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September 2013 - The Crane Wives

 Crane Wives Bring a Modern Twist to a Classic Sound

Story by LCC Radio Staff Reporter Karen Hopper

The Crane WivesThe Crane Wives make being young and in a rising folk band seem like so much fun. They’re friends, of course. Drums/percussion/vocals man Dan Rickabus says, “We spend six days a week together! We have to be friends, or it wouldn’t work.”

While The Crane Wives began as a duo between Kate Pillsbury and Emilee Petersmark (they met while working at a restaurant), the band evolved from friendship. Dan and “banjaneer” Tom Gunnels grew up together in Ortonville and they’ve been in 5 bands together. “This is definitely our favorite,” says Dan.

Dan and Tom roomed together at Grand Valley State University, where Dan met bassist Ben Zito through Scientists of Sound, an audio club. Dan saw Emily and Kate play open mics as solo artists, and was later invited to jam with Tom and Kate.

Big fans of The Decemberists, Emilee and Kate decided to call their duo The Crane Wives after The Decemberists’ album The Crane Wife, which is itself a reference to a Japanese folk tale that Emilee and Kate liked. The name does convey a certain folksiness and femininity.

Dan confirmed the importance of The Decemberists to the band’s evolution; before he started listening to The Decemberists, he didn’t play folk music at all, but it was their sound that inspired him to move towards folk in his own efforts. Tom Gunnels, the “banjaneer” was a guitar player prior to The Crane Wives; he learned banjo just to fit the sound.

Ben Zito, the bass player who joined The Crane Wives aThe Crane Wivesfter telling them that they needed a bass player, says he doesn’t think they’ll ever leave Michigan. They’re all in their mid-twenties now--they grew up here, went to school here, and still live in Grand Rapids. Ben, Dan, Tom and Emilee are all from the Detroit suburbs, while Kate is from Gaylord. But wanting to stay in Michigan doesn’t mean that they don’t want to expand. They’re hoping to move towards national tours soon, and they just bought a van and trailer to help make that happen. They’re trying to hit the road harder with shows, and seem to be succeeding--the interviews with Dan and Ben were done via phone due to the band's schedule.

“In the past we, did two albums in two years--we kind of rushed ourselves because we were so excited to be making music,” says Dan. The Crane Wives perform close to 30 original songs in their sets, and do only a handful of covers (Smooth Criminal, Home, Black Betty, and Sound of Silence). But now they’re opening up the process. They don’t have deadlines and are trying to let material flow more naturally. Ben says that the material that is emerging during this period is “Original stuff, innovative for us.”

But the touring is what sounds like the most fun. When they aren’t on stage, they take advantage of their environment. After a recent gig in the Upper Peninsula, the band went hiking at Sugar Mountain and did some cliff diving--“more like jumping and flailing,” says Ben.
Crane Wives in concert
One night in a hotel, they found a Gideon’s bible. Emilee was messing around on banjo and Dan sang verses from Ecclesiastes--theatrically, no doubt.

If you’d ever listened to Dan’s voice mail, you wouldn’t be surprised by his antics. “Hello, you’ve reached the science fiction technology communication device of Dan Rickabus,” begins the recording. Dan’s voice then instructs you to leave a message and promises to call you back, “IN THE FUTURE.”

Dan and Ben’s attitude toward being in a women-fronted band was refreshingly modern. While Ben claims his role backstage is rather paternal--handling finances and the business end--both Ben and Dan speak with high respect for Emilee and Kate.

“I do feel that the voice of it is the two ladies,” says Dan, and notes that Kate has said to him that she turns her tragedies into triumphs in song.

When asked, "So, being in a band called 'wives' doesn’t threaten your masculinity?" Ben only chuckles and says that he’s “pretty secure in that.”

“Besides,” he adds, “What’s wrong with being a woman?”



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