By: Tim LaVoie
Don’t call the Cactus Blossoms a revival act. Though it may harken a bygone era, Minneapolis brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum’s harmonizing classic country sound is timeless and ageless. No one else is making new music like this. Yes, it’s a retro sound, but what the Cactus Blossoms create is refreshing in its purity, clarity, and focus. The brothers released their first full-length record, You’re Dreaming, this January to rave reviews and have been on the road since. Page and Jack kindly spoke to us before their impressive performance at the South Park Amphitheater as part of Allegheny County’s Summer Concert Series.
Concerning You’re Dreaming’s overwhelmingly positive critical response and the aftermath, Page proudly stated, “We’re really pleased with the reaction to the new record. We’ve been touring more than ever and it’s just been fun to find people around the country who’ve been listening to it. It’s been a great time, and it’s nice that the record’s been well received.” Though thankful of the good press, Page quickly downplayed its importance to the band. “It’s great when anyone appreciates it. But really, this is just one person’s opinion being given, so you can’t put too much stock into it. Of course it’s nice when anyone likes what you’re doing. It’s encouraging, but we can’t really worry about it.”
One pass through lead single “Stoplight Kisses”, and it’s easy to be swooned back to an age of drive-ins and poodle skirts, but Page denied that a goal of the band was to be evangelical about a certain sound or time. “Maybe some people would think that and that’s understandable. But for us, we just happen to enjoy this sound. Of course, we’ve had our influences, so there’s music we’ve been affected by. But we certainly don’t consider ourselves revivalists in the sense that we’re trying to teach people about a type of music or anything like that.” Page continued on that point, noting that the band’s specific style is not limiting its creativity. He clarified, “I think we’ve no doubt been influenced by old music, but we don’t see sounding like that to be a goal. It just happens to be the case for us, and I expect our sound to change over time. We just try and think about it in terms of making a good song, making good music, and not worrying about whether it sounds ‘old’ or ‘new’ or anything like that. We’re not purists. I’m sure over time our sound will change a bit.”
The harmonizing quality found on You’re Dreaming, and that the Cactus Blossoms displayed live before a packed lawn in South Park, is of such high quality, and sounds so natural, an uninformed listener could easily guess its makers just had to be brothers. About those harmonies, Page said, “To be honest we’ve just always been able to do it, and we don’t even practice that much. It just comes out pretty easily, maybe we should practice a little more.”
Page described growing up in a music-loving home, but the brothers’ career choice was never inevitable. “There were musical people around in our family and extended family, but we discovered the music that affected us the most on our own a little bit later after being out of the house. I think having some musical people in the family definitely contributed to our love for music. Then we just found folk, country, and blues, and all sorts of great music that we didn’t grow up with a little later.”
The Cactus Blossoms have the distinct advantage of being from Minneapolis, one of the country’s unimpeachably great music towns. While the Twin Cities have a reputation for incubating musical talent, it’s a region that, outside of the Jayhawks, is not readily associated with country music. When asked if their hometown has always been welcoming of their brand of twang, Page used the question as an opportunity to highlight the unifying quality of the genre itself.
“I think the South gets the credit for a lot of musicians who are really from all over the country and just end up moving to Nashville to record an album. Then Nashville gets the credit for everyone. Minneapolis has been a great place for us, and any kind of band really, to play. It’s a music loving town. We meet some older folks in town sometime and we talk about the country shows they saw way back when. And country music is known everywhere too. We hear from a lot of country music fans in Germany. It’s really not as regional a sound as people think.”
While important to have a signature sound, that means little without the songs to back it up. And the Cactus Blossoms deliver. While tracks like “Mississippi” and “Change Your Ways or Die” display all the band’s strengths, it’s the jumpy sand-out “Clown Collector” that’s become the fan favorite. Jack, the band’s primary songwriter, explained, “That song was kind of a joke in a certain way when I started writing it. I was trying to paint the picture of this funny chick that is untouchable. She’s a boyfriend collector, but instead I just say clown. The character is a man-eater. I imagine George Jones or Chuck Berry singing it in my head. Then it’s just infinite rhyming with the word ‘collector.’ I never thought it’d work, but it’s really fun playing that one and it always gets some laughs.”
Still riding the critical wave from You’re Dreaming, and fresh off playing the Newport Folk Festival with the likes of Elvis Costello and Patti Smith, the future is bright for the Cactus Blossoms. “Our goal is to just keep doing what we’re doing now, which is touring and bringing our band to new places. Hopefully we’ll get a new album in the works sometime soon.” Interest in their classic sound is growing rapidly, Page admitted, “It seems like a good time for good country. It could be a good time to be doing any kind of music, but I have noticed over the last 5 years since we started playing that there are a lot more people playing stuff that’s more ‘classic’ country influenced. Maybe there’s more people out there that are getting hip to it because it’s fun style of music and anyone can do it.”