The Shadies: A good old time

Mark Twain once said, “All of us have music and truth inside but most have a hard time getting it out.” The beauty of folk music is that it allows us to rejoice in the art of those who didn’t have that problem. Wonderfully, The Shadies are able to make old words say things new and exciting, with an honesty and humility so rarely encountered in today’s music scene.

Arriving at 8 o’clock, the sun is just dipping behind the bay and mead-sippers hesitate to meander indoors for more. The calm of the Honey Moon mirrors the placid waters on this Tuesday night, save for a table of four in the middle of the room, who share each other’s company without reservation – they are clearly family. Glasses are emptied, and the four casually rise and gather again at the front of the room, instruments in hand.

Here for their weekly gig, two songs in and the overcoats come off, the fiddle glides over and around a rhythmically sound trio of bass, banjo and guitar, and I’m sent hurtling back to how I’ve always imagined the old days to be.

Devin Champlin provides the performance with motion, fiddle bow darting this way and that, writing melodies in the air with calligraphic artistry. One’s eyes can therefore be easily distracted from the technical mastery that Lucas displays on the banjo. Rarely does an instrument appear to play itself but any attention spent to Hicks’ banjo in action reveals an oft-forgotten truth of music: The instrument is merely a vessel; the artist is one unafraid to give it something to say.

The smell of fresh cut grass and cheap cigar wafts through the room, though the door is closed and the windows are shut. One is transported by the attitude of sound alone. The Shadies deserve a giant hall with tables but no chairs, where water is scarce but whiskey and gin flow with abundance. Where strangers are faced with no option but to lock hands and throw their bodies about to the bouncing soul of honest country. My prayers for more beautiful harmonization are answered around 10 o’clock, when the cider and wine has been attended to with a bit more passion. Bassist Jenny Rose and guitarist Andy Rick join in the vocals in the second half of the show, much to my pleasure. The Shadies are all fantastic singers; they just generally tend to speak through their strings. When the vocals do come together, nothing is more apparent than the simple fact that music, which speaks of life, ought to be fun.

Following are a few things The Shadies shared about their music.

You mentioned that your Honey Moon performances were the primary “rehearsals” for the album—how did that affect the approach to the recording process? Was it a smooth one?

Lucas: We’ve almost never rehearsed. Most of our tunes have been learned on the fly at our weekly gig over the last few years. Perhaps because we’re so used to playing in a relaxed atmosphere, we were at ease while recording and built an album out of mainly first and second takes done in a couple of leisurely mornings.

Andy: Our goal was to keep the process as minimal as possible. I work at Binary Recording Studio and have access to a large professional studio where, if we wanted to, we could take a modern approach (overdubs, endless tweaking, etc.) Instead, we recorded at Lucas and Jenny’s place. I set up a stereo pair of ribbon mics and we played pretty much the same as we always do.

Can you locate the origin of your interest in old time country/folk?

Andy: 25° 47’ 25” N / 80° 7’ 49” W.

Lucas: June 14, 1983.

The Shadies look right at home in Bellingham, but a Pacific Northwest tour is on the horizon. Where are you headed, and when? Are you familiar with the Ashland folk scene, and/or what makes Ashland a destination for you?

Lucas: Some form of the group has played in the Ashland area a handful of times. We are playing a private party in Williams, Oregon in September and decided to put together some additional dates on the way down and back. We love playing private parties and weddings but adding a few rowdy bar shows into the mix makes for an ideal tour.

Jenny: There is a solid old-time music community on the West Coast, and a lot of us have been playing music together for years, at festivals, shows, or on each other’s front porches. So for The Shadies a coast tour is also going to be a chance to visit some of our favorite folks, play tunes together, maybe share a stage or two.

The Shadies play a style of music that is meant to generate movement, and above all else, to be fun. It seems that the group has found a way to maintain that feel, playing once weekly in a familiar environment. The group dynamic is fresh, unlike others which appear to grow stagnant over time. Is that a product of a relatively new ensemble, or is there something unique in The Shadies’ approach that keeps things playful?

Andy: I think that what keeps us fresh is that we’re always learning.  When we first started, we played mostly tunes that you would hear at a square dance. We’ve grown and now play more rags, blues, hawaiian, and other styles. Sometimes it does feel stagnant to us, but that’s when we step it up and throw in some new material. Because of this, our repertoire is pretty large.

Do you have any fears that a tour can jeopardize that atmosphere?

Jenny: Andy, Devin and Lucas are super dramatic. Definitely going to be some catfights.

When and where can one find the new album? What is it called?

Lucas: The album is called Cuttin At The Point. It can be purchased from us directly at a show, from Avalon records on Railroad Avenue, or from our Bandcamp page.

 

Is there something unique to either the show or the album that one won’t find in the other?

Lucas: We chose a pile of our favorite tunes and songs that offer some variety and recorded them live and in a way that sounds as much like being in a room with us as possible.

A Super Mario ringtone went off during the show, and you casually plucked out the Underground Theme from Super Mario Bros. Did you grow up with a Nintendo?

Lucas: Shit yes. Another favorite is the title screen theme from Ms Pacman. Feel free to request it next time.

In addition to playing every Tuesday at the Honey Moon, The Shadies will perform at the Subdued Stringband Jamboree in August. For more information, check out www.facebook.com/pages/The-Shadies.