By Amanda Dyslin
---- — MANKATO — The longevity of Mankato folk-rock band The Divers (and the friendship of its four members) is immediately apparent when the four get together to talk music.
The conversation goes something like this:
The Divers have been a band for 21 years.
I think it's 23, actually.
Isn't that weird? Twenty-three years. Wait, when did we get started?
We'll just say the band got together in the early 1990s when the guys were in their early 20s. The lineup originally included Will Bauermeister of Dazy Head Mazy. Jason Gray, now a solo artist, was another musician who came and went as a Diver in the '90s before the final lineup was set — Pete Bloedel, Andy Overn and brothers Loren and Eric Halvorson.
Since the beginning they wrote their own music, and it was fun to look back on how their sound has evolved since those early days. At first the music was more acoustic — just two guitars, a mandolin and vocals — which could be heard on the first two albums: the one they call the “White Album” in 1991 and “Water” in 1994.
The addition of drums made the sound more rich, they said. And the song-writing became deeper over time as well. At first there were a lot of “relationshipy” songs, and songs about growing up, Eric said.
“Now it's sort of a collection of stuff,” Eric said, including songs about parenting, their wives and even love songs written for other couples they know.
“They're not about trying to date somebody,” Pete said, referring to the early days. “And there's some fun novelty songs. We like to sing about stuff nobody else is singing about — like snow-blowing and llamas and eating hamburgers.”
The Divers' third album in '99 was called “Walkies in the Park,” “which we still call our new album, and it's 14 years old,” Bloedel said with a laugh.
That's what happens when guys grow up, their lives get busy “and then everybody starts having babies,” Overn said. Time slips away.
The guys now have 12 kids between them, and they have jobs and hobbies and all kinds of other things to keep them busy. But despite the full schedules, there haven't been any breaks in performing together as a band.
“It's kind of my social life,” Bloedel said. “I don't bowl. I don't play softball on a team. My social life has to do with these guys. They've been great pals for years and years.”
“Got a Kleenex?” Loren said, pretending to wipe the corner of his eye.
For more than a decade, there also haven't been breaks in talking about putting out a fourth album at some point. It was always the plan, but making time was hard.
“The conversation never stopped,” Eric said. “We've been having the conversation for 14 years.”
“There comes a point where you're sort of on auto pilot for a while,” Bloedel said. “You're singing the songs you've always sung.”
But a while back, the conversation became, “What if we actually did this?” Bloedel said. And since they'd continued to write music over the years, their fourth album actually came together pretty easily.
Bloedel's friend and colleague Benji Inniger recorded the band at Bethany Lutheran College, where the two teach, and also in his basement. And “Where You Are Now” was born.
The cover image is separated into four different landscapes, with a guitar in the center that is in part of each square. Overn said the idea was to show that time passes, but the music remains constant in their lives.
“We've gone from young men to fathers to slightly older men,” Overn said, inciting a few chuckles.
“Boys to young men,” Loren said.
The band will have a CD release party at Martin Luther College in October. But they had the CD all ready for sale in time for their performance at Rock Bend Folk Festival last weekend.
The Divers have performed at Rock Bend for 22 years; only City Mouse has performed more times at the festival. The one year The Divers weren't at Rock Bend, people were asking for them, they said.
The band feels lucky to have developed a core group of dedicated fans over the years who come see them perform at places such as Songs on the Lawn and The Grand Kabaret in New Ulm, which is one of their favorite places to perform these days.
“It's one of those places to play where people are coming to listen to the music,” Bloedel said.
As far as the band's future is concerned, they plan to keep performing together as long as they can. And they're quick to credit their wives — whom they call The Wivers — for being so understanding and allowing them so much time away from home for rehearsals and performances.
Their friendship also keeps the band strong.
“Things that tear other bands apart, we're just not going to go there. Like the ego thing,” Overn said.
“And it's just pretty darn fun,” Bloedel said. “We laugh a lot.”
“We just don't take ourselves very seriously,” Loren said. “The fact that people show up to listen to us is just a bonus.”
If you go What The Divers When 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the The Grand Kabaret, 210 N Minnesota St. in New Ulm 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Martin Luther College (CD release party for "Where You Are Now") Info thedivers.com