Music

Folk-pop's the Sweeplings Find Solid Ground "In Between" Connected Projects (premiere + interview)

Photo: Glass Jar Photography

The Sweeplings might make the most gorgeous music by a folk-pop duo since the unfortunate demise of the Civil Wars following their official split in 2014. The pair discuss their music and new video for "In Between".

Losing Ground Vol. 1
The Sweeplings

Nettwerk

13 March 2020

The Sweeplings might make the most gorgeous music by a folk-pop duo since the unfortunate demise of the Civil Wars following their official split in 2014. If seeing (and hearing) is believing, though, Whitney Dean and Cami Bradley have the ability as the Sweeplings to avoid that sad ending by blending their sweet, dreamy voices into a committed musical relationship.

Building on an extensive catalog that includes five EPs and a full-length album, the true-blue two are announcing today at PopMatters that they will release a seven-song EP called Losing Ground Vol. 1 on 13 March via Nettwerk Records.\

Serving as a champagne toast to whet your appetite, the Sweeplings also are premiering their breathtaking music video for "In Between", captured sumptuously over two days in Joshua Tree, California, near the end of 2019. They also share some thoughtful comments in an eye-opening interview, providing separate, heartfelt answers to almost every question.

While Dean and Bradley have been two of a kind find since making their self-titled EP debut in 2014, the pair's respective spouses — Bethany Dean and Eric Bradley — are also valuable creative forces behind the Sweeplings. And John Paul White, the former Civil Wars member who shares Alabama roots and a longtime friendship with Dean, brought his songwriting skills to "In Between".

The video was a convivial collaboration that became an adventure for the two couples. Eric Bradley came up with the concept of the video, and Bethany Dean shot it over two late afternoons "since we had to chase light around landscapes and also do so many separate performances," said Whitney Dean, who pointed out that Cami was always on one side of the frame, and he was on the other to illustrate the lyrics of the song, "something in between". Cami adds, "The concept needed to be simple with a small crew and a quick turnaround. Like the song, we wanted it to feel beautiful and bare."

Soak up the feeling of "In Between" now, then read on to learn more about the Sweeplings' upcoming EP, their hopes for the future, and how a seven-month break from each other ultimately brought them closer together.

This was the right time to follow up on the Sweeplings, whose origin story of a Huntsville, Alabama, guy with an obsession for college football and a Spokane, Washington, woman who made it to the final six as an America's Got Talent contestant we detailed at the Huffington Post in 2017.

Though their progression seemed promising, making Losing Ground Vol. 1, which Whitney and Cami self-produced, wasn't as easy as that new record sounds. While not going into specifics, Cami, who still lives in her Pacific Northwest hometown with her husband, broke down the hardships of a duo with a musical partner who resides more than 2,000 miles away in Alabama with his wife.

"Since the release of our first EP, we've been through the wringer in more ways than one," Cami said. "There has been some tragedy, some loss, some internal struggle, and more. When we started making Losing Ground Vol. 1, we had to stop after two weeks of work. We took some time, some breathing room, and re-evaluated what we wanted with the music. It took a hit on our relationship as we didn't see eye to eye on the process or the end product for quite some time. It was scary and also the best thing that could have happened to us. After a few months off, we came back together with a new goal, a new vision, and mostly a new swell of creativity and ideas that eventually brought us 'back to the basics'. … I'm so proud of this album because of the blood, sweat, and tears it took to create it!"

Glass Jar Photography

Whitney went on to explain how an intended full-length album release for 2018 turned into something else.

"Once we got into my studio and started putting things down, it started to feel like it wasn't 'us' anymore, and maybe we were trying too hard to create magical moments and sounds," he said. "… We just needed to take a step back for a few months, write more, and pray about what to do to make the best album we could together in a way that made us both feel like we put 100% of our DNA into it. … Once we got back together to start recording again, it all seemed to click and work. Things fell into place quickly, and we were able to pour our hearts into each performance to make something we loved."

With the encouragement of their spouses, who joined them in Whitney's north Alabama studio the second time around, the Sweeplings made "a specific, thought-out choice to strip things back", relying primarily on vocals, piano, and guitar for all the songs they wrote.

