IMAGINE THIS: Katrina Ford, the statuesque vocalist for Baltimore’s indie-rock powerhouse Celebration, and Sean Antanaitis, her band mate and husband, are sitting at home discussing their evening plans. Since moving to Baltimore in 1998 the couple has carved a singular path through the local music community, first with the intensely potent Love Life, now as Celebration. They’re sought-after collaborators—with Ford lending her indelible voice to records by TV on the Radio, British electronics duo UNKLE and Future Islands’ breakout new album “Singles.” She also fronts the local dream-pop groove machine Mt. Royal. Antanaitis put his distinctive chops on Scarlett Johansson’s 2008 solo album.
When Ford, sitting for an interview at a Station North coffee shop, candidly talks about what their evenings together are like, the mind begins speculating about how a glamorous creative-class power couple spends its free time. Fabulous party? Hot-ticket event? Checking out the cool nightspot du jour?
“We’re like—let’s go play synthesizers,” Ford says, followed by an infectious laugh. “Not all of it becomes a Celebration song, it’s just what we do.”
They’ve been doing that for a decade as Celebration, the band whose name is a statement of purpose. Ever since its 2005 self-titled debut, Celebration has functioned as a euphoria delivery service—distilling organs, drums and voice into a powerful narcotic that soothes the soul. In recent years the core trio of Ford, Antanaitis and drummer David Bergander added keyboardist and backing vocalist Tony Drummond and guitarist Walker Teret to the band’s live settings, creating a powerful rock combo that still agilely handles its rhythmic curves and hypnotic melodies. This lineup yielded the ten songs on the band’s new “Albumin,” released on Aug. 18.
It’s Celebration’s first record with the British label Bella Union, which was founded by the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde in 1997. Guthrie left to start his own venture in 2000, and ever since Raymonde runs the label like an impeccable small press.
“I can’t believe there’s still people like this making records,” Ford says of the authentic “music lovers” at Bella Union, which has released exquisite albums by Australia’s Dirty Three, American composer Van Dyke Parks and the spectral Swedish indie-pop band I Break Horses. Stylistically these artists are all over the map; what unites them is their outsider iconoclasm. Working on the fringes of the conventional indie-rock industry machine, these musicians refuse to churn out albums quickly just to plug into the 24-7 music cycle in hopes of trending high on social media. They take their time to make the music they want to make.
“We didn’t think we were going to work with a label again after [a less-than-ideal experience with] 4AD,” says Ford. “But when we tried to go at it alone, we realized we needed help to spread the word. We’re not good at tooting our own horns. We just want to play music.”
It’s what Ford and Antanaitis have done for 23 years—22 of those as a couple. Ford is a refreshingly no-nonsense front-woman, the kind of artist who has spent enough time on this planet to recognize how precious it is. Between working to pay the bills and the day-to-day living of being a grown-up, that doesn’t leave a huge amount of spare time to create, so she and Antanaitis take advantage of free time together as much as they can.
They head down to their basement, fire up a click track to provide a rhythm and begin playing off each other until an idea forms.
They record everything. Sometimes those musical ideas end up as Celebration songs, sometimes they become something more personal. “Tomorrow’s Here Today,” a song off “Albumin,” began life as a gift for their drummer Bergander and his wife on the birth of their son, Asa. A skipping beat propels the song along its cheerful way, the melody growing out of a gauzy keyboard wash that opens the song. Throughout Ford coos a collage of lines that hit the ears like drops of overwhelming tenderness—“before you know, you’ll be grown”; “the future will burn bright my love”; “this world needs a face just like you”—before the entire song blossoms into the titular chorus.
That was six years ago; it was Bergander and the band who lobbied for it to become a Celebration track. “We wrote the song as a gift and it kicked around our lives for a few years and the rest of the band said, ‘I think we should make this a rock song,’” Ford says. “And we thought, let’s try it.”
Such is the alchemy of songwriting: songs often start as mere ideas that steep inside the band members’ heads for a while before they mature into songs. Everybody puts in a piece of himself or herself—and what comes out the other side might end up on an album. “When you work with people for as long as we have you have another language, another mythology, and that’s our music,” Ford says. “It moves around and develops and changes. It’s thrown away and resurrected and rebuilt. We just go wherever the excitement is for everybody.”
That’s why sometimes it takes time to put out new material. Though the band is a prolific songwriting unit, “Albumin” is Celebration’s first release in three years. What started as about 25 song ideas eventually ten. Working everything through the band’s algebra simply takes time.
So, of course, when Ford and Antanaitis are home, and the laundry is done and the cats are fed, they’re going to do what artists do: create. She can’t imagine doing anything else with her life. “When I was a little kid, I used to daydream this,” Ford says. “And since we’re a couple, when we have time off together, we do what we love—make music.”