Good Diction draws from the past—and creates its own traditions

Keegan Adriance

Keegan Adriance

Peter Bodurtha has his hands full.

The 34-year-old frontman for Good Diction steadies his infant son on his hip with one hand as the other unwraps a stick of cheese for one of his two daughters, both under six years old. His 37-year-old wife, Julie Bodurtha, is in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner.

The Bodurthas started their “rhythm-and-blues-grass” band in 2009 as a duo, named after a compliment Peter once gave Julie. Peter is the lead singer, sole songwriter, and guitarist. Julie plays the drums. In 2012, Good Diction expanded to include friends Grant Adams (bass), John Eckhardt (keys), Stacy Griffin (violin, vocals), and Rob Martin (mandolin). The sextet released The Queen’s English that same year; Good[er] Diction and Victory followed.

Their new album, Benediction, continues Good Diction’s tradition of titular wordplay. (“Benediction” is the band’s name in Latin.) This summer they raised $3,666 on IndieGoGo to record it. This Sunday at Icehouse they celebrate its release.

For now, Peter and Julie await the arrival of their bandmates at their two-story home in northeast Minneapolis. It’s a colorful, if cluttered, abode, decorated in boho style with bright furniture, big throw pillows, and art by Adam Turman. A huge unity puzzle, completed at the Bodurthas’ wedding nine years ago, adorns a funky blue wall. A mod portrait of Peter and Julie with a guitar, reminiscent of Nick Cave and Susie Bick, hangs alongside a photograph of the couple’s clasped hands. There’s a drumstick on the floor, miscellaneous kids’ toys tossed about, and folding chairs crammed around a dining room table.

“It’s a family affair,” says Peter, who wears burgundy glasses and a thin brown tie over a blue collared shirt and slacks. He’s cocksure, articulate, and analytical. Julie, who answers questions over her shoulder as she shuttles back and forth from the kitchen, is an effortless beauty with chin-length dark hair and apple cheeks.

The Bodurthas cook dinner before rehearsals to help their bandmates transition from their day jobs and family lives to music-making. One by one, the thirtysomething guests filter in. Grant is short and clean-shaven with black hair; he arrives first with his daughter. Julie says a prayer so the kids can eat. Rob, an athletic man with long honey hair and bright eyes, arrives next. He asks as many questions as he answers. John is skinny, soft-spoken, and polite. Curly-haired Stacy arrives last; she wears a serious expression and seems introverted.

The band sips Grain Belt and hot cider and nibbles on spicy fajitas, bricks of cornbread, handfuls of tortilla chips, and leftover bundt cake and brownies. They laugh about Rob’s affinity for Totino’s Pizza Rolls, their awkward photo shoots, and Grant’s desire to use “modern medicine” to ensure his family stops growing. (He recently became a father for the third time.)

If Good Diction’s pre-rehearsal dinner tradition and community-building ethos are unique, so too is their sound. The seed for it was planted when Peter discovered Odetta’s Christmas Spirituals album. He was drawn to the songs’ use of Bible stories to confront everyday issues. Good Diction’s storytelling style resembles the Decemberists’, but with more diverse instrumentation. No two songs sound alike, tempos change at will, and their new album is anything but cohesive. “I don’t feel like we should sacrifice something in a song just so it will cohere with some other song,” Peter says.

The members of Good Diction are self-proclaimed “church people,” and that’s evident in the new album’s use of Old Testament characters. “Esther” addresses the courage it takes to speak the truth. “Saul” examines the gap between how we think our lives will be versus how they actually turn out. 

“To reference a story can be a really powerful songwriting tool,” Grant says. “You only have to say a few things and it only takes one or two lines but you just referenced a whole story that adds richness. Peter does that with the Bible, but he also does that with Greek mythology and American history and all other kinds of things, too.”

“Rather than an evangelistic tool where there are these stories in the Bible that would then incite curiosity that would draw people into the church—that’s not what we’re going for,” says Stacy. “These are stories that we grew up hearing and these are stories that we are still hearing, and for all these people who are raising these tiny folk, these are stories that keeping coming up again and again. It becomes a part of who you are.”

“It has a different intent than worship music has. This is about describing something that we feel in real life. And that’s messy,” Peter says.

Many of the songs on Benediction pull from this messy real-life experience. “Cry Like a Baby” was born from Peter’s realization that a three-month-old baby separated from her mother and a blues singer lamenting a lost love share a lot of emotions in common. “Go to Sleep” was informed by the pains of leaving someone you love before they wake up in the morning. “Wait for a Change” is about how “nothing ever changes as much as you think it will when that one thing you put all of your hope in happens,” Peter says.

The point isn’t for listeners to decode the song’s messages, however. “As a songwriter, I want people to feel something,” Peter says. “I don’t know if I want them to feel exactly what I feel in the exact same way because they understand the deepest reaches of what the lyrics mean. I’ve come to not have that expectation of people.”

“I don’t understand the lyrics,” John admits meekly.

“I’m married to him and we never really talked about what he was really trying to convey,” Julie says of Peter. “When he would finally tell all of us, we’d all look at each other like, ‘Oh! That’s what he meant when he was writing this song!’”

Julie’s favorite song is “Saul” because she gets to play the drums loud and fast, something she wasn’t allowed to do in high school. It’s particularly satisfying now to play her heart out onstage—especially when her parents are in the audience.

After the plates are cleared and as the kids are being entertained upstairs with a movie, a new chaos ensues as the musicians unpack, tune instruments, and fiddle with a temperamental amp in the den. They form an imperfect circle around a futon and John’s tinkling keys start off “Saul.” As the song builds, Peter and Julie exchange glances—some sweet and smiley, others an excruciating “What was that sound?” look. He has duct-taped her drums. She rips it off.

On “Esther,” Grant sways as he digs into the bass and Rob closes his eyes, consumed by sound; they embrace when the song ends. On “Samson,” Stacy’s voice is both foreboding and seductive. Halfway through, Peter unleashes beastly vocals and the instrumentation turns frantic. Though they aren’t playing at full volume, the collective energy in the room is electric. They’re each in a place apart, making music together.

Good Diction
With: Jillian Rae
Where: Icehouse
When: 6 p.m. Sun. Dec. 3
Tickets: $8/$10; more info here