Regarding White's contribution to "In Between", Whitney said, "Cami and I already had the verses down, just struggled with what exactly to do for the chorus. Of course, John Paul stepped in, and after a few minutes talking about the concept, he started on a little chord progression and parts of a melody that seems to have always been meant to be this song's chorus. One of the more fun and easy collaborations ever, in my opinion."

While White and ex-musical partner Joy Williams moved on to solo careers, the indefatigable, independent spirit of the Civil Wars certainly lives on in the carefully woven original tunes by Dean and Bradley. "We put our entire hearts into this project and, even at times, our band on the line," Whitney offered. "We made hard decisions, and pushed ourselves to trust each other, and it turned into something we are very proud to share."

That only motivated the Sweeplings to keep on going, and a product of that fortitude follows in this next section. Perhaps realizing that breaking up is harder to do, their next record might as well be titled Gaining Common Ground.

HIGH FIVE FROM THE SWEEPLINGS

1. It's fascinating that you brought your spouses into the studio. How were they able to contribute, do you have any examples of great suggestions/advice and will they be back for Losing Ground Vol. 2?

Whitney: Our spouses are essential to our success and lives. Without them, there would be no "The Sweeplings". Every song is vetted by them. Every video is brainstormed, planned, and captured with or by them. Specifically, in this recording process, they are our sounding boards for ideas. For example, we had "In Between" as a piano/guitar and vocal track. But after showing it to the group, we came away thinking that less could be more with this song and settled on just a single-take guitar performance and our voices ... nothing else, just an intimate and real recording. While recording Losing Ground Vol. 2, they have been just as instrumental in our process. Absolutely grateful to have the people we love the most be so supportive of "The Sweeplings" and our journey.

Cami: Fricken ditto. Those two are the reason we succeed. They are the reason our ideas come alive, and they are the reason people hear and see things at their full potential. Whit and I would most definitely be lost without them.

2. This might be presumptuous to ask, but how certain are you that there will be a Losing Ground Vol. 2? What have you done in advance of that project, or are there plans to go in another direction?

Whitney: It's interesting. We recorded 13 songs to make a "full-length record" at my studio here in Alabama. Then after some talks and meetings, we came away with a plan to split the songs into two long EPs instead of just one full-length album. The idea being that instead of one massive drop of music, we could spread it out and make for an opportunity for our fans to be able to digest and really listen to the songs without feeling overloaded.

Cami: When the idea came to split the album, it took us a second to love it. But the more we thought about it, the more we did. It gave us the unique opportunity to look at the songs individually, decide which ones paired best together, how to tell the story in two parts, etc. It also gave us a chance to leave some breathing room in the EPs. Add some instrumentals, some acoustic versions, and ultimately shape two EPs while also creating one story within them. So the answer is yes. There is and will be Losing Ground Vol. 2. The material is ready to hit ya'll in the face after the first one is digested properly.

3. What else would you like readers to know about the upcoming EP?

Whitney: I say this every time we write a new song or record one, but this may be my favorite collection of songs we've ever created. I'm so proud of us as bandmates, friends, and people for putting in the work to make it. The honesty behind each song is special and real. Truly grateful for the chance to share our work with the world. Oh, and you can listen and buy it wherever music is sold or streamed.

Cami: He really does say that every time.

4. How prepared are you for more inevitable comparisons to the Civil Wars?

Cami: Always an honor. Obviously, we want to be set apart and feel like we have our own path in many ways, but who the heck wouldn't want to be compared to that magic?! What the Civil Wars brought to the music world helps what we do thrive. People have an ache for that hole they left, and we are honored to fill even a small portion of it.

5. What plans do you have to tour behind this release, and are you continuing to pursue placements for any of these new songs? What are your goals as a duo? Any future projects in the works, either together or separately?

Whitney: We plan to do a few specific and strategic release shows for Vol. 1 in March, and our goals remain the same as when we started out. We want to create impactful, powerful, and moving music that makes people feel something. We want our music to be felt, not just heard.

Cami: Our goal has always been to make music that matters. To write lyrics that connect and to sing with a raw and real sound. We feel blessed to be in a position that, along with that goal, comes the privilege of getting to share it with as many people that will listen. We believe that if we continue to make it, people will want to listen to it. So we do. We have some shows planned around this release in our hometowns (be on the lookout for those). We hope that a few of them land on the ears of some people in TV/film. We write with that in mind and always love to partner with moving pictures as we write with that bubbling in our heads.

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