For a group that isn't actually based in the city anymore, Auld Lang Syne simultaneously remains one of Rochester's most beloved bands — particularly among area musicians — and arguably the city's best-kept musical secret. The songwriting vehicle of married couple Kathy and Timothy Dick, who first met while studying music at Roberts Wesleyan College, Auld Lang Syne has quietly released four full-length albums plus a collection of unreleased songs over the course of a decade. The now Utica-based group has an upcoming gig at The Little Café at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 6.
Kathy and Timothy write the kind of music that NPR music writers and radio personalities gush over. Lush, folk-based songs brushed with blues and rock, the music is replete with soulful and earnest vocals, exquisitely crafted and complex harmonies, and a warm, engrossing chordal vocabulary. A typical Auld Lang Syne show finds the couple sharing lead vocal duties, with Kathy playing the accordion and Timothy plucking an acoustic guitar.
The band released its most recent album, "Positively Phototactic," this past summer, and the new record somehow sounds tighter, edgier, and even more intimate than previous Auld Lang Syne offerings. Timothy calls the album "a more muscular, poppier kind of record, which I've always wanted to do."
Songs like "God Threw Up," "Forgotten Love," and "Computer" have a radio-friendly quality that may surprise long-time fans of the band. "Lonely AF" injects gospel and funk into the quintessential Auld Lang Syne formula of superimposing dark, melancholy lyrics over uplifting, life-affirming music.
Timothy sees a common thread between "Lonely AF" and "My First Soul," an older song that has become a fan favorite at the group's live shows. Some people said of "Lonely AF," "'Well, that's a sad song, but it sounds so joyful.' I think a lot of the tradition of blues and rock 'n' roll has been that way," Timothy says. "So 'My First Soul,' is ultimately, I think, about trying to find that core part of you, that part of you that resonates with who you really are. And maybe losing that, and trying to get it back, or even trying to recognize that maybe you never lost it, but it's a matter of scraping away some of the bullshit, the baggage."
When asked about challenges to the band's success, Auld Lang Syne acknowledges that in a traditional sense, marketing is the biggest obstacle. But the band has come to define success on its own terms: "We are able to make music, people hear it and we travel across the country and share it to small audiences from time to time," Timothy says. "Maybe that is success in some small way. Maybe that's enough for us for now."
For Auld Lang Syne, family takes precedence. "For us, building our whole life around getting the perfect band — we got three kids — it's just not possible," Timothy explains. "We like to travel. We want to have the freedom to travel. We can't be in one place for long enough to get a group like that going."
"I think our focus is more on living, and balanced in a healthy way with our family, and being a part of communities, whether they be here in Utica or having pockets of community throughout the country," Kathy adds. "We kind of just share the music that flows into us with other people, and we do it because we see the benefit of bringing people together in community and sharing our lives with each other. And it's a very powerful, beautiful, healing thing to perform in house concerts or smaller spaces."
As for future plans, Auld Lang Syne hopes to continue its collaboration with Rochester blues-rock band Dangerbyrd. Several songs have already been recorded, and an eventual album release may be in the works. Auld Lang Syne already has an additional new album of its own to be released in the coming spring, if not the winter.
Tentatively called "Kokopelli," the forthcoming record will mark a return to the band's signature sound, perfected on its gorgeous 2015 album, "Last of the Honey Bees." Lyrically, a prominent theme has already emerged on "Kokopelli."
"I like to think of ourselves as nature," Timothy says. "Nature isn't just the scenery that's around us. We're a part of it. Oddly enough, I think we have to unlearn things that we've learned in order to remember that we're a part of nature. So a lot of the songs on 'Kokopelli' have to do with unlearning."