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Travel, art inspire country trio’s debut

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 03/29/2019 12:00 PM

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Country trio Poets & Lies (Adam Young, Amanda Von Riesen, and Jon Mushaluk) released their debut album, Sore Winner, last Friday.

ORA WALKER PHOTOGRAPHY Enlarge Image

Country trio Poets & Lies (Adam Young, Amanda Von Riesen, and Jon Mushaluk) released their debut album, Sore Winner, last Friday.

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Just about everyone can relate: you return home from a long trip, happy but exhausted, to find nothing but a few expired items in the refrigerator.

Many would grumble and head off to the store, but Amanda Von Riesen picked up her pen and wrote "Eggs & Whiskey" instead.

The song, inspired by a return from Nashville, opens Sore Winner, the debut album from Poets & Lies, a country trio Von Riesen (vocals, lyrics) formed in 2016 with Winnipeg musicians Adam Young (guitar, dobro, banjo) and Jon Mushaluk (upright bass).

The six-track album, featuring original songs co-written by Von Riesen and Young, was released last Friday.

The album is the latest to emerge from the Southeast’s vibrant country music scene, which includes Kleefeld’s Jason Kirkness and Mitchell’s Quinton Blair.

The band’s big break arrived last year, when they were invited to perform at Dauphin’s Countryfest, Canada’s longest running country music festival. The band has also graced stages at Summer in the City and Hanover Ag Fair.

After bumping into each other at various gigs and venues, the three noticed they had similar musical tastes.

"We just started singing in a green room," Von Riesen recalled last Friday from the kitchen table in her Steinbach home.

When they began rehearsing at Young’s home studio in Winnipeg, they pooled favourite cover songs as well as tunes they’d written over the years.

Things clicked. One of Von Riesen’s sketches, which became the album’s third track, "Crowning the Turtles," was completed in just 20 minutes.

"We just finished it right there—boom," Von Riesen said.

Its video later garnered the group one of four nominations at the 2016 Manitoba Country Music Association Awards. They’ve been nominated for an MCMA award every year since.

Today, they’re a tight-knit group of friends who support each other through hard times.

"I feel like they’re my brothers," Von Riesen said.

Sore Winner was recorded at Young’s home studio and Von Riesen’s house (Steinbach’s Outbach Music provided a glockenspiel on short notice, which Von Riesen played on the album’s lead single, "Rebound Fling").

Modern recording software allows a band to "make anybody’s vocals sound like whatever you want," but the band wanted a live feel, with long takes and raw vocals.

"This is just us. It’s about the songs, the music," she said.

With no drums and liberal use of banjo, slide guitar and upright bass, the band’s sound sidesteps the pop sensibility that dominates country radio, and pursues a more direct connection to the early country, blues, and rock that inspire them.

"I love all kinds of country…but I’m very drawn to the old stuff," Von Riesen said. "I think old country is coming back. People appreciate it more. It lasts."

She cites Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Dwight Yoakam as influences, but likes the Rolling Stones too.

"My first cassette tape was Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA."

A self-employed visual artist who’s exhibited her works at New York City’s Agora Gallery, Von Riesen, 44, was once advised to choose either music or painting.

She refused, explaining the two modes of expression are inseparable.

"They totally work off of one another…For me, (painting) is about creating a feeling. Same with music."

Portraits of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and other giants of 20th century music line her living room.

Other influences are found within her own family tree.

Her father, Walter Friesen, played guitar and accordion in a family band, while her mother, Susan Friesen, sang gospel songs around the house.

Von Riesen grew up on a farm near the Frantz Inn, and later moved to Mitchell, where she pumped gas at her father’s auto repair shop.

"I wasn’t a bad kid, but I definitely didn’t sit still," she said.

A self-described "wandering soul" who left town at age 16—"Grabbed my last paycheque, quit school, quit work"—Von Riesen wound up in Amarillo, Texas, the town immortalized by George Strait.

She returned to Steinbach three months later with a lifelong love of travel and enough new experiences to inspire lyrics for years to come. Later, in university, she studied psychology to help her sift through her young adulthood.

"Sometimes, things come out years later. I think that’s how I work. It all sorts itself out a few years down the road."

Now the mother of a 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter, Von Riesen said she tries to instill in them a love of trying new things through road trips and visits to art galleries.

"I can’t not travel," she said.

Sore Winner is available on iTunes and streaming services. CD copies can be requested by visiting poetsnlies.com.

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