Pop duo Sweet Talk Radio, learning how to raise a child together and still make music, make a long-awaited return to WitZend on Saturday
By Bliss Bowen
Living the creative life becomes infinitely more complicated when you decide to create and raise another life. For husband and wife Tim Burlingame and Kathrin Shorr, who’ve been playing together as Sweet Talk Radio since 2009, last year’s arrival of son Ben occasioned some adjustments to their approach to making music. After taking time off following his birth, they recently started easing back into their performance groove with shows at home-base venues like Room 5; they return to WitZend this Saturday.
They’ve also started working on a follow-up to their well-received 2012 album “State of the Union,” and plan to release it next year. The brain-draining fatigue common among new parents has sharpened their sense of humor as well as their relationship with that precious commodity: time.
“You don’t have much time, so when you have it you try to take advantage of it,” Burlingame acknowledges. “I feel like it’s focused some of our work.”
“Parenthood really takes your vocabulary away; it’s like you have a vacant mouth,” Shorr jokes. “It’s bizarre.”
The experience “really does change perspective and the doors you walk through when you write” for a lot of artists when they become parents, she adds. Rather than change, what she and Burlingame have noticed is a heightening of their senses — and creative benefits of sleep deprivation.
“A lot of writers keep a pad by the side of bed, because when you’re leaving that awake time and not quite asleep yet, you get these great ideas, your mind is freed up,” Burlingame says. “I’ve noticed that if you’re sleep deprived, you’re always in that state, always in that ether.” He laughs. “I feel constantly in that ether.”
Getting help from Shorr’s parents, who live nearby, is one way they carve out bits of time to set up a microphone and work. They’ve taken on projects like producing Australian singer-songwriter Keppie Coutts, but mostly they focus on their own music, and placing songs in shows like “Chasing Life.”
Their smart, folk-textured pop songs generally center around Shorr’s sultry vocals and Burlingame’s clean fretwork. They’re “trying to create a sound that is consistent,” Shorr says, but they’re uncomfortable slapping limiting tags on it.
“We could probably make a dance album,” she says. “We could also make a Nick Drake album and be really happy.”
“Several friends in the songwriting community have developed side projects — maybe they are Americana and they want to do something that has more synths — and I think it’s because they want to do more than just one thing,” Burlingame notes. “People have a lot of different songs in them.”
“That might be part of the landscape changing too,” Shorr observes. “A lot of us are not touring as we used to, and see TV as the new radio — not so new anymore — in terms of bringing in fans. It definitely makes a difference when you have a song in a show. A lot of us, for better or for worse, are expanding our musicality. It’s fun, as long as our fans will follow us.”
For now, they aren’t expanding into writing for children — though one new song, “Radar,” was obliquely inspired by their parenthood experiences. It isn’t a children’s song, Burlingame says, but it wouldn’t have been written without the love they feel for their son:
“Oh, nothing’s as it seems
You’re not where you were gonna be
But you are where you are
And nothing’s wrong with that
Don’t trade all your dreams for facts
Leave some on the radar…”
“We don’t have it recorded yet but we are playing it live,” he explains. “We talked for years about whether we’d start a family; we wanted to, but always put it off because being a musician is kind of a selfish endeavor. You don’t have time to give to other things you want to do. But it was like, ‘If not now, when? Let’s do this.’ It doesn’t mean you go in without fears, but you make a decision to keep dreams and hopes alive.”
Sweet Talk Radio plays an 8 p.m. set on Saturday at WitZend, 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. $10. Call (310) 305-4792 or visit sweettalkradio.com.