When Pete Krebs and Leslie Beia came together as Earnest Lovers, it was a meeting of both minds and hearts. Musically, they shared a passion for classic country. Romantically, they shared a passion for each other. You don’t have to look very far back in the lineage to find myriad tellings of the very same tale in Johnny and June, Dolly and Porter, George and Tammy. Krebs and Beia, though, found each other and their sound in Portland, not Nashville. Still, their EP, ‘Sing Sad Songs,’ could have come just as easily from the rolling hills of Tennessee, as it did the urban environs of Oregon. It’s a classic collection for the modern age.
Kelly McCartney: The Earnest Lovers had an auspicious start, right? Something about a ring of fire and a winning lottery ticket? Story please.
Pete Krebs: Our first night performing together ended at about 6 am, after a night of drinking whiskey and playing songs around the fire (built inside of an old washing machine liner) in Leslie’s back yard. A few hours later, we woke to a rush of feet, cursing, and someone yelling, “Call the fire department!!!” Our fire, which we thought we had extinguished fully, had smoldered, heated back up again, and burned a perfect circle through her back deck and was working on the supports underneath. This is a very awkward way to meet someone’s roommates, let me tell you.
Our first weekly gig together was at a place called the Gold Dust Meridian, which we still play every Wednesday (when we’re in town). That first night, a guy came up and put three lottery tickets in the tip jar. We got home and tossed them on the kitchen ledge and forgot about them for a few weeks. We finally got around to looking at them more closely and, since they were scratch-offs, each took one. Neither were winners, but the third one, we shared. We won $100 and instantly had a band fund!
Tell me about some of your favorite classic country duets and what makes them so special.
Leslie Beia: There’s something very special about husband/wife duos that I find fascinating. Although the best performers, like Dolly and Porter, sing magically together and play the part on stage, there’s something else at work when the relationship is both personal and professional. It’s like sister or brother harmony: You can come very, very close to approximating it, but there’s just this other level that can only be reached through a certain depth of familiarity.
I sometimes watch old George and Tammy videos and try to imagine what they were really feeling for each other on stage, knowing there was so much chaos behind the scenes. Sometimes she looks like she’s about ready to strap him to an anvil and send him over! Pete and I are enjoying this grand adventure together with all the layers. It’s a lot of work, but there’s a richness we get to experience that hopefully informs the music. And to date, no one has yet purchased an anvil… so far so good!
Obviously, three chords and the truth factor in, but how do you craft new songs that sound classic and timeless?
PK: The classic country music that we love is deceptively simple music. It often deals with very complicated subjects that are communicated or implied in such a way that the underlying, deeper story is made as human as possible, and is thus very inclusive. “She Thinks I Still Care,” recorded by George Jones, is a great example of this. So much is left unsaid, but the deeper story is crystal clear.
When we write our original tunes, we try to write about things we know and care about, and pay a great deal of attention to nuance and language, framing them inside the familiar sounds of classic country music that we love. The result, hopefully, reflects that deceptive simplicity which holds a deep story.
Portland doesn’t seem like a honky tonk town. What’s that scene like there?
PK: Portland has a historically strong traditional country music heritage that might not seem apparent at first. Willie Nelson lived here, playing the local honky tonks and DJing at a radio station in neighboring Vancouver, Washington. During the ’40s and ’50s, we had some of the biggest country music dance halls on the West Coast. The scene was huge thanks to the Kaiser shipyards located here during the war, which attracted thousand and thousands of workers from Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southern states. After the war was over, a lot of them stayed and the music remained strong for decades.
We’re lucky to have several venues that feature country music exclusively (or at least frequently), and a pool of world-class musicians to draw from. While there’s certainly a lot of modern country fans around, we have a great scene which loves and embraces the older sounds of classic country music of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.
You and Pete — and your players — all dress the part for gigs. Does that help summon the proper spirit?
PK: We think it’s nice to get decked out when we perform because it adds something special, visually, to the show and because, back in the day, the performers seemed to always make a point of looking sharp. It’s debatable whether or not songs of heartbreak and loss translate better when you’re looking fancy, but it can’t hurt (no pun intended).