Andrew Stern, the songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist behind 3 Pairs of Boots, says the band’s new album, Long Rider, was inspired by the adventures of Bernice Ende, a woman who has been exploring the United States alone, on horseback, for the last 15 years. Stern and singer Laura Arias, his songwriting partner in 3 Pairs of Boots, met Ende when their friend, filmmaker Wren Winfield, was working on Lady Long Rider, a documentary about Ende’s travels.
“When she was 50 or so, she came to a crossroads in her life and started riding her horse, all alone, for months and months at a time,” Stern said. “She had a home, but being free, alone and on the road appealed to her. The documentary describes her travels, the wonderful people she met and the experiences she had. Laura and I are long riders in a sense, because we’re on a long musical journey. Like traveling, it’s difficult, exciting, fun and full of unexpected experiences. There are always new challenges and discoveries. Wren introduced us to Ms. Ende after we wrote a few songs for the film’s soundtrack—’I Am the Map,’ ‘Angels of the Trail’ and ‘Everywhere I Go.'”
Those songs and seven more original tunes make Long Rider, the duo’s second album, a gratifying experience. With the exception of the rhythm tracks created by Nashville session drummer Christian Paschall, Stern created all the music on the album—bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and hand claps. Arias supplied the vocals and multi-layered harmonies that give the songs their cinematic feel. The album opener, “Quittin’ Time,” sounds like a classic country hit, with a strong chorus, twanging electric guitars and a tearful vocal from Arias that intensifies the song’s message of frustrated love. “Devil Road” is a solid country rock tune, with overlapping lead guitars and a spirited vocal. The singer owns up to her self-destructive life, with a combination of pride and regret as she sings: “I’d like to say you made me, but my sins are all mine.” The duo takes a trip back in time for “Summer of Love,” a tribute to the understanding and harmony that once was the hallmark of life in San Francisco. Stern’s chiming guitars and the lush layered harmonies Arias supplies give the song a nostalgic feel.
“The political turmoil of the last four years was part of the inspiration for that song,” Stern said. “Finding common ground doesn’t seem to be on the mind of many politicians. The Summer of Love may have degenerated rather quickly, but the idea that we have more similarities than we do differences is one to bear in mind. We usually try to stay away from political songs, but that one just came out.”
The duo labored over the songs on Long Rider for more than a year, editing and refining the material as they went along. They have a studio in their home, so they were able to take the time they needed to make sure every note was perfect.
The album, finished in 2019, was due to be released last summer. Then the pandemic struck and the lockdown happened. “It didn’t feel right to put it out while people were experiencing so many hardships,” Stern said. “We used the time to do more work on it, making some adjustments here and there.”
“Just before the lockdown, we played some of the songs live, as a duo,” Arias said. “We both grew up playing in bands, so the idea of reproducing the feel of the album as a duo was daunting. Andy was unfazed. I was concerned that we couldn’t make them sound as bold as they do on the record. When we reinvented them as a duo, they took on a different feel. It was really a fun gig.”
“It was tricky taking the band tracks down to one acoustic guitar, with Laura singing the main theme, without the layers, counter melodies and all the guitars,” Stern said. “It took time to figure it out, but it opened up a different side of the songs. It was good to see them translate so well, and made us think about playing more dates as a duo.”