What a ride it’s been for Nervous But Excited. Not just the one where the folk duo open for Ani DiFranco and become the only local band to play the 2010 Ann Arbor Folk Festival, but also the drive where they were so bored they wrote a song about Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir. It happened not all that long ago during a month-long tour during which Sarah Cleaver and Kate Peterson decided they would no longer piss the road-trip time away.
“We decided to whip out the mandolin and craft a song to our favorite Olympian,” says Cleaver, recalling how the hilariously witty “Ode to Johnny Weir: America’s Favorite Queer” came about.
“The Olympic spirit was deep in our bones at the time; there’s not a lot to live for during the winter. Johnny Weir got us through winter is basically what it is.”
Enter spring, when the lesbian pair are preparing to celebrate the release of their upcoming EP, a covers album called “just the two of us (our duo doing duos)” that explores twosomes through the decades, with two shows: one on April 24 at The Ark in Ann Arbor, the other on May 21 at the Creole Gallery in Lansing. Expect lots of cues for audience participation and songs from their new collection, which features pared-down versions of K-Ci & JoJo’s school-dance ditty “All My Life,” The Indigo Girls’ “Devotion” and Tegan and Sara’s raucous rocker “Nineteen.” Even Roxette’s ’80s jam “The Look” gets a makeover.
“As soon as we looked into the lyrics of that song, we knew that it was the one because there are a lot of random references to things that make no sense,” Peterson says, laughing.
For the six-song EP, the ladies are exerting octaves they’ve never used and tapping into their musical roots – indie and R&B. To hype the release shows, they’ll put their quirky personalities into gear with videos on their official website http://www.nervousbutexcited.com that will accompany each song. Like the first clip, which opens with them frolicking in a park and then discussing their devotion to the Indigo Girls, the rest of them will be informative and sorta silly.
“There may or may not be some wonderful footage in a Target where Kate spins me around in a chair really fast until I almost throw up,” Cleaver teases. “Things like that that will all really make sense once you see these videos. We promise to make you belly laugh and potentially even laugh until you cry.”
Their harmonic music, though, is nothing to laugh about (well, not counting that Johnny Weir ditty). With lots of achy laments and rhythmic narratives, Nervous But Excited – who Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls has called “organic and rich like good soil” – have released two studio albums and toured relentlessly since their most recent LP was released last year. That CD, “anchors (the green album),” was the first 100-percent carbon footprint-free disc in history, according to the group, and their new EP takes similar strides in being eco-friendly. They also kept the package manufacturing local, using block-printed lunch bags.
“When we’re putting out a new album it’s a lot of work, a lot of time and energy,” Peterson says. “It really can get overwhelming, but I feel like the payoff continues to exist.”
And with that Ann Arbor Folk Festival gig and opening stints for Bitch and Melissa Ferrick, how could it not? Next stop: Lilith Fair.
At least that’s the goal, as the duo will compete in the Local Talent Search against other Michigan bands for a full set in the July 21 festival at DTE Energy Music Theatre. The more votes they get, cast yours at http://www.lilithfair.com, the better chance they have of performing alongside Sarah McLachlan and Kelly Clarkson. When Lilith Fair made its rounds in the ’90s, Peterson went seven times – Sarah wasn’t far behind – and the festival exposed them to women’s ability to bring thousands of music-loving people together.
“It gave us a glimpse, mainstream or otherwise, of what was out there for female music-makers,” Peterson says. “Being a part of Lilith Fair Detroit would be like coming full circle.”
And the cherry on top of an already good year.
Nervous But Excited
8 p.m. April 24
The Ark (with Joshua Davis)
316 S. Main, Ann Arbor ($15)
7:30 p.m. May 21 ($12, $15)
1218 Turner St., Lansing