The band is, clearly, not one to throw out what works or even what might not. The name Dolly Varden, for instance, is from a trout species Dawson knew from fishing as a youth in Idaho, where he partially grew up. But even as it gets mistaken for some kind of odd pun on "Dolly Parton," they've stuck by it.
And by each other.
The closest they came to breaking up, band members say, was during a post-Sept. 11 tour of the U.K.
It was after they'd recorded "Forgiven Now," a disappointing exercise in trying to replicate the recording experience of the previous album, "The Dumbest Magnets." (Both were made in Nashville, Tenn., with country producer Brad Jones, and "Magnets" is Dawson's other favorite Varden record, with "For a While.")
"We got lost in every city we went to," Dawson recalls. "The London show was a washout. We had maybe 15 people even though we were getting national airplay. It wasn't because the record wasn't doing well. It was because nobody was going out. It was sort of demoralizing.
"We ended up having some screaming matches, the only time that ever happened. We were just trying to get through it without killing each other."
They got through it.
Dawson's secret to longevity: "I guess you just have to not give up. It's really easy to give in and give up and just say, 'Screw it. It's not worth the frustrations.' Diane and I both are really kind of stubborn in that way. We aren't willing to give in."
But here, perhaps, is the biggest secret of all: They have not only an ordained Lutheran minister in the band, bass player Mike Bradburn, but also an actual marriage counselor. Christiansen has a private practice helping couples, and she says many of the lessons transfer.
Of the band, she says: "We've learned to really forgive each other's foibles and really, really cherish the relationship. It's exactly what's needed in a marriage. ... We've all seen a lot of bands break up. We've seen a lot of people not talk to their former bandmates. We've seen people hate each other. We've seen people die. We're like, 'Yeah, we can be grateful for this.'
"We get along in a way that we didn't before. It's almost like when you see people who in the middle of their marriage or later, they really hit this stride where they're super-empathic and grateful to have the relationship. It seems like that's where we are, the five of us. That kind of flow and gratitude is there in this record as well."
When: 8 p.m. Saturday (Jenny Bienemann opens)
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Tickets: $15-$20 at citywinery.com