“Well, I wanna go home, but I got no home.”
— Hymn for Her, “Slips”
Home is where you make it, and for Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing, it’s a 16-foot, 1961 Airstream Bambi (Waxing calls it “the shiny little toaster”) tugged by van to gigs across the country. It’s a great way to live and travel: light, economical and in vintage style.
Last Friday the duo dubbed Hymn for Her was in the Bay Area, far from the brutal winter pounding their Philadelphia base and between dates on a tour that’ll see them through 39 cities in three and a half months.
The moving brood, which includes 3-year-old daughter Diver and a large black Lab named Pokey, are stopping in town for a Valentine’s Day show at the Calapooia Brewing Company. If the joint’s special menu doesn’t warm and fill your guts, then the music most certainly will.
Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing aren’t real names, of course, but they fit Hymn for Her like a swallow of amber in a pounding heat. “We’re going to keep them,” Tight said. “We like them. They’re along the lines of crazy, free-spirited folks who might be trapped in conventional society, but they look for ways to free their spirits through music. I would almost describe them as Thelma and Louise, except in this case Thelma has a penis.”
If the duo’s Thelma and Louise, then its most recent album, 2010’s “Lucy & Wayne and the Amairican Stream,” is an alternate ending to the movie, where the antiheroes clear that canyon by a good country mile and leave proprieties and laws in the dust. Its focus and flow belie the on-the-fly manner in which it was recorded: in driveways and campgrounds, wherever their trailer could park. They used the space’s crazy acoustics and compact size, qualities unique to the Airstream.
“When you’re in an old European city, you’re inspired by its history,” Tight said. “I think it’s the same as living in this Airstream: You’re inspired by its history and the people who made it. It was perfectly developed, with all of its curves, and every inch was used in a way that made sense for everyday living. The tight quarters made for a really great live, rockin’ sound. And if you stand on one side and whisper into that corner, the words come around and go all the way to the other side. There’s a place in Philadelphia called the Whispering Bench which has the same theory. It’s very magical. When people come to visit, I take them there. The Airstream is like that, too, a magical place.”
“When she was younger, Lucy always wanted an Airstream,” Waxing said. “We bought it from this retired couple in Massachusetts. The man used to do electrical work for a trucking company, and for a retirement project he fixed up this old Airstream he found in Vermont. He put in a new floor, a new electric refrigerator, air-conditioning — just new everything — and he gave it a pristine shine. We just immediately fell in love with it. It was all very serendipitous.”
“I’m here to hear you when I hear you loud and clear.”
— Hymn for Her, “Here”
Although “Lucy & Wayne and the Amairican Stream” is self-released, it’d be awful cozy on Bloodshot Records, where rustic hollers are goosed with electric rotgut and there’s grit aplenty under every hood. Critics crumble in genre-aneurysms trying to define this stuff. All I can say, really, is if you bottled it pure, it’d hurt you but good. Banjos fly on jetpacks, Waxing saws on harmonicas so hot they sound like phantom locomotives howling through graveyards, and Lucy Tight pulls libraries of tones — brays of slurry slide, acid-soaked growly funk — from an ingeniously primitive contraption called the Lowebow guitar. It was crafted by band friend Johnny Lowe from one bass and two guitar strings pulled across a broom handle stabbed through a cigar box. (In March, Tight will wield an “Airstream” model developed specifically for her.)
Seal the works tight in 16 feet of mobility fired into bullet mikes and voila: 12 tracks of diesel-spattered gitdown. “Thursday” hiccups on a Kills-like charge; Waxing draws blood in a frantic banjo scuff (you can hear him at normal speeds in “Fiddlestix,” a back porch poke ‘n’ pick toward an ominous sundown), his vocals a rockabilly quiver against Tight’s cool chanteuse. “My husband’s out of town,” she coos. “You know, he’s gone till the end of the month.” The invitation yields the usual results: Neighbors get wise and a violence-prone spouse reacts badly. “Now I have to leave this town,” Waxing groans, to which Tight replies, “You’d better leave while you still can.”
“Sangre” begins as an acoustic waltz until Waxing hijacks its flexible structure with a repeated utterance (“The blood is in my hands”) that grows in intensity until exploding in scalded cries. Then it returns to its original gait, as if the outburst had never happened.
Genuine rain augments “Not,” Tight’s fine whisper sighing across a relationship’s emotional gulf. The song was recorded in Sarasota, Fla., and, according to Tight, the weather’s compliance was a happy accident.
“That was our second-to-last song,” she recalled of the session. “It started raining and we said, ‘This sounds great. We’re going to keep it.’ It happened as we started; we weren’t looking for it.”
“Amairican Stream” ends with “Odette,” the only track where voices appear alone. Three-year-old Diver begins the song, a lullaby she must know by heart, and then Tight enters gently with a breathy lilt perfect for sending young souls into sweet dreams.
“It’s just one of the many I sing to her as she’s falling asleep,” Tight said. “I have about 30 or 40 of those, some I wrote, some from Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell, Patsy Cline, The Carpenters and others. She’ll say, ‘Mama, stop singing that song,’ or, ‘Mama, sing that song.’ I have to be quick.”
In a confinement loaded with animals, people and equipment, how does Hymn for Her maintain offstage harmony and not succumb to cabin fever?
“One great thing about having a dog is that he needs to be walked,” Waxing said. “We go to the YMCA, we work out. Lucy does yoga. For recreational fun we go to the beach, climb a mountain or play Ultimate Frisbee. We sing songs and play games. The van life can be pretty grueling sitting for so many hours, but so far, so good. We’re all healthy and happy.”