Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel have logged thousands of miles, lost continents, parted ways with rock stars, formed and broken up bands -- all for you to hear March Forth, the debut from the duo. They live in Brooklyn, the part of Brooklyn where melody reigns, whistling is compulsory and anything (like a milk frother) could be considered an instrument. Rather than conjure the twee miasma that those ingredients could create, KaiserCartel have constructed a gorgeous album of songs about living and loving, something they know about, as their musical and romantic lives are so entangled, it's difficult to say where one starts and the other begins.
But March Forth and the romance that nourished it might not have occurred. Placed on the same bill one evening at the Knitting Factory, each missed the other's show, but chatted briefly. Months later, they would meet again at yet another show, then struck up a correspondence in earnest. "Then, finally, on March 4th, we hung out for the first time. We played music that we recorded but never put out, and traded ideas," explains Kaiser. The pair decided to hit the road with little more than a car and their instruments, and traveled the country spreading the gospel of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel, each playing on the other's songs. When they returned, they began writing songs together. "We go back and forth between writing on our own and writing together. But I feel like we're so influenced at this point, even if [Ben] wasn't there, you'd be able to feel the song is something about the song is very 'us' together," explains Kaiser.
That something is the confluence of the two, apparent on March Forth. Honed in the home they share, Kaiser's dulcet tones ring out like clarion calls against Cartel's solid timbre. And while it's only the two of them throughout their recordings and on stage, they give the impression several more people are involved in each song. "What is 'us' is being able to make something very simple sound very big," Cartel explains. "When you close your eyes, you assume it's a whole band of people. You look up, and it's just the two of us."
Recorded in Los Angeles over eight days with producer Matt Hales (aka aqualung) and mixed by Hales and Ken Thomas (Sigur Ros), March Forth is the marriage of the band's inventive instrumentation to the subjects closest to their hearts. "Season Song," is a playful, jangling ode to the four seasons, somewhere between a lullaby and a schoolyard chant, complete with handclaps, xylophones and whistling. The warm warning of album opener "Oh No" builds until it crests into perfect harmony, and elsewhere "Okay" starts starkly, then barrels forth as Kaiser gives permission and the band's arsenal of instruments (organ, tambourine, drums, guitars) burst in.
Who Benjamin Cartel and Courtney Kaiser were as past selves is very much alive in the music make. Kaiser's extensive vocal training in the choirs of Indiana (and as a back-up singer for John Mellencamp) and Cartel's years of playing in DIY bands imbued in KaiserCartel the ability to do a lot with little; they are inveterate professionals on shoestring budgets, musicians so technically proficient they seamlessly switch instruments throughout the course of a show. Both Courtney and Benjamin spend their days ensconced in music and the arts. Courtney is an elementary music school teacher and Benjamin is an early childhood art teacher, their day jobs are centered on inspiring creativity and then, in turn, they take that inspiration and weave it breathlessly and beautifully into their own music.
The strength of KaiserCartel doesn't lay in the fact that they are a couple; it lays in the fact that they are musicians and friends who work symbiotically. Whereas some couples invite you into their bedroom, KaiserCartel invite you into their living room, where the full scope of their lives can be seen.
"I always liked the idea, when you meet a couple, and there's something about themand you wonder what it is they do at night. I feel like because we're comfortable just being real and how we are, and there's no artifice, you get to know what it's like in our house," says Kaiser. "Seeing looks that we give, or music that we write it's seeing us in our living room."