TRUMANSBURG, N.Y. — Banjo player, Richie Stearns and Fiddle player Rosie Newton may be decades apart in age, but their love for folk and old time music transcends time. Richie and Rosie, an Ithaca-area folk duo released their sophomore album, Nowhere In Time Nov. 10. The album includes a mix of both traditional and original folk tunes, accented by nothing more than the fiddle, banjo, tenor guitar and two harmonizing voices.
Contributor Olivia Riggio spoke to Newton about the duo’s musical backgrounds and influences behind their new album.
Olivia Riggio: How did your duo begin?
Rosie Newton: It began about nine years ago. I came to Ithaca for college and then quickly sought out the old-time scene here in Ithaca, and joined Richie’s band called The Evil City String Band. After a year or two we kind of realized that it seemed like it was enough just to go on as a duo. We started developing that and haven’t looked back since.
OR: What was it like being part of the old time scene as a college student?
RN: It was great. It was like there was a whole other world that people didn’t know about up at IC. It was like my own little separate universe.
OR: Describe your style and influences.
RN: I grew up playing Celtic music on the fiddle, and so I have influence definitely in that. More recently [I’ve been influenced by], old time musicians, a lot of the older players like Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, a lot of old fiddle players and banjo players from the South. I’m also recently inspired by Townes Van Zandt. He’s a singer and songwriter from Texas who’s been very influential to both of us. I think Richie’s influences, besides the old time musicians that I just mentioned are definitely based kind of in the Talking Heads and Reggae tradition, more outside of the box. He is still in a band called The Horseflies and they play once in awhile. Their music is more kind of punk influenced.
OR: How do you see those influences showing up in Nowhere in Time?
RN: I think it’s been kind of a natural development because we’ve been together so long. It kind of all melded into one. On Nowhere in Time we have a Townes Van Zandt song, so that’s kind of a literal influence. We have a tune called “Glory in the Meeting House.” It’s a traditional folk tune, but I feel like we definitely have made it more kind of hardcore. It’s a little like a rock version of it, even though it’s completely acoustic. I think taking those influences and developing them with the limitations of the fiddle and banjo and tenor guitar is what we do best.
OR: What are your musical backgrounds?
RN: My mother is a cellist. Her name is Abby Newton and she is a professional musician, so I grew up mostly in that scene. She plays mostly Scottish music and a bit of old time. I grew up hearing that and then also being taught classically as well. I was brought up with both of those music genres in my life. Then, I went to Ithaca College for viola performance and studied there for four years. I was taken in by the old-time scene in Ithaca and that directed me towards what I’m doing now. … And then Richie was good friends with the Puryears who have the Ithaca Grassroots Festival. … They were originally from Tennessee and came up and still had that music in their background. They all ended up going down to a music festival called the Carson Grove Music Festival, so that’s how he first was exposed to that kind of music.
OR: You’re both very different ages. How do you bridge that gap?
RN: It’s easy to bridge the gap in music because it’s a community art form. Age isn’t much of a problem when making art. … Because we’re different ages, we bring different experiences into the situation, but the musical relationship is not affected by that as much.
OR: What’s your process of writing and arranging?
RN: Mostly Richie writes the songs. I’ve written a couple of tunes. We have one song on the new album that we co-wrote called “No Longer Lonely.” That was kind of a new process from us. Basically, I came up with the story and the feeling, and we bounced our ideas off of each other about five times. … That was kind of a new experience for us, but it was really eye-opening and humbling in a way, because we were kind of nicely critiquing our own work. With Richie’s songs, he’ll usually propose something to me, and a lot of times it’s sort of bare bones and I’ll just play what I hear and we go from there.
OR: If you had to set a central theme to Nowhere in Time, what would it be?
RN: I think what makes this album different from the other ones we’ve put out is that I feel like it’s a very introspective album. It makes you think more than other albums I’ve been a part of. It’s a thought-provoking album.
OR: What are you most excited to share from it?
RN: I love a lot of Richie’s songs. His new songs are really wonderful. I’ve been excited about “Honeybee,” which is one that he’s written very recently, and “Nowhere in Time,” the song, is really powerful. It’s always exciting to play it to new audiences, because they usually have an overwhelmingly lovely response to it.
OR: What are some of your favorite places you’ve toured?
RN: We just got back from New Zealand a week ago. … While we were there we played in a bunker on top of a mountain outside of Aukland. … We’ve toured in Europe a fair amount. We’ve played in Germany and the UK. In Germany we played in this beautiful old church that was bombed out during the war and rebuilt. That was one of the most powerful places we’ve played, for me.
OR: What’s touring like?
RN: It’s difficult. I think it’s hard traveling with anyone for that long period of time. As it goes, we get along pretty well. I think that’s the part of being a musician that people don’t necessarily think about as much. Eighty percent of your day isn’t onstage. It’s traveling. … A lot of the rewarding experience is meeting people that you wouldn’t normally meet, and playing music for people that wouldn’t normally hear your music.
OR: What do you think it is about upstate New York that allows it to remain a home for so much folk and old time music?
RN: I think having it be a college town helps. There’s a lot of culture in this area. Trumansburg is where we both live, specifically. It seems like there are a lot of retired professors that live in Trumansburg and play music here. It’s cold in the winters. It seems like a natural fit to want to play music in front of a fire.
All photos provided