Although singer-songwriter Brent Colbert has been performing as the Awful Truth since 2008, he is a relatively new act on the Twin Cities scene. This month marks the one-year anniversary of Colbert moving to Minneapolis from his previous homebase of Salt Lake City, Utah, and he’s celebrating tonight by playing his biggest show to date at the Cedar with much-buzzed-about Jagjaguwar recording artist Angel Olsen.
“I’m really excited to play the Cedar. I love that space,” he says, speaking carefully and pensively over a pot of tea at Cafe SouthSide. “I felt like I wouldn’t play a venue like this for a while, but because I played with Angel before, and because I have a small connection to her, she asked us to play. I think it will be a great group of people to present what we’re doing to and I think they will be receptive to it. And the Cedar sounds so lovely; it’s a really great listening space.”
For Colbert, an Illinois native, the decision to move to Minneapolis after touring heavily throughout 2012 felt natural. “I’d been in Utah for a while and really loved it there, but I felt this affection for being in Minneapolis when I was there because it reminded me of growing up in Illinois,” he says. “Even though it’s very different, but there was something about it, and about the excitement people had for music here, that made me feel really excited about being here.”
Up until now Colbert has stayed mostly underground—literally, as he prefers to play house and basement shows—and played smaller venues like Cause and the 331 Club. But he says he’s already fallen in step with a group of like-minded musicians in Minneapolis that share his DIY ethic and love for stripped-down, vulnerable acoustic music.
On his only album to date, 2012’s Birthright, Colbert leads the Awful Truth (which was previously made up of Salt Lake City musicians, and now consists almost entirely of Minneapolitans) through somber, sensitive melodies and sparse arrangements. His voice booms, big and bright, but also can be pulled back to barely a whisper, and his guitar falls in and out of time, toying with the elasticity of rubato. If there is one aspect of Colbert’s work that most closely overlaps with artists like Angel Olsen, it’s a preference toward purposefully imperfect moments and a recording quality that sounds lo-fi despite its moments of clarity.
“It’s music that is very vulnerable, almost to the point where it makes some people uncomfortable, and I’m very aware of that,” Colbert reflects. “It’s something that took me a long time to be aware of. But then other people can kind of meet you in that place. There were plenty of ‘90s artists that were strange and vulnerable like that. It’s cool to see someone like Angel Olsen getting a lot of recognition, because that’s someone in my world that I can very much relate to.”
Colbert first met Olsen when she came through Salt Lake City to play a show, which is also how he’s connected with and shared stages with touring artists like Owen Pallett, Langhorne Slim, and John Vanderslice. Having spent a lot of time on the road himself, Colbert has a very open attitude about meeting and supporting fellow touring musicians.
“I liked how I was going to places where I didn’t know everyone [when I was touring], and I got to have this experience of meeting people and presenting what I’m working on,” he says. “There’s so many ups and downs with that kind of traveling, but it felt really good to be able to travel and support a tour and just be able to sell the records that I made. Because there wasn’t a label or anything, I was just blindly doing a lot of things. You just send lots of emails to people and try to get in touch with people and follow up with people, and make your connections.”
When I ask him if touring alone can be intimidating, he just smiles and shrugs. “It is. The thing is, it’s kind of like with anything, it’s a process. You do it the first time and it is really rough, and then maybe something becomes clear about what you’re doing, and what you could do better. It just becomes part of your artistic process. It can be intimidating, but you end up usually finding the people you’re supposed to.”
People like his new bandmates—guitarist Laurie Geving, cellist Stephen Sokolouski, and drummer Stephen Lindqust—who he met since setting up camp in Minneapolis, and who will share the stage with him tonight at the Cedar.
“It’s taken a different form and a different shape,” he admits. “I had thought about renaming the group, but decided that a lot of the songs still held enough for me that I thought I could make it shift into its own form here, but that I found people here who were open to that, to following the songs. It’s a little different from the record; there’s fewer guitar parts on it, a little bit of strings.
“I’ve been finding ways to make some of the songs more approachable, because some of those songs were huge sleeper songs,” he says, laughing. “But I found some people here with some energy and enthusiasm that’s been guiding these songs to something more tangible. I feel really excited to play with these people here.”
The Awful Truth open for Angel Olsen and Promised Land Sound tonight, Thursday, May 1, at the Cedar Cultural Center. 7 p.m. (Awful Truth play at 7:30), $15, all ages.