Bare Common

Friday, August 12, Beaners Central

Andrew Olsen

Reader Weekly

Bare Common, a new folk-rock duo from Duluth, are giving away a free cd for each paid $5 admission to their Aug. 12 cd release party at Beaner’s Central. “I’ve always had a problem with the idea of throwing a party and then expecting people to buy the cd too," said Steve Horner, half of Bare Common. “We’d like it to be a sort of thank you to people who have supported us, and a celebration of the release."

Bare Common was one of the finalists for the songwriting competition recently at the Highway 61 Folk Festival in Mahtowa, MN. The band is Duluthians Steve Horner and Tom Wilkowske. Steve, who is a composer and independent music producer, and Tom came up with a new folk sound. Their cd is lighter music, and reaches at spiritual themes and ideas that sprang from each individual’s background.

In “Force of Life" Tom wrote the lyrics, “Hurry off to work and school, where tunnel vision is the rule - And it’s easiest to stay inside the lines. Take your pencil in hand, say that you don’t understand - And create an image of your own design." The artist comes out to express that people should go outside of the box in their thinking. Ask questions and seek out new possibilities to life and your way of thinking. Their album asks many listeners to do the same thing musically. It is on the light side, but has this gentle feel of sitting near a brook and reading poetry. There is a relaxed form of expression that emanates from every number, but a sophistication that prevails overall.

I spoke to Bare Common’s Tom Wilkowske and Steve Horner about their music careers, inspiration and the new self-titled album. When asked how long they had been in the music industry Tom said, “I’ve been musical most of my life. At 11 or so I started plunking away at my dad’s ukulele and his guitar (which I have again, on loan) later. My father played guitar at campfires and was a barbershop quartet singer. My mother played piano and they both would sing in the church choir. As kids we would pretend to be hippies and play this Blue Cheer 45 (got it free in a potato chip box), put on our macramé belts and headbands, and jive. Stuff in my record collection as a kid was mostly hard rock like Deep Purple, Nazareth, Kiss, Ted Nugent, and Uriah Heep. I’m not sure if you could see any of this in my music today in any direct way."

Later he had other influences enter his life and said, “I was exposed to jazz a couple times. The first was in high school playing bass for jazz band (very difficult because I couldn’t read notes at the time) and second in college when I took private jazz guitar lessons. At the time I was listening to Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Chet Baker, Sonny Rollins, etc. I also studied classical guitar on my own after moving to Duluth about 15 years ago. I started playing music with friends from work and then played some open mics around town at the Twins Bar and the Lakeview Castle. Later I ended up playing with Leon Rohrbaugh’s bands Ballyhoo and Hobo Alley for a couple years."

Steve also has been in commercial music for the past 15 years. He learned the drums in eighth grade before self teaching himself the piano in high school. When asked what kind of bands he grew up listening to he said, “I listened to a lot of Pop music growing up in the 70s and 80s. While Peter Gabriel is one of my all time favorites, I also dug Kraftwerk and lots of other bands as well. I’m pretty eclectic in my listening because of the commercial music work I do. I was always the most interested in anything that made me feel something when I listened to it." Which is what Bare Common’s music will do to you, make you feel warm inside and spiritually motivated.

When I talked to Tom and Steve about the religious themes in their music they said it was less about organized religion and more a broad spirituality. Steve said, “I’m much more interested in spirituality than I am in religion. If you asked me if the lyrics hold a spiritual significance for me I would say most definitely." Tom added, “There’s some Biblical imagery in some of our songs—‘valley of the shadow,’ ‘you’re so close to heaven’—that’s true. I think they’re phrases that carry meaning in common language as well. If you look at the things that show up in our lyrics there’s a lot of fire, water, Earth and air. A lot of that is in the Bible too and poetry throughout the ages. They’re kind of the building blocks of existence in a way. Some people might be put off hearing words like that in clubs; it’s something we sort of wrestle with. I think if you give the entire song a listen you will realize there’s some complexity there; we’re not pitching a black-and-white worldview. We’re not just trying to force some message on anyone; you can take what you want from it."

Opening for Bare Common will be Eric Sommer, a nationally touring singer/songwriter with incredible guitar chops. Steve said that Eric “has a kind of blues/fingerstyle thing that will definitely impress." Check them out and enjoy a nice evening of smooth folk and inspired music for the soul.