Brooklyn-based band, the Defibulators played two sets at the Ossippee Valley Bluegrass festival. During the first set, a mid-afternoon performance, there were a series of issues with the sound set-up. A round-bellied volunteer technician dug through a plastic bin of wires frantically, while the six-piece band continued playing raucous honky-tonk on stage. Two of the three microphones weren’t working, so Erin and Bug shared a microphone, their lips almost touching.
The band operates on chemistry, anchored by something special between Erin and Bug. “We don’t like to smooch on stage,” Erin later said. Like a romance novel or country ballad, they met in an elevator. She was carrying Joni Mitchell albums and he was carrying a guitar. Thirteen years later, they were playing a late-night barn dance, shouting into their microphones to a dancing audience that (literally) swung from the barn rafters.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Erin- Food. What is important to me? To stay positive through thick and thin! And, to love each other always (smirking at Bug).
Bug- Why you lookin’ at me?
Erin- Thats kind of what I try to do. And to always think about why you are doing things. Are you supposed to be there? Should you be doing something else right now?
Bug- Shouldn’t think too hard, or you might stop right in the middle. Like in the middle of the set you can just stop and think…
Erin- …and say should I have an ice cream sundae right now? Maybe I’ll go meditate. You might as well just do it.
Bug- What’s important to me? Good times, good people. (Laughs) This question catches you off guard. The first thing that came to my mind was being confident in whatever you end up doing. If I don’t feel confident with what I’m doing, I end up questioning it.
Erin- You can’t force confidence. Ask, “am I secure in this?” If not, you shouldn’t be doing it.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED.
Bug- Well, with what we do- it’s kind of a cliché- but if you aren’t having fun doing it, it defeats the purpose of it. We are supposed to be playing music because we love doing it, and that should translate to the audience who should have fun. If I get in a situation where I’m not having fun, I’ve learned to try to change that immediately, instead of dwelling on that feeling. If I’m not having fun in a set because of x y or z- like bad sound or whatever- I’ve learned to try and change something in my head to have fun and get back to a group of people sitting in the same space making music.
Erin- Music is a large part of it, but it’s about making friends. Really, that’s what it’s about. You make friends in every town that you go to and you gotta stay in touch if you can. It’s about building your network, you know? That’s a big part of what we do. You can’t be an asshole. I mean, some musicians are. But you can’t get far.
Bug- Unless you are really good at being an asshole. Like Kanye West.
WHY DO YOU PLAY THE MUSIC THAT YOU PLAY?
Bug- For me personally, I grew up in Texas and then after high school I moved to New York City to be in the middle of all that activity. But I didn’t move there to be a musician. But, I started listening to more and more country music after I moved to New York City. It was something I really wasn’t exposed to growing up in Texas. I was definitely exposed to top 40 country, Garth Brooks and stuff like that. Which is fine. But none of that stuff related to me. I always thought I was misplaced- I was supposed to be in the city instead of out there in Texas. But when I got to the city, I started listening to old school country and all that resonated with me. I got obsessed with it and wanted to hear more and more of it and play it. I felt like I had been cheated- this was right under my feet, figuratively in the soil the whole time I was growing up. I wanted to reinterpret it from my perspective.
Erin- I make this music because it feels good. I always loved to sing songs. I love harmonizing, it’s a big part of this kind of music. It’s the basis of our music. It just feels good.
Bug- She’s a great singer, of the handful of people I know, I can say she was born to sing.
Erin- No, I’m not. I was always really shy performing. But at a certain point, I had to get over that. I was really mad that I liked to sing because I didn’t want to get up and do it. I wanted to be an artist in my little corner studio. Alone. I had these feelings. I didn’t want to be in the crowd. But I’m over that, sort of, not really.
Bug- You used to sing to your stuffed animals didn’t you.
Erin- No, I used to teach my imaginary class.
TELL ME ABOUT A CHOICE THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE.
Bug- Buying my friend’s banjo in 2001 or whatever. He said I could have it for 75 bucks. As soon as I picked it up, I thought “this is great, I can get into this”. It set this obsession off.
Erin- After high school, I was torn between moving to New York City and moving to Oregon. I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a stoner or….
Bug- An intellectual stoner.
Erin- So, I chose New York.