Not-So-Nervous But Excited

Ann Arbor duo talk new album and their BFF... the banjo

By Kate Opalewski

Nervous But Excited's Sarah Cleaver started a song while she was coming out, and then let it sit for nine years. A banjo she received as a birthday gift helped her turn those long-lost lyrics into "Ohio to Michigan," which lands on the duo's upcoming album.

It's one of 10 authentic songs from Cleaver and Kate Peterson's new studio album "You Are Here," which the lesbian pair will celebrate on Oct. 14 at The Ark in Ann Arbor.

"I finished the song last February when the banjo and I found each other and I revisited the song lyrics and added the chorus about Kate and I and what we do," says Cleaver, who learned to play the instrument during the making of the album. "(The song's about) how sometimes it feels like we are all we need out there on the road, but also talking about how hard it can be and how you need to learn to let go of some things and hang on for dear life to others...like each other."

There's no denying the chemistry between Cleaver and Peterson. Together they have established themselves at the epicenter of folk music in Michigan. They connect with their community through reliably good and honest songs, consistently delivering albums that showcase rich harmonies and share relatable life stories and experiences.

The strength of their friendship is obvious during their live performances and their laugh-out-loud sense of humor is captured through videos and photos on their official website (www.nervousbutexcited.com).

When asked what they hope listeners will take away from what Peterson said is an "edgier" album, they agreed there are many ways to interpret it.

"It's very comforting to find a place in a song wherever you are," says Cleaver. "We believe that listeners can find a place for themselves in each song on this record" - from the pop-folk of "OneFourThree" and "Blank Pages" to the indie-folk of "Hiding Out" and the sultry soul that is "No Telling." They wouldn't be NBE without the humorous song "Happiest We've Ever Been," written in light of the stereotypes surrounding a certain sub-culture that they happen to exist within.

"A lot of these songs are about being in the moment," says Peterson. "One song in particular is 'Away, Awake.' When I'm singing about myself, I keep perspective and remember how small I am in comparison to the world. With that in mind, I realize there are bigger issues out there than I could ever have. That's the way I look at it."

Whether it's a case of love/post-love, an intense political or environmental issue, or an opportunity for introspection, Cleaver and Peterson both use songwriting as "a way to express raw emotion when really trying to process something and get it out."

Lots of passion, innovative style and positive energy went into this album with a plethora of instruments - including the banjo - and others played by NBE band members Susie Giang and Murray Stewart-Jones as well as guest appearances by some of the best local talent - Chris Bathgate, Frontier Ruckus, Theo Katzman, Erin Zindle (The Ragbirds), Mike Lynch (Kid Rock) and Kaylan Mitchell (The Juliettes).

Another song, "Puppeteer," is about moments in life when a person feels out of control, but the duo is anything but that. They seem to have found a balance between consistency, integrity and growth as they have expanded their horizons and pulled from more places than they ever have before.

"How we write is more mature and the songs are more developed in terms of arrangements. Every song has its own voice and its own feel," says Peterson, adding that Giang, who is also their manager, has been a strong driving force in their search to find where the music lives within all of us.

Where Cleaver and Peterson live, in Ann Arbor, has been a source of inspiration for them. They have what they call "Mitten Pride" and don't try to hide their attachment to their hometown, drawing from their roots in songwriting.

As self-described road warriors, NBE is on the road a lot, which Peterson said makes staying home that much more valuable.

"Michigan has a lot of beauty, a lot of reasons to come here, but people don't know about it," says Peterson, who photographed the Chicago Skyway Bridge off Lake Michigan for the album cover art.

Cleaver talked about the Midwest and its "well-deserved reputation where there is an open community, where people are welcoming and friendly."

That's a feeling NBE is accustomed to as they are a favorite at festivals like the Michigan Roots Jamboree, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, Woodstock Folk Festival and Michigan, Detroit and Milwaukee Pride, to name a few.

"We're performers and we love to feel that energy from the audience," says Cleaver, looking forward to their CD release party where fans can expect an intimate and interactive environment with NBE - and the banjo. "They keep us going and loving what we do. If we're not having fun, it's not worth doing it."

Nervous But Excited

8 p.m. October 14

The Ark

316 S. Main, Ann Arbor ($15)

http://www.nervousbutexcited.com

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