By Andy Cheng
For Char and Robby Rothschild, it’s all about a return to the roots. The brothers’ affinity for traditional sounds and songs has earned them the folk-duo label, and with lyrics about the beauty of nature, that title is well deserved. Round Mountain’s—the brothers’ band from Santa Fe, N.M.—music simply elucidates the natural world in a serene, calming manner. That is essentially the vision: to convey beauty through traditional global music.
“It’s a connection between place and music,” says Robby, explaining the motivations for the duo’s lyrical choices. “Indigenous people have a direct connection between land and song. We’ve been exploring that connection in our own ways without getting too specific.”
Exploring is precisely what guides their music. Since childhood, the two have been discovering the musical traditions of the world, taking in different cultures and absorbing their sounds.
“In high school, we were in a band together, and we played rock ’n‘ roll,” Char says. “At the same time we were listening to Led Zeppelin, we became obsessed with Scottish and Irish traditional music. And in our community, there was this African dance class. We became good friends with the teachers, and Robby began playing African traditional music.”
And their musical adventures didn’t stop short of teenage revelations. Both Char and Robby have traveled to many parts of the world, taking home with them the natural sounds of different cultures that now resonate within their own musicality.
“Being immersed in a place brings that place’s music much closer to you,” says Robby. “My wife and I traveled to Ireland after Char travelled to Turkey.” They have also been to Egypt, Tokyo, and various other countries. As to why they choose a more traditional sound, he says that “Folk traditions shape the gems that they produce into much more subtle ways. It’s feeling an essence of song and expression.”
With exploring a multitude of different cultures, Round Mountain culminates the brothers’ adoration of natural sounds, allowing them to have a plethora of outlandish instruments. In their song “Venus in a Tower,” Char plays the trumpet (with an extensive, jazzy solo) on his right hand, while handling the accordion with his left—a feat he makes look easy. In addition to musical prowess, the two display adept skills at an array of tools: a guitar, dobro, gaida, cajon, kora, bouzouki, djembe and more.
“My favorite instrument for writing and creating music is the kora, or the West African harp,” says Robby. “If you just picked it up and sat there with it, it’s full of music.”
Char adds, “I love the banjo. It’s very much an instrument that has come together over the years in different ways of being played. People have always poked fun at this instrument, but people have always loved it.”
Their latest album, Windward, represents their love of place and music. More specifically, it reflects on their recent adventures to California, in which many different ideas are explored.
“When we go to California, we see the ocean,” says Robby. “We grew up as desert dwellers. Windward explores themes of desert meeting the ocean. It brings of sense of where there can be healing.”
Char adds, “It was also the record we put out when we really began our touring push. It speaks to a new phase of going out there and bringing what we do. We feel a connection to the communities we visit.”
Perhaps it’s that connection that compels the brothers to expand their tour to California once again—they performed here in 2009. Robby says, “The experience of coming to new places and meeting people around music is such a bright light in a world that sometimes leaves you full of doubt. We’re really pleased to get to play for you in California.”
To conclusively illustrate their love for music, Char states, “Sometimes, a song is what you really need to know the meaning of life.” And with brilliant compositions of folk tunes, Round Mountain can possibly illuminate that path.
Round Mountain at Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont. (909) 624-2928; www.folkmusiccenter.com, www.roundmountainmusic.com. Sat, June 18. 7:30pm.