January 18, 2006

Trout Fishing in America: not just songs about boogers

Listening to Trout Fishing in America’s song “Alien in My Nose,” one wonders if these guys are on something — or if perhaps they are merely representative of what Beavis and Butt-head would be like as adults.

The upbeat pop tune, which is about exactly what you think it’s about, may not personify what TFIA is, but it’s at least an initial glimpse into the two-man band’s musical philosophy.

“It’s not all silly, but it’s not all serious, either,” said bassist Keith Grimwood. “I think if you’re silly all the time, it loses its charm. If you’re too serious all the time — well, that doesn’t interest me either, to tell you the truth.”

And so Grimwood and his musical cohort of 30 years, Ezra Idlet, make not-too-serious music for listeners of all ages, some of it that offers lessons in life, and some of it that, well, personifies snot. The music is best described as folk, but takes forays into rock, jazz, blues and more, and always has something to say, if a little offbeat at times. Trout Fishing in America, which has two Grammy nominations to its credit, will play the Kentucky Center this Saturday.

When the two met back in 1976, Idlet was playing in a folk-rock band called St. Elmo’s Fire, while Grimwood was “playing in a little band called the Houston Symphony Orchestra.” The orchestra went on strike, so Grimwood played a few times with St. Elmo’s Fire. He and Idlet struck up a friendship. From there, Trout Fishing in America — the name comes from an early Richard Brautigan novel — spawned, and it’s been swimming upstream ever since.

“We originally were just playing for our peers,” Grimwood said, “but we had friends who were teachers and they asked us if we’d come play music for the kids in the classrooms. We didn’t know any kids’ songs so we played Beatles and blues and stuff like that. So I guess the first show we did for kids was 1977.

“Even these days we’ll go out and play in clubs and then we’ll turn around and play in a school. More and more, though, we’re playing in performing arts theaters so that everyone can show up together, all ages. When we play, it’s not age specific — it’s something you can bring your kids to or something you can bring your parents to.”

The duo has released 12 albums over the years, including 2004’s Merry Fishes to All, a Christmas album that earned the duo its second Grammy nomination. So unexpected was the nomination that Idlet and Grimwood didn’t even attend the awards ceremony — they were already booked to play in Bethesda, Md., as part of the grand opening of its new arts center. The band’s families went instead.

Trout Fishing in America has played in Kentucky only twice before, so they are relatively unfamiliar to Louisville audiences. What can Louisvillians expect? For one, Grimwood stands just over 5 feet tall, while Idlet checks in at 6-foot-9. The difference is striking and, obviously, helps play to the duo’s comedic side. But for the most part, Grimwood said, audience members should be ready to have fun.

“I think generally people say when they leave (a TFIA show) they feel better than when they got there,” he said. “Our music is uplifting and energetic. My partner, the tall one, plays guitar, and I play bass. But when you’re listening to us you’ll think there’s more guys up there playing.”

(Actually, there will be: The band’s producer, Fred Bogert, a multi-instrumentalist from Nashville, will be joining TFIA for the Louisville gig.)

So can we expect to hear “Alien in My Nose” at the Kentucky Theater on Saturday? “I feel certain of it,” Grimwood said. “By the way, that’s my mother’s least favorite song. She will always come up (before shows she attends) and say, ‘Don’t play that one.’”