The Pixies picked theirs from a dictionary. Air Supply’s Graham Russell saw his future soft-rock group’s name in a dream.
The two sisters at the core of the Blacksmith’s Daughters, a Minneapolis orchestral folk-pop band, named their band after what they are: the daughters of Boleslaw Kochanowski II, a Wisconsin-based blacksmith specializing in functional and artistic wrought iron.
The band, which is releasing its first full-length album, Seasons Turn, on October 6, is built around the vocal harmonies of sisters Annella Platta and Julida Alter, who grew up singing together when they weren’t helping out around the family blacksmithing business.
“I kind of lived in a little blacksmithing commune,” Alter said. “My parents worked at home. My dad’s the blacksmith, my mom did the office stuff with it, and we had this huge property. You can’t see anybody else, and the blacksmithing shop is bigger than our house.”
The family’s history of blacksmithing goes back more than a century and crosses the Atlantic. The sisters’ grandfather, Boleslaw Kochanowski I, was going to be a woodworker till his father suggested blacksmithing might be a more desirable line of work—he’d be able to take short breaks while waiting for the metal to heat up.
Like a lot of immigrant stories, the tale of the Kochanowskis’ journey to America is marked by drama. When the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, Kochanowski I was sent into forced labor on a farm that needed a blacksmith. After being wrongfully blamed for the death of a horse, he was sent to a concentration camp. Upon his liberation, he met his wife, Jadwiga, in a refugee camp, and they immigrated to the U.S., where he eventually became head blacksmith for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Boleslaw Kochanowski II followed his father into blacksmithing, but he eventually found a different approach to the craft, becoming known for ornamental iron rails, gates, and fences, as well as fine art.
Annella and Julida’s husbands, Brent Platta and Sean Alter, are also band members, along with a third married couple, Jeremy and Krista Swider. All six work in education, too; they’re a band of spouses and teachers. And they’re all multi-instrumentalists as well.
The Blacksmith’s Daughters try to approach making music with the same sense of craft and attention to detail their namesakes bring to blacksmithing. Their songs are sturdy, tight, and chiming, with chamber-pop strings, propulsive guitar and ukulele chords, and the sisters’ wholesome, choir-like harmonies on top. The arrangements are stuffed with detail, but every sound comes through clear. Like their father’s wrought-iron rails, the music Annella and Julida make with their bandmates is ornamental, yet functional: The accouterments don’t weigh down the songs or muddy their emotional impact.
“From an outsider’s point of view, your dad and Annella and you, to a degree, are perfectionists,” Sean said to Julida during my early morning interview with the pair at an Apple Valley cafe.
The group’s current lineup came together gradually as its members met and married. The story is a little bit complicated. Sean befriended Jeremy after they met on a charity hike. Then Sean met Annella, and later Annella set Sean up on a date with Julida. Sean started playing with Annella and Julida, and Brent got in the mix when he moved to the Twin Cities. Jeremy and Krista were always showing up at shows and played on recordings as guests. They were officially added to the band sometime around the release of the group’s first EP, Truth, last year.
Sean, an experienced engineer, asked to record Annella and Julida the first time he heard them harmonize. He could not resist what he calls the “good-natured” blend of the sisters’ voices.
One of the first projects the three of them worked on together was a Christmas album for Julida and Annella’s family. They’d had a tradition of recording one almost every year since they were 12. Since, with Sean’s help, that year’s Christmas album was coming out a little more polished than the previous ones, they decided they should have a band name, and the Blacksmith’s Daughters became official. (Julida Alter says her father approves of the name.)
Many of the songs on Seasons Turn have roots in another private album Annella recorded by herself for Brent before she spent a semester in Poland. They had been dating for about six months at the time, and the songs capture the strong emotion of new, young love.
“They’ve only been dating for six months,” Julida said, “and she’s telling him, ‘We’re going to spend the rest of our life together,’ and Brent says, ‘It’s a bit much.’ It’s amazing, but it was a bit much back then.”
Sean was attracted by that “a bit much”-ness when it was time for the band to start sorting through their demos for material to record for the album that became Seasons Turn. “They’re really good,” he said. “They’re really heart-centered songs.”
Although Annella is probably the Blacksmith’s Daughters’ most prolific songwriter, the album’s title track was co-written by the entire band. “Sean had a guitar part that wasn’t finished, Annella came in and wrote some of the words that weren’t finished, and then we all sat there together and actually finished the song,” Julida said.
“Seasons Turn” ties the album together as a song that’s about both the transitions between literal seasons and the changing life-stages of the bandmates as they grow together; it forms a mature contrast with the other, older songs of young love.
“Your love has to grow up,” Julida said. “It’s not this Hollywood, complete romance. It’s a serious, how-you-gonna-make-this-work struggle—but yet worth it.”
The Blacksmiths’ Daughters
Where: The Warming House
When: 8 p.m. Sat. Oct. 7
Tickets: $10: more info here