Sarah Lee Guthrie is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, while Johnny Irion is the grand-nephew of author John Steinbeck. Since marrying in 1999, Guthrie and Irion have released five albums together. Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion have been singing together for 13 years and recording for eight. In that time, they’ve released three studio albums that have been generally lumped in with the Americana set, thanks primarily to their folksy harmonies and acoustic-based sound. Yet they’ve often bristled against the strictures of the roots scene, and the duo have indulged their taste for unabashedly pop hooks and moody soundscapes. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion will perform in benefit for WSLR Community Radio on Sunday, May 10th at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets are available at http://www.wslr.org
Their latest release Wassaic Way was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone at the Loft in Chicago, Wassaic Way finds Guthrie and Irion pushing further beyond the folky sound they established on 2005’s Exploration, their first studio LP. After Irion’s solo album Ex Tempore in 2007, the live album Folksong in 2009 and the children’s collection Go Waggaloo in 2009, the pair began expanding their sonic horizons on 2011’s Bright Examples, an album that drew praise from American Songwriter magazine for its “lush, dreamy sound.”
“This record is a departure from a folk duo,” Irion says. “I think this is the best example we’ve been able to present that shows the many facets of what we can do. There’s loud guitars, there’s soundscapes, there’s a lushness to it, there’s a popness, an edge. But that can be difficult sometimes to bring it all together and present it.”
Although Guthrie and Irion perform as a duo, they rarely write that way. With all the time they spend together on tour, and at home raising their two daughters, writing songs is more of a solitary pursuit for each of them. As studio dates approach, they share what they’ve come up with and offer suggestions and ideas.
“Writing is kind of an escape from the work that we do together as a family and on the road,” Irion says.
“It definitely echoes exactly who we are,” Guthrie chimes in. “Johnny’s full of melodies and really creative chord structures. He’s constantly working on a song that’s better than the last one. I tend to be a lot simpler, and sometimes songs tend to flow through me, rather than me crafting it as much. I’m a lot lazier than him.”
Irion adds, “I end up writing a bunch of songs, and Sarah Lee will write two, and one of them will be the single.”
Any of the songs on Wassaic Way could be a single, which speaks to the strength of the songwriting, and also to Guthrie and Irion’s underlying goal: they wanted an album that moves them one step closer to getting at the heart of who they are as writers and performers.
“Every record has been a huge learning curve, and you get pushed beyond your limits, and then your limits are way bigger,” Guthrie says. “I think we’re still at the beginning of what we can do as recording artists. I think we’re just starting to carve a path that we can walk on.”