? Rod and I did that the first time, and I played the banjo on it.
RC: I almost played nothing but a bassline through that first time. I think that may be what pushed us into a Cajun or a swampy feel. It’s got a groove to it that we just sort of coalesced around. It’s also a testament to the way Ozzie [Andrews] and Jason [Dennie] can bring an arrangement in that can help us firm up where we’re headed with something.
Q: How long did you spend writing the 10 tracks for Love and Rain?
AC: The lyrics for “Love Comes Round” had been sitting around my coffers for who knows how long. I would say [the songs] were all fully composed over the last three years. But when I’ve got a prompt and I’m stuck, sometimes I’ll go back and see if I have started something else.
Q: You took a hybrid approach with recording Love and Rain. What was it like to record some of your tracks at home and record other tracks at Big Sky Recording as an ensemble with Jason Dennie (mandolin, vocals), Ozzie Andrews (bass), and Michael Shimmin (drums, percussion) as well as with the assistance of studio owner-engineer Geoff Michael?
RC: We now exist in a hybrid of recording at home, but we’re also working with a studio engineer [Geoff Michael] who is adept and nimble and [provides] another set of ears. He does the sculpting and helps us catch the drums. We’re lucky to have Geoff Michael’s ear.
We go [into the studio] with an ensemble because we’re working with a drummer, Michael Shimmin. He is essentially a side person, but he’s so good that he brings so much experience and warmth to it. We go in with the ensemble so we can capture the interplay of [Michael Shimmin] working with us. We also were able to capture Ozzie’s tracks. We captured a little bit of keeper from Jason and we kept a take of me on my viola on “Love Comes Round.”
Then, we came back into our small studio setup [at home] and were able to do several of Jason’s tracks, almost all of my tracks because they were electric, Annie’s rhythm guitar and vocals, and my background vocals. That becomes so much easier to have that freedom to do it as we need. The whole recording process was three to four months from the time we [brought in] the band to the time we put our last touches on it.
AC: We can take more time [at home], and we can obsess over whatever little notes we want now because we can capture stuff well in the basement. We’ve been doing my vocals at home for a while, but we did the initial recording with the guys for a couple of days. We brought Michael [Shimmin] back because he’s great at overdubs, and he added the wonky percussion on “Anything But You.” He loves to sculpt orchestral stuff, so he came back and added shakers.
Q: Three tracks—“We Need the Rain,” “Little Black Dress,” and “Love Comes Round”—feature collaborations with pianist Al Hill (piano) and harmony vocalists Whit Hill, Jo Serrapere, Jen Sygit, Annie Bacon, and Jim Bizer. How did they help shape those tracks?
AC: Al Hill and Whit Hill were in the studio for an hour, and Al played through “We Need the Rain.” We picked Jen and Jo because they sang harmony on [the late John Latini’s] album, The Blues Just Makes Me Feel Good. Jen and Jo’s voices are magical on “Little Black Dress,” and Jo came into the studio and Jen recorded at home. As for Jim and Annie, I just wanted extra voices on “Love Comes Round” [along with Jo], and Annie is magical in the harmony world. Jim is incredible, and he always gets creative. We needed people who could make a chorus.
Q: Each year, you host a Valentine’s Day show, My Folky Valentine, with other couples at The Ark. This year’s show features the two of you along with Anne Heaton and Frank Marotta Jr. and Jan Krist and Alan Finkbeiner. What’s it been like to curate, plan, and perform this annual show for nearly 20 years?
AC: We started this out originally when we were hanging out with John and CJ Milroy, formerly of Tangerine Trousers, in 2005. Jan and Al were on that same show, so it was just the three couples. We did that [lineup] for the first three years, and a couple of years later, we started adding couples. Ultimately, we decided it would be fun to change things up a bit.
One of the coolest things has been collaborating with all of these people, and it’s super fun because we always do something together. Also, some people have had their first date at one of our earlier My Folky Valentine shows and they’ve [now] been married for 10 years. We get people every year who are regulars.
RC: I have enjoyed being able to share the stage with all of these friends so many times. We’ve had folks from all over. We’ve had a varied cast of characters, and [the show’s setlist] doesn’t have to be just love songs. It seems to strike a nerve and folks dig it. There has been a small, but mighty crowd that comes out each year for it.
Q: What’s up next for you later this year? Any plans to perform more live shows or pursue other projects?
AC: We’ve got some out-of-town gigs coming up. We’re going to get out of Michigan more; we’ve been hunkered down since before COVID. We get to Chicago a lot because we know people there … and it turns out there are a lot of little venues out there.
We want to put ourselves out there more in terms of teaching. Rod’s doing a lot of studio work; Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording will frequently call him … and he’s done some bass, guitar, violin, and viola [work]. I’ve started teaching banjo lessons, and I do songwriting consulting. That’s something we want to build out and promote more, and we’re gonna finally launch our Patreon page.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.