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The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers to perform

January 25, 2019 GMT

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at the High Court Pub in downtown Lanesboro as part of the 8th annual Frozen River Film Festival Preview Event.

The Soldiers Grove, Wis., alt-country band, made of Joe Hart and Nikki Grossman, started out as a square dance band with little thought to being anything more than what they are. But three albums and one nomination for Best Country Band in Wisconsin later, the duo has set its sights on more ambitious goals.

So we asked Hart five questions:

How did you come up with your band’s name?

It’s less of a story than you might think. Originally, we were just kind of kicking ideas around for what we would call ourselves. One of the things that Nikki and I have in our past is working maple sugar operations. So we were kind of kicking around ideas to do with maple syrup, and she said, “How about The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers?” It really doesn’t have anything to do with with maple syrup, but the name stuck.

You have been quoted as saying you never planned for your band to take off. In what ways has your musical career been a surprise to you and Nikki?

It was just kind of something we wanted to do, but music was always a fun thing we did. We earned some money off of it, but we never considered it front and center. So to go from that to performing at South by Southwest and be nominated (for) Country Band of the Year in Wisconsin, it’s been a little overwhelming.

Being both husband and wife and a musical duo seems like a lot of togetherness. Does that work well?

Most of the time it works great. More than any other relationship I’ve been in – and I think Nikki would say the same – most of the time we would rather be doing something together than if we were by ourselves. We’re like, “I wish Nikki we’re here” or “I wish Joe were here” to share this experience. Now since we’ve had a toddler, that’s changed a little bit. We’re both excited to have time away from the family just to clear your brain and write some songs.

You’re associated with a lot of musical genres. How do you see yourselves?

We are country. That’s what we like. That’s what we like to be called. That’s what we intended to be and listen to. People like to look down on radio country right now, but country music has always absorbed the influences of other types of music around it. So I don’t really have a problem with modern country.

I understand you would like expand as a band?

We would like to very much. We live in rural Wisconsin and we’ve hit a point where that’s holding us back a little in terms of connecting with other musicians and in terms of the kind of pickup gigs and side gigs. If you live in St. Louis or Nashville or some place like that, you’re working all the time. We’re still fairly committed to being here in rural southwest Wisconsin, but we want to work with other musicians.

Bonus: I didn’t realize a person could be an accomplished kazoo player, but I understand both you and Nikki are?

You know, we play guitar, we play mandolin, but our Berkley application featured our kazoo playing (laughter). When there’s two of you on stage, that’s a very vulnerable place to be. You’re just two people. And to keep it interesting and lively and keep things moving along, we pull every trick out that we can think of and so the kazoo comes out a couple of times in a set.