An Interview With Kerrine Gifford & Jeremy Dunham Of Serene Myrtle Beach Folk Duo Sweet Sweet

A winding drive through the foggy hue of the wintry Smoky Mountains is the way I imagine South Carolina based indie folk duo Sweet Sweet composing the soundtrack of my life, shades of chestnut and evergreen blurring passed my window.  

Rustic and real, Jeremy Dunham and Kerrine Gifford intertwine their elegant crafts of cello and acoustic guitar to establish a calming atmosphere that instantly clears your lungs of this world’s smoke and ash. And man it feels good to breathe again. 

On the sand of Myrtle Beach is where you’d most likely find the pair, who released two new singles in 2020 that rooted themselves as traditionally authentic and heartfelt tales. The first one, “Hedon,” is a fragile dedication to the path we want to take in life. Only we know what will make us happy, and no matter what road we travel on, it will always be our own, guiding ourselves along to get us to where we want to be. Sweet Sweet emphasizes this concept with delicate harmonies and sweeping textures that feel like a warm hug tied to a gentle push in the right direction. 

The second track, “At War,” compares the fight in life to the fight of an army. Like soldiers, we, too, have the desire to make a mark, while weeds want to make it home, and time wants to make us learn. Simplicity is more with this one, an ever so enticing lullaby of sorts that’s contrived of a soft acoustic riff entangled with Dunham and Gifford’s tender voices. 

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We got the chance to ask Sweet Sweet a few questions in an effort to get to know the duo a bit more, as well as an update on any more projects we can look out for.

So how did you each get into playing the cello/acoustic guitar?

Kerrine Gifford: First off, we wanted to thank you Paul, Rachel, and Music Mecca for having us!

I started playing at age 10. There was no real rhyme or reason for it. My middle school asked if I wanted to join the orchestra and I said, “sure, why not?”. I started playing cello and have been ever since! I can’t quit this stuff.

Jeremy Dunham: I grew up with music around me. My dad and brothers played guitar, as well as a few of my aunts and uncles. I picked it up at age 12 and taught myself. I was immediately attracted to writing songs and trying to invent new chords and progressions. It was the perfect reason to lock myself in my room and get obsessed with something. Teen angst and the emergence of grunge music certainly helped the cause.

Can you give us a little backstory of how you first became acquainted with each other to inevitably become the duo you are today?

Gifford: I met Jer through a mutual friend who invited me to sit in on one of their shows. Unfortunately, said friend ended up in a long battle with addiction that ended up bringing us closer together and pretty much inseparable since. We decided to start our own project. At first, we were just learning a bunch of songs we both liked and tried writing a little together, which I had never done before. Next thing you know, we are a full blown band, accomplishing our dreams and such. 

Dunham: I have always been attracted to the sound of the cello. I love the mood that it evokes. I never had the chance to collaborate with anyone who played it until I met Kerrine. And I always wanted to sing with a female that loved harmonies as much as I did. So, needless to say, I snatched her up quickly and haven’t let her leave ever since.

(Kerrine silently slides a note to Rachel that reads, “please help me”)

What led you to the band name Sweet Sweet?

We’ve been asked this a lot over the years. I honestly don’t quite remember how exactly it came about. I know we said “that’s it!” when whoever said it out loud. That seems to happen when we write lyrics together, too. I do like how the name Sweet Sweet kinda mirrors the tone of our sound, and that it implies that we’re a duo. Two parts, equally sweet in their own way.

Exactly what Jer said, plus we both say the word “sweet” a lot. So it all worked out perfectly!

“However it happens, it’s always a fun process where we only wanted to strangle each other like once.”

What artists inspire you most, and how have they influenced your own music?

Gifford: So many artists have inspired me throughout my life. Songwriters like Gregory Alan Isokov and Nathaniel Rateliff are my go-to boys at the moment. The way they paint a picture with their words, melodies and music brings me to a space that is hard to explain. I try my best to do it through our music, hoping our listeners feel the same way I do when I listen to them. Right now, we are working on orchestrating a string quartet part to one of our new songs, Tempus. I can honestly say that both Isokov and Rateliff have had a major influence on that.

