The Dangling Participles take sage advice from John Lewis and David Bowie.
The Lansing indie-folk quartet follow spirited wisdom from the late congressman and musician about taking risks and making changes in life.
Lewis and Bowie’s encouragement about “getting in good trouble” and “going a little further into the water” inspired the band’s hopeful opener, “Where It Gets Exciting,” from their new album One More Drop.
“I wrote this song in 2020 during one of the Black Lives Matter movements,” said Austin Kaufmann, the band’s co-lead vocalist, guitarist, mandolinist and harmonicist.
“I was talking through this with my children, attending some of these rallies with them and processing that. You talk big to your kids and realize, ‘I really need to live up to this stuff, and I need to put myself out there.’”
The track also resonates with Tamiko Rothhorn, the band’s co-lead vocalist, cornetist and ukulelist.
“I lived in Germany for a while, and I did work with Peace Brigades International and trained with the founder of Theatre of the Oppressed,” she said. “There’s a word called ‘civil courage’ that’s about speaking out and taking action against injustice or oppression, whether that is on a bus, at a school or in a community.”
Along with Dangling Participles bandmates Tim Patterson (vocals, bass, piano) and Dan Moreno (vocals, percussion), Kaufmann and Rothhorn convey that “Where It Gets Exciting” determination through eager acoustic guitar, cornet, saxophone, bass and percussion.
Kaufmann sings, “And I’m right where I need to be / To up my game, fight complacency / In the deep end, there’s no hiding / This is where it gets exciting.”
“That song is a reminder that I need to do more than just treading water,” he said. “I need to intentionally jump into that deep end because if I don’t, then I’m not living my life the way I want to live it.”
One More Drop
The Dangling Participles thoughtfully demonstrate that authenticity throughout the 12 tracks on One More Drop, which features storied lyrics, infectious multi-part harmonies and vibrant folk-jazz instrumentation.
“We write our songs coming from a lot of different places, experiences and stories in life. I still think we take a fair bit from literature as we get inspiration,” Kaufmann said.
“The title track of the album is based on a book, and a couple of other tracks from previous albums are based on books or quotes from books.”
With that inspiration in mind, the peppy duet “One More Drop” reflects themes and plot lines from Ray Bradbury’s 1951 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451.
Confident saxophone, cornet, electric guitar, bass and percussion sashay alongside Rothhorn as she sings, “One more look, a drawn-out face / And then I draw you closer still / I am a mirror for your will / A mirror for your will.”
“The main character is a fireman who’s setting houses on fire because he’s burning books. He meets this [girl] on the street who’s like, ‘There’s another way. Fireman didn’t used to start fires; they put them out,’” Rothhorn said
“It’s like that slow buildup to talking with somebody and seeing another perspective. It’s one more drop that finally puts him in another space where he actually joins the resistance … and finds that moment where everything sort of shifts.”
Another thematic shift occurs on “History and Me,” which chronicles a personal experience for Rothhorn instead of a literary one.
The sentimental track tells the story of how a shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese lute, once belonged to Rothhorn’s great-grandmother and later helped Rothhorn develop a closer connection to her heritage.
Nostalgic ukulele, violin, electric guitar, bass, strings and percussion transport Rothhorn to the past as she sings, “If I could reach you through these strings / I’d like to know the answer to so, so many things / Did you sing about the cherry blossom trees? / And did you have calloused fingertips like me?”
“I didn’t know my great-grandmother had played an instrument, and I didn’t know there was any musical history. My mom is an elementary school music teacher, but nobody else in the family was musical,” said Rothhorn, who’s inspired by Adele, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse.
“It was at the 2018 family reunion that I got the shamisen. It was broken, so I had it repaired. I sent it to a guy in California, and I went to pick it up in person. I took a lesson with him out in Santa Cruz, and he did a great job of introducing me to the instrument.”
While Rothhorn didn’t play the shamisen on “History and Me,” she still captured a familial spirit by having daughters Mori Rothhorn and Kata Rothhorn add violin and vocals to it.
