The Rosebuds switched things up on latest LP

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Ivan Howard is an avid surfer but, despite living a 90-minute drive from some prime Oregon Coast surfing spots, he hasn’t been on a board since he moved to Portland a couple of years ago.

One reason for that is that Howard has been busy recording and touring with his band the Rosebuds, and another is that Oregon’s waves are a tad colder than the ones back in his native North Carolina.

Calling from a tour stop in Philadelphia, the singer and songwriter tells the Straight he does have his eye on Short Sand, a beach he first saw in future Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 feature Point Break.

“At the end of it, they’re arresting Keanu Reeves on the beach, and that’s the beach where they arrested him,” Howard says of the spot in Oswald West State Park. “I was taken there, and it took my breath away. If the water on that beach was 70 degrees, it would be the most crowded spot in America, probably. It’s just like this little gem.”

Surfing will have to wait until the Rosebuds are off the road. The band—essentially a duo consisting of Howard and Kelly Crisp—is currently touring in support of its most recent album, Sand + Silence.

Never content to build from a single template, the Rosebuds switch things up a fair bit on Sand + Silence; the title track and “Wait a Minute” are rooted in soulful indie-troubadour territory, not quite yacht rock, but moored somewhere nearby. “Blue Eyes” and “Looking For”, on the other hand, seem like a nod to the retro pop found on the group’s 2003 debut, The Rosebuds Make Out; the former is an irresistibly upbeat jangler, while the latter is an all-dressed-up-for-the-dance sock-hop swoon.

Howard and Crisp are both skilled multi-instrumentalists, but with producer Justin Vernon and his Bon Iver bandmate Matt McCaughan onboard, along with Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn, they were happy to hand off some of the playing duties to the studio aces in their midst.

“I played every guitar on every record in the past, but this time I just played really spare acoustic, maybe one electric track, because Justin is, like, the best guitar player that I know,” Howard says. “And so I ended up sliding to the keyboard part, and Justin played the guitar and Nick played the bass and Matt played the drums. Because we only had four days to do the basic tracks, we just did it really fast that way, and then we could add stuff after.”

The Rosebuds recorded Sand + Silence at Vernon’s studio in Wisconsin, with Howard travelling there from Portland and Crisp from her home in New York City. They still consider North Carolina to be the band’s home base, however. Howard and Crisp—who were married from 2001 to 2008—met as college students in Wilmington. The Rosebuds were based in Raleigh for years, and their touring members still reside there.

“Even though we’re not there geographically, it’s still in our hearts,” says Howard of his home state, where the water is warm and the surfing is, by all accounts, world-class.

The Rosebuds play the Media Club on Thursday (August 21).

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