Dunham: It depends on the mood that I’m in. But in general, I love dark sounds and well written lyrics. Songs that tell stories. I grew up listening to my dad’s records, which consisted of a lot of Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and stuff like that. I love British artists from all eras. Pink Floyd, Beatles, Radiohead, to name a few. And one of my favorite artists is Tool. I’m not sure how exactly these bands influence me when it comes to how I write with Sweet Sweet, aside from how they all either paint a picture with their music or tell in-depth, poetic stories with their lyrics. I try to emulate those qualities as best as I can.

What is your creative process like? Are there more designated roles you play?

Gifford: When it comes to writing, I haven’t been doing it for long, so I’m still learning something new everyday. When we write together, it depends on the song. Sometimes Jer will come to me with a progression, melody and a start to some lyrics, and then we work from there. There have been times when I’ve approached him with just lyrics and we’ll workshop through some different progressions to get the feel just right. It really depends on the song and there hasn’t been one certain way our songs are crafted so far. When it comes to our string arrangements, those basically come after a song has a decent backbone. However it happens, it’s always a fun process where we only wanted to strangle each other like once.

That sounds about right. We don’t have a set way, per se. I think changing up the process often helps each song develop into something that stands on its own. But I still have the marks on my neck from that one strangling session.

If you could only use your sense of sight, how would you describe your sound?

Gifford: Interesting question! The best way I could describe it is you’re standing outside on a crisp, clear winter evening, staring up at the stars. It’s perfect and beautiful. The moon is lighting up everything around you. Suddenly, you see a fog roll in from the distance and soon blurs your once perfect perspective. Everything is in a haze but somehow you can see more clearly. At that moment, all of life’s questions are answered and that makes you very, very sad.

I agree, what an unique exercise. I think our sound looks like an empty dirt road leading through some rolling hills, filled with fall colors at dusk. All sitting under some ominous clouds dancing around a full moon.

And how about your sense of smell?

Gifford: Like your Grandmother’s house when you were 5 years old.

Dunham: Smells like a dusty, old photo album filled with recently taken Polaroids.

It looks like you have some shows lined up in the next few months. How are you preparing for those, and what’s your favorite part about performing live?

We have half-a-dozen new songs that we are preparing to debut at those upcoming shows. My favorite part of performing is bringing our songs to life in the good company of our fans. Every performance is a reflection of how we are feeling in that moment. Makes for a unique experience for both the listener and us.

Gifford: I spend a lot of time on preparing for shows mentally. If I can open myself up enough in front of a crowd and really feel the music we are creating during those moments on stage, I know I can connect with the people in the crowd. If I’m not having a good time, I know they aren’t either. Jeremy might hate me for saying this next part. My absolute favorite part of a live performance is when he jumbles up lyrics or starts a song in the wrong key and I can see the utter fear in his eyes as he glances over. Other than watching my best friend make a mistake on stage, I love seeing people sing our lyrics with an arm wrapped around a loved one. I will never take that for granted!

You released a few songs this past summer… How have you been staying busy since then? Any new projects in the works?

Gifford: We did! I’m very proud of the new songs we released and our good friend, Reuben Long, made sweet videos for them both. We have all been given the gift of extra time due to the current pandemic and we have been trying to stay busy and inspired. Even when we are feeling a little defeated but still want to stay creative, we paint. With a new EP in the works, we have been writing and recording while still playing some shows. I also sleep, a lot.

What do you hope to accomplish this year, musically or otherwise?

Gifford: With a mix of listening to my favorite album, Gregory Alan Isokov with the Colorado Symphony way too much that I would consider healthy and trying to utilize what I learned in my college years, I thought it’d be a fun project to try to orchestrate some parts for our songs. We’ve always dreamed it but would feel overwhelmed by the thought of it. Like, where would we start and where would we find the funds to make something like this happen? So we decided to take it into our own hands and see what we’re really capable of. I’ve played in orchestras and symphonies since I was little, so it has been easy to hear these string parts swirling around our lyrics.

This year, I hope to write a string quartet part to at least one of our new songs. Lord knows how long it will take but I feel like we have the time now and it would be so rewarding to challenge ourselves and say, “yeah, we did that!”.

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