Take your parents’ country/folk, and add some fresh-indie flavor, and you’ve got the Cactus Blossoms.
For more than 10 years now, brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum have crafted a nostalgic yet modern take on country and folk, led by their consistent vocal harmonies. The duo in February released One Day, their third studio album; the LP’s 11 tracks add in even more steps of experimentation between their past influences and modern music. You can catch the Cactus Blossoms with their touring band at Stagecoach on Friday, April 29.
I recently spoke to Burkum over the phone about their Stagecoach appearance.
“It feels good to be called for anywhere right now, after canceling tour after tour over the last couple of years,” Burkum said. “It’s just exciting to be back at it. We’re based in Minneapolis, but going to that area in California is always a blast for us. It kind of feels like we’re in a different country, in a great way, and we’ve always had really, really great audiences there.
“We played Stagecoach before one other time, so we knew we were on their radar. I don’t know how these things always work out, but we have a new record out now, so it seems like a good time to go back with something new.”
The brothers had to engage in different methods of music-making on One Day.
“My brother and I both wrote some songs that are on the new record, and there are several that we collaborated on,” said Burkum. “There was a time of inactivity when touring got shut down, and we were kind of staying in our own homes. In a way, that was a nice break for a while, because we’ve been touring so much over the last few years. It was kind of nice to be home and get more well-rested. I think maybe because we felt like we couldn’t work together for a while, when we could get back together, it was extra fun and exciting to pull together a recording session and play with some of our bandmates who we hadn’t been able to see or hang out with or make music with for a while. I think that added a little different energy to the whole project.”
The Cactus Blossoms worked with singer/actress Jenny Lewis on the song “Everybody.”
“We’ve done things in a tight way, where we’ve worked with the same engineer the last few albums, and we haven’t brought in many producers, or worked with other artists directly like that,” Burkum said. “… I hope we can collaborate with some more folks. Getting Jenny Lewis on board to do a song with us was a pretty great way to start. We’re just such big fans of hers. My brother Jack wrote the song, and he had the idea of asking her to sing some verses on it. It’s, like, a no-brainer for us if she’d be interested. We knew she would sound really great on the song, and we’re just thrilled that she wanted to join in. For me, it was nice to hear somebody else having to hit the high notes on it.”
After completing their first tour leg in two years, Burkum shared some thoughts on the current state of live music.
“I will say things aren’t quite back to normal yet, but they’re getting there,” he said. “It seems like people are starting to come out a little bit more now. We’ve had a lot of people coming up to us at shows, saying, ‘This is the first show I’ve even attended since the whole thing went down.’ It’s a mix of things. Everyone has different mask rules and different vaccination rules, and we’re just kind of making our way across the country, just doing it.
“For bands like us … we’re not playing huge places; we’re playing relatively small clubs most of the time. It is kind of tough to plan things right now. If your audiences are cut in half, for instance, everywhere you go, that’s a big difference. A lot of touring kind of feels like things are hanging by a thread, anyway: What if your van breaks down? You have to cancel the whole tour, because you’ll never catch up? A little bit of that anxiety came back, but it all went pretty smoothly, and was super-fun in the end.”
Burkum explained how the band’s music has changed over the years.
“When my brother and I first started playing together, we were playing local bars in Minneapolis, doing a lot of old country songs,” said Burkum. “It was just a fun thing to learn those tunes, and because we didn’t have enough of our own material to fill any time, we would do all sorts of old songs nobody’s ever heard before. As we started writing more every couple of years, we ended up with different kinds of songs over time. Some of our band lineup has changed over time, too, so we always just create something a little bit different each time around, and we’re fine with that. I think that there are always certain threads that are running through the whole thing. Maybe us just singing harmony ties it all together, but I hope our music keeps changing.”
Burkum said the band’s name will always help them stay rooted to the past.
“We wanted it to sound like a country band, so people, if they saw a poster up, would kind of have an idea of what kind of music we were,” he said. “I do remember at the time thinking that we liked so many bands that were named things like the Flat Tires, or things that had a negative feel. We liked that the cactus blossoms was kind of this hopeful image—this flower that’s blooming in the barren desert.”