With nimble fingers and an enviable vocabulary, Dietrich Strause is a bright spot on Boston’s acoustic music scene. His catchy tune “Unsinkable” tells the story of a young man nursing a crush. This being a folk song, you can probably guess how the tale ends.
Strause kindly answered a few questions by email about the song, which comes from his brand new album, Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart.
CMT Edge: I like both of the characters you’ve portrayed in “Unsinkable.” How did this story come to you? What was going through your mind when you wrote it?
Strause: I was reading an article about unlucky people. A park ranger who has been struck by lightning 11 times, a couple who vacationed in New York on 9/11 and London on the day of the subway bombings and a nurse who survived three shipwrecks, one of them being the Titanic. I started thinking about if these people were the unluckiest people in the world or if it made them the luckiest people in the world to have survived.
This is where I came up with my two main characters: A young man pining after the nurse, and the nurse leading him into all these shipwrecks. But he keeps coming back. Through determination and buoyancy, he finally wins her heart — only to find himself going down with the third ship while finally getting his kiss.
“Unsinkable” reminds me of a Woody Guthrie song. Is his writing an influence on you — in particular, his wit and his talent for rhyming?
It’s funny you mention Woody Guthrie in reference to this song. He definitely is an influence on my writing. His playful use of near-rhymes has certainly expanded my comfort level in slipping them into my own writing and this song, in particular. I really appreciate writing that doesn’t give you exactly what you want.
In the second verse of “Unsinkable,” I wrote in my own inside joke. I am writing about the Titanic, and I use all the words that rhyme with Titanic — “Atlantic,” “romantic” and a near-rhyme “skeptic” — but never actually use the word “Titanic.” Guthrie was great at using words and phrases that weren’t exact rhymes — he’ll rhyme “jump” and “swamp” — and make it work.
I imagine you’ll be playing a lot of shows in 2014. How do you approach your live set? For someone who comes to see you, what can they expect?
If I am putting on my own show, I will have a combination of players ranging from a full band down to a duo of just me and upright bass. But whether it’s the full band or a duo, my goal is to convey the narratives and focus on the emotional arc of the material. I try to weave a larger narrative of nostalgia into all of my songs, so from the first note of the show, the band and I are trying to create another world for the audience to escape into.
I am also a trumpet player, so when I play with other people, I get to work the trumpet into the set, and it helps add to some of the lonesome sound!
Check out Dietrich Strause’s “Unsinkable.”