photo by DJ Hostettler

“Oh, to fly above the cretins and all of their politics.” The heroic opening bars of “Plague,” the first song on Leading Up To, promise — and deliver — a rousing return for The Rutabega. Through 20 years and counting the band has grown an ecosystem rich with anthemic guitars, pop with a carbonated heart, and inexplicably resilient intimacy. In a true midwest weathering of the seasons, the South Bend, Indiana duo is here to remind us that there are things we can still rely on: ourselves, each other, and music.

Singer-songwriter/guitarist Joshua Hensley and drummer/carpist Garth Mason are as symbiotic as ever. It’s evident they’ve accrued more than a decade of live performance together. Each occupies their space and still manages to weave around the other in a full and fluid complement. We can hear the machinery sometimes, the glimpse of synth and the actual and figurative bells and whistles. This is the exertion of life, the natural friction of relationship rendered in a plaintive, driving plea. The outcome is songs that are as honest and hardworking as they come. The Rutabega are showing up for us, and inviting us to do the same. “You start to shout a healing sound. You start to shout, come on, come on.”

The first half of the record developed as much of the band’s work does, through the organic growth that happens while playing live. The Rutabega is a distinctly community experience, their shows are visceral points of connection. Though Hensley’s vocals tell a faceted story of human emotion on their own, he often invites friends and family to sing with him. His steadiest vocal collaborator on Leading Up To, Emily Trimboli-Hensley, is a light spilling out over every edge. Most of the second half of the record was developed in the studio. As Hensley tells it, the songs came together quickly, a function of their enduring collaboration, their trust in themselves, and in us, to do things differently. If anything, Leading Up To tells us that whatever we are, we’re always changing. We can transition from what we know and expect, what we reliably turn to, into something unfamiliar, but we’re still connected.

Lyrically and vocally, The Rutabega does not abandon us. Midway through the collection is “Gone,” a true-to-form nearly 10-minute expanding epic, the mighty taproot burrowing deeper into the darkness because that’s where the nourishment lies. “I came home and the house was dark, I could tell that something was wrong.” These are moments of tectonic shift and Rutabega pulls them into focus for us so we can better begin to map. We may not know where we are, but we’re here together. “Please don’t leave. Don’t be gone from us.” In “Walk On Ahead,” Hensley chronicles the end of his grandfather’s life, the gratitude in knowing we have said what we need to say, and the type of love that frees us. Mason lost his grandfather while the duo was recording, and the album is dedicated to their grandparents. The feeling of family is urgent throughout the record, as is the appeal that we are all family. “I’ll be beside you. I’ll be everywhere.”

The record closes with “Mulch,” darker and more driving than the handful of songs that precede it. This darkness is the familiar shadow of Rutabega’s hopefulness, a poignant return to some sonic and emotional churn. Something more like soil. And soil’s where we start again.

Like the forest and the mycelium, The Rutabega is generative. They know we’re moving forward, and they’re not afraid. “Our bodies become bread for the trees, become the fruit, become the seeds, we all break down.”

Anne Hensley, Weirder Wonderland 
Full Discography:
Interviews/ Podcasts/ Features:

    "...great production and excellent songwriting. It’s good to see Josh and Garth are not only back but have released such a strong album." 
    -Kurt Morris, Razorcake

    "The songs build, pull back, and build once again to emotional crescendos. It’s masterful songwriting, beautifully ornamented, and shows a band still well into their prime." 

    "Hensley’s songwriting and vocal delivery are open-hearted and delicate, and he and Mason blow these cores up with winding, adventurous guitar playing and pounding percussion... A substantial record all the way through." 
    -Rosy Overdrive

    "Veering from quiet, introspective folk melodies to squalling distortion and pounding rhythms, carp rock seems like a good description of the music the South Bend-based band makes."
    -Tom Conway, South Bend Tribune

    It is downright witchery that a two-piece band can create music with such epic grandeur."
    -Jay Breitling, Clicky Clicky Music Blog

    I like the excitement and energy of “Shiny Destination,” but the reflective tone on “Ladder” gets me every time. Both are winners for entirely different reasons, but it’s a great example of the diversity of The Rutabega’s sound. Whatever way this Indiana duo goes in the future, I can’t wait to hear it."
    -Kurt Morris, Razorcake

    "...the sort of indie-rock that feels timeless and fresh at the same time."
    -Independent Clauses

    “Singlehandedly states the case for sincerity in such a clear way the only reaction is to softly smile, bob your head a little bit and give in to the tidal wave of sad, simple, beauty that issues forth.”

    -Conan Neutron, Collapse Board

    "The songs are heavy, not instrumentally, but with the weight of the experiences and raw feelings of their writer. The arrangements seem pretty sparse, yet I’m hearing an orchestra. Joshua Wayne Hensley’s voice backed by an emotion and sincerity so poignant, it translates louder and clearer than a marching band ever could crammed into my tiny bathroom."
    -Mila Matveeva, UNRECORDED

    "Hensley’s singing sounds favorably like Elliott Smith from the grave, and he doesn’t play trad folk, either; strumming an acoustic under his darkly angelic voice, he sometimes inserts distorted six-string squalls, fogging the background like black clouds and lightning lurk in the distance."
    -Jack Rabid, Big Takeover

    Leading Up To and Unreliable Narrator are distributed globally through Redeye, more info here.

    For TV / Film licensing, please contact Lyle Hysen at Bank Robber Music – info@bankrobbermusic.com

    Email for questions, hi-res photos, or booking inquiries (not currently booking indoor shows).

    photo by Mister King

    photo by Nicole Mason