With Blue Medicine, Joe Reyes and Erik Sanden’s debut as Demitasse, patience has paid off. It’s been more than 11 years since Reyes and Sanden began playing together in the SA quartet Buttercup, but the pair feels like they’ve reached new heights in songwriting and performance. “Joe and I just rounded a corner in our ability to sing together,” said Sanden in a recent bar-side conversation. “We’re sounding more like one voice. To me, it feels like a breakthrough.”
Reyes and Sanden began their musical partnership back in 2003, when Sanden’s day gig, the lowbrow art rockers Buttercup, needed a new guitarist. Reyes won the part on the merits of a game of “aesthetic pool,” described by Sanden as a game based on “beauty and interesting-ness, not on any rules of normal billiards.” Since then, Reyes and Sanden have been the left and right brain of Buttercup, operating in concert as one of SA’s most prolific 21st century acts. When the rhythm section of Buttercup was unavailable, Joe and Erik simply stripped the project down to Demitasse, half a cup.
Informed by recent loss and delicate joys in their personal lives, Blue Medicine, which drops April 15, represents the songwriting pair’s most exposed, emotionally spry and career-topping effort. The album’s 10 tracks take listeners through a passage of injury and cleansing, laid bare in Blue Medicine’s minimal recording style.
Written in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, Blue Medicine documents Reyes and Sanden’s simultaneous loss of their fathers. “We sat on the record for about a year,” said Reyes. “It was a little too painful to work with right away.” Though Blue Medicine acted as a creative channel for grieving, the deaths rarely come up point-blank on the album. Like the ghost of the father visible only to Hamlet, as listeners we can’t actually experience the parental loss, only the cathartic work. “The songs that were purely about our fathers’ impending deaths were cut off the record,” Sanden said. “The songs that made it on Blue Medicine aren’t about what was actually happening, but they’re informed by the feeling because we were both dealing in loss.”
This elliptical treatment allowed Reyes and Sanden to explore a wide emotional field, from the conversational struggles of “Couples Therapy” to feeling trapped in your body in “Comfy Coffins.” On opener “The Blues or Die,” Demitasse comes closest to the grief process, begging for the truth in a rising crescendo, singing, “Lay it all out on me / I can take it.”