“My birthday’s coming up, and I’m so depressed,” the singer says with a mournful little sigh. “Seriously, I don’t want to get any older!” Then she smiles sadly, almost like she’s trying to be brave.
In the golden age of body augmentation and Botox, her statement isn’t all too surprising...except for the fact that Boyle, one half of local folk duo the Old Believers, is turning 20. Her baby-faced partner and bandmate, Nelson Kempf, is a decrepit 19. The fresh-faced pair appear as if they’ve stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with rosy cheeks, argyle sweaters and an old-timey sound that calls to mind the good ol’ days of banjo porch-picking and Mom’s apple pie. The two songwriters began performing together in a blues-rock band during high school. And while their peers were signing up for Calc 101 and picking out dorm-shower caddies, Kempf and Boyle were packing their belongings into a run-down car and driving away from their hometown of Kenai, Alaska—heading out into the world to give music a go.
Lucky for Portland, they ended up here.
While Boyle lists her folk-singing father as a main influence and Kempf initially played punk riffs in a band called the Droogs, the duo’s sound evolved into the old-fashioned folk music that shines on its debut, Some Songs by the Old Believers. The lo-fi tracks, recorded in the couple’s one-bedroom Southeast apartment and released on their own label—Fine Romantic—are layered with rich harmonies, jangly tambourine, occasional harmonica and eerie lapsteel. Boyle’s voice is absolutely beautiful—with a bell-clear tone and tender inflection reminiscent of a starry-eyed Jolie Holland—while Kempf provides a Ryan Adams-esque swagger with a grittier, bluesier drawl that would smell of whiskey...if its owner was of the age to partake. And the goosebump-inducing blend of the two on “Gettin’ Older (That’s All (Babe))” is so perfect you’ll overlook the cutesy title (Two Parenthesis? (Really?)).
Cuteness aside, the aptly named Old Believers are sage souls in young bodies, with lovely, poetic lyrics and delicately crafted melodies. “Someday we’ll let out into the air,” they sing sadly on “Gettin’ Older,” “and our sweet love will seep into the ground.” “We’re just getting older, they croon reassuringly, “that’s all, that’s all”—almost like they’re trying to be brave.
SEE IT: The Old Believers play Wednesday, Oct. 3, with Matt Hopper and Hide and Go Hustle at Berbati’s. 9:30 pm. $6. 21+. Keeley Boyle also plays Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Gotham Tavern. 8:30 pm. Free. All ages.