Big Harp on writing lyrics, Saddle Creek, and touring with kids

Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney share stories – and make babies.

I listened to Big Harp's debut album, White Hat, without any preconceived notions, and fell in drippy, folky, love. I fell into the slight country twang and gentle plucking of baritone singer-guitarist Chris Senseney, and the sweet backing vocals of bassist Stefanie Drootin-Senseney.

It was only after I went back and read up on it that I realized (1) Big Harp is a Saddle Creek band (my forever weakness) – meaning the musicians have been part of the ongoing Saddle Creek creative community, known for swapping members and working together in fluid ongoing capacities. Drootin-Senseney has played with Conor Oberst's Bright Eyes and Tim Kasher's the Good Life among many other bands on the label. Plus (2) the duo behind Big Harp is married with two kids. Too adorable.

So I jumped at the chance to learn more about Big Harp, chatting with Drootin-Senseney while she, her husband, her babies, her mother-in-law, and Big Harp's drummer John Voris trekked through the Southwest in the modern folkrock take on the covered wagon caravan.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Where are you in the tour?
Stefanie Drootin-Senseney: We're driving through Arizona. We stayed in New Mexico at a Holiday Inn last night and they had a restaurant [laughs] – we had our first sit-down meal of the tour.
SFBG: How is it touring with the kids?
SDS: It's so different, we rush home after the show because they wake up at six in the morning. It's like a family road trip with a show at the end of the night. I'm seeing more of each place we go to then before we had the kids. We're seeing lots of zoos and parks and museums.
SFBG: You and Chris actually met on a tour, right? When Good Life toured with Art in Manila.
SDS: We met a month before the tour, but we definitely got to know each other on tour. That was the end of 2007.
SFBG: When did you start making music together?
SDS: It happened out of nowhere, we were so wrapped up with raising the kids that we didn't have time to make music – but I'd always been a big fan of Chris' songwriting, and we'd been talking about him making a record, then he wanted me to work on it with him. He really writes all the lyrics and most of the melodies, I work on tempos and structure, change this and that, but he comes in with the core of the song.
SFBG: Are Chris' lyrics autobiographical?
SDS: He says it would be a mistake to take the lyrics as him writing it personally, it's more storytelling.
SFBG: Tim Kasher once said the same thing to me and yet, both of their lyrics seems so personal.
SDS: [Chris] and Tim both take inspiration from personal lives, but it's not like reading a diary.
SFBG: Did you  always know you'd want to put out Big Harp on Saddle Creek?
SDS: We really wanted to be on Saddle Creek – it's family, going with another label would have been different, but we wanted to stay in the family.  I was 17 when I met Conor and Tim and we really kept a closeness, there's something so similar to the friends I had, their personalities, the relaxed, laid back, friendly, warm vibe. We're on tour right now with [fellow Saddle Creek artist] Maria [Taylor] and I've played with Azure Ray and her solo work, she's one of our best friends in the world. We're all attached to each other in ways. We want to stick around the same people and play in each others bands.
SFBG: What did you and Chris grow up listening to?
SDS: [I listened to] Violent Femmes, Bob Dylan, fIREHOSE, Tom Waits. My mom listened to a lot of Neil Young and Carol King. Dad listened to Queen and Black Sabbath and jock rock [laughs]. I think it definitely had an influence on me. Chris grew up listening to a lot of old country, he grew up in a small, rural town, Valentine, Nebraska, and you can hear that. 
SFBG: What do your kids listen to?
SDS: Twila is one so she listens to whatever we listen to. Hank [who is three] likes Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles, Neil Young. His favorite is “Back in the USSR” - that's his song.
SFBG: Will you teach them to play instruments when they get older?
SDS: They definitely show an interest already, Hank will say “Let's go to band practice.” We won't push them, but we'll encourage it.

Big Harp
With Maria Taylor and Dead Fingers
Sat/22, 9 p.m., $12-$14
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF


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