For years, The Rosebuds were one of indie-rock’s sweetest married couples. Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, both multi-instrumentalists, called themselves Ivan and Kelly Rosebud. They titled their 2003 debut The Rosebuds Make Out. Their music evolved, but it was still often adorably and hopelessly romantic.
As the years passed, however, Ivan and Kelly Rosebud grew apart. They divorced in 2008, after the release of their album Life Like. Their new album, Loud Planes Fly Low, is a deeply personal chronicle of their separation.
But it’s not a break-up record. It doesn’t bubble over with bile like Cursive’s Domestica or Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Rather than wallow in resentment, the North Carolina duo admit to their shortcomings and yearn to find common ground. “I need something happy now, even if it fucks me up,” Crisp coos on “Come Visit Me,” a bittersweet track with a measured string arrangement and a subdued disco beat.
“It’s sort of like a new-beginnings record,” Howard says by phone from his home in Wilmington, N.C. “I think if it was a break-up record, then we wouldn’t be in a band together.”
The Rosebuds have always had a passion for trying new things—their music has ranged from delightfully messy pop-rock to New Romantic-style synth-pop. But Loud Planes, their fifth album, is their strongest and most complex yet. Embellishing their infectious hooks with lush and sometimes overwhelming arrangements, they temper their trademark romanticism with heartrending realism. In the hard-rocking anthem “Woods,” Howard sings about a utopian forest that’s consumed by flames. You can hear the pain in his voice as he cries out, “Oh good God.”
Loud Planes didn’t come together easily. Working with some of their close friends—members of Lost in the Trees and Bowerbirds violinist Mark Paulson provided string arrangements; Megafaun’s Brad Cook and North Carolina musician Wes Phillips played bass—they spent a year working on the record, putting it together piece by painstaking piece.
“My mindset was just to kind of make a record with Kelly, just to do it together,” Howard says. “I didn’t really know what we would be talking about or anything, or even what kind of record would be made. I think we needed to do it as people, no matter if anybody ever heard it or what it was about or anything.”
The Rosebuds have an organic songwriting process. “I never took theory classes, you know, or guitar lessons or anything like that, or voice lessons or anything, so I really don’t know what the rules are,” Howard says. When they started working on the record, they holed up in a room with a few instruments, recorded what they came up with and later picked through the recordings to find parts they could build songs out of.
As the record came together, they started to put aside more upbeat tracks that didn’t fit the intimate mood. The swooning track “Cover Ears” was originally an up-tempo song, but they had trouble finding lyrics that felt right. When they slowed the track down, they came up with lyrics they borrowed for the album’s title.
Howard’s lyrics are often wrapped in allegory, but sometimes the album’s words are strikingly real—“Worthwhile,” the reflective acoustic closer, mentions a box of personal trinkets that Howard sent Crisp while she was staying in New York City. Howard wept as he sat in the recording booth singing the song.
Even though they’re no longer married, The Rosebuds still feel a strong connection. They’re best friends, and they hang out regularly. On Twitter, they still go by the names @IvanRosebud and @KellyRosebud. They’ve never even considered breaking up the band, Howard says. To him, the very notion seems preposterous.
“We’ve had this band as long as we’ve been married. It’s been a part of our lives just like our marriage was,” he says. “It’s kind of like a married couple who has a kid—when you break up, you’re [not] like, ‘Oh, I don’t want that kid anymore. See you later.’”
The Rosebuds play with Other Lives at The Casbah on Thursday, June 30. therosebuds.com