Feminist mystique

Lovers’ Carolyn Berk finds zero limits as an out musician — but gets a little nervous coming back to Texas

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

THREE WAY | Carolyn Berk, center, and Lovers return to the masculine state of Texas with feminist pop.

LOVERS
With Sextape and One Red Martian. Andy’s Bar, 122 N. Locust Road, Denton. May 13. 9 p.m. $6–$8.
LoversAreLovers.com.

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Smilla might have had a sense of snow, but Carolyn Berk — frontwoman for the Portland-based trio Lovers — has a sense of sex. And it makes her a bit nervous to be coming to the Metroplex.

“Portland is a very feminine city, but when I’m in Texas, I feel it’s a very masculine place,” she says. “There is an energy that I don’t quite get. I can experience masculinity in myself but when it’s used in a certain way, I start feeling uncomfortable. I’ve never been to Dallas because, honestly, I’m intimidated by it. I don’t feel particularly safe in Texas.”

Berk doesn’t mean to sound like she’s railing against the state, but she wants to be upfront how her feminist roots may feel challenged next Friday, when Lovers plays at Andy’s Bar in Denton. It’s no surprise that she loves Austin, but she doesn’t say whether the band intentionally sidestepped Dallas in favor of Denton. But we choose not to see it that way — anyway, fringe bands thrive in college towns.

“One of the interesting things about going back to the same towns again is seeing the people you met last time,” she says of touring. “Hopefully we’ll see that some of the seeds are growing and more people come out. I always hope that each tour is better than the last.”

Lovers has five albums under its belt, and through rotating members, the touchstone has always been Berk. But this current incarnation of the band seems to find Lovers at its best self. Berk, Kerby Ferris and Emily Kingan have produced a confident album with Dark Light, and after a decade of doing this, Berk feels this is the band at its strongest.

“When we came together, it felt very egalitarian and feminist and comfortable,” she says. “I hadn’t experienced that level of confidence and there are a lot of benefits to having our kind of connection. I felt like this was a really great place to be creatively.”

This confidence has taken Berk to new levels, as an artist and a person. All three members identify as queer, and for Berk, that offers a comfort in writing her music. Although she starts the song on her acoustic guitar, the others chime in for a group dynamic.

At 32, her personal growth over these 10 years has manifested differently in Dark Light than it has on any of the previous releases. She’s out of the closet, but this album shows Berk coming out of her shell.

“I feel like I sort of went from being an artist who was working mostly to exorcise personal demons to someone who, with time, is able to looking more outward,” she says. “This is the most extroverted album Lovers has ever had.”

Those demons stemmed from losing her mother at 15, as well as growing up surrounded by death. Seeing it up close at an early age was just a “weird way to start life.” But it shaped her knack for some pretty epic lyrics. In Light’s “Shepherd of the Stray Hearts,” she says volumes in the line Just like a shepherd of the stray hear /  leaving you whale bones in your front yard and a basket of spearmint on the gate behind your swing / and a white scarf around the cello cart you’re always pushing.

“The song is about having a secret romance and those images come from a some very romantic places in my life,” Berk says.

And while the object of affection may be to a woman by a woman, Berk and company have faith that their music will transcend labels.

“At this point in my career, I just feel limitless,” she says. “I feel very visible through the music and at the same time anybody else can insert their experiences into a song.  I’m very open in my music, but I don’t think that means its closed for everyone else. “

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2011.

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