“The shamisen is very twangy, and it didn’t fit the song. My younger daughter Mori is a great violin player, and she was just a natural to play on it,” she said.
“My other daughter Kata learned some vocal harmonies to put in there, and it’s a little out of her comfort zone. She was willing to try it and do something new. It was really sweet for me.”
Like Rothhorn, Kaufmann shares a special bond with his 9-year-old daughter Anara Kaufmann on One More Drop’s “Swimming in Lake Superior.” They co-wrote the tender track after taking a family trip to the Upper Peninsula in 2020.
Breezy acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and percussion glide alongside Rothhorn and Kaufmann as they sing, “Oh, you make me feel small / But not inferior / Oh, you make feel small / But not inferior, I feel strong, not wearier.”
“My family went to Marquette and spent a couple of days there at a bed and breakfast,” Kaufmann said. “We started writing it while we were up there.”
After Kaufmann set the song’s scene, Anara Kaufmann quickly added, “There was this lagoon area with a bridge over it, and we were jumping off of the bridge into the water. I thought, ‘We need to write another song,’ so we decided to do something about Lake Superior.”
Kaufmann also credits his daughter with taking “Swimming in Lake Superior” to the next level.
“She came up with most of the imagery and the words for the first two verses and the melody for the first verse,” he said. “She helped out with the third verse a little bit, but I came up with the chorus and the bridge.”
Drop by Drop
For One More Drop, The Dangling Participles compiled an assortment of older and newly written tracks, ranging from 2011’s “11 Time Zones” to 2021’s “Moon Garden.”
“We had other songs that didn’t make the cut on the first album, including ‘Widen the Circle.’ That gave us more time to play with it and keep it for this album,” Rothhorn said. “We have other songs that didn’t make this cut, so we may have some more songs for our next album.”
Writing tracks for One More Drop also allowed Rothhorn and Kaufmann to more equally split the songwriting duties. The Dangling Participles’ 2018 debut album Present features tracks mostly written by Kaufmann since Rothhorn didn’t join the band until 2016.
“For our first album, I was drawing from my catalog from a number of years, and about nine of the songs were mine because we co-wrote one,” said Kaufmann, who formed the band in 2015.
“Because of sheer lack of time the last couple of years, Tamiko [Rothhorn] has written more songs than I have. She’s been extremely prolific.”
By February, the band started recording tracks for One More Drop with engineer Corey DeRushia at Lansing’s Troubadour Recording Studios. Despite some COVID and personal delays, they took their time to craft their sophomore release.
“We had hoped to have this album out early to mid-summer so that we could take it around to festivals, but that just wasn’t in the cards,” Kaufmann said. “We decided not to set any deadlines and stress ourselves out.”
To expand their rich sound, The Dangling Participles recorded with several collaborators, including saxophonist Jay Waller (aka Mocha), clarinetist Chris Christoff, violist Drake Howard, violinists Sarah Patterson and Mori Rothhorn, and vocalist Kata Rothhorn.
“Drake [Howard] is in the same class as my daughter Mori,” Rothhorn said. “I think it’s really nice to give a young person that opportunity to play on a professional album. He did a nice job on ‘Patron Saint of Lost Things.’”
The band will bring “Patron Saint of Lost Things” and other One More Drop tracks to the stage tonight for their album release show at Lansing’s UrbanBeat. They will play three sets and include a few special guests.
“The first set is gonna be the album, but not in the same order. That will be a longer set because we’ll be talking about the songs, and people will be coming on and off stage,” Kaufmann said.
“For the second set, everything will be a true duet or a mashup. Having two lead singers makes our sound unique, and we write a lot of duets and sing a lot of duets in covers as well. The last set will be more covers than originals.”
After tonight’s release show, The Dangling Participles will continue writing new material, possibly for a new single or an EP.
“I don’t think we’ll go back for a full album anytime soon,” Kaufmann said. “I think it will at least be a two-year break.”
The Dangling Participles One More Drop Album Release Show
7 p.m. to 10 pm. Friday, Dec. 2
UrbanBeat., 1213 Turner St. in Lansing
Tickets: $5 advance, $10 door