Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray’s songs are gritty, bluesy, atmospheric, sparse at times and bring lots of roots-music elements together to tell stories. You would think that the music should “say it all,” so to speak.
But when I interviewed Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray about their upcoming show, I happily found out that these road-seasoned musicians really like to talk about their music.
Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray
For me, it’s so refreshing to get this kind of enthusiasm — the interview was like having a conversation within a conversation — which is so much better than a lot of these one-line text messages floating around these days.
In fact, send yourself a one-line text right now, a reminder to stop by and check these guys out. They’ll be at the Trillium Cafe on Monday, March 25, where I’m sure they’ll be happy to continue the musical conversation.
Thanks for stopping by Hood River. Please introduce yourselves, tell us how you found out about Hood River, and tell us where exactly is the “Here” on your album title “We’re from Here.”
Erin Frisby: I’m Miss Shevaughn, I grew up singing with my family in Arkansas and Louisiana before studying opera in Maryland and getting on the road with Yuma Wray after several years in Chicago.
Chris Stelloh: And I’m Yuma Wray, I used to play in punk and hardcore bands in D.C. and discovered country, folk and blues music after moving to Chicago. I was playing in a loud southern rock band and I invited everyone I knew, including Miss Shevaughn, to a show. She showed up, and we started hanging out and playing music a few days later.
Erin: We rekindled an old flame, we knew each other back in D.C. but this time there was music involved, which really made everything come together.
Chris: Right now “Here” is Paso Robles, California, but it’s always changing because we’ve been on the road for the better part of the last two years. And we plan on staying on the road as much as possible.
Erin: We decided to go all or nothing in 2011, ditch our grown-up jobs and apartment in Chicago and try living on the road for a year. We played about 125 shows that first year in 29 different states.
Chris: Our goal was to abandon comfort and stability with the hope of building a full-time band. We played everywhere we could for all kinds of audiences and we learned a lot about our music.
Erin: So people were always asking us where we are from. At almost every show someone would ask. When we recorded the album, “We’re From Here” just came to us as the perfect title since the music on it was so inspired by not having been from anywhere for a while, and the places we’ve traveled and the people we’ve met.
Chris: We’ve never been to Hood River before. We booked through Ross Becker of Birds Eye Booking. Ross plays mandolin in The Bottlecap Boys and they played in Hood River at Trillium and had a really great time. So we are really looking forward to coming to town.
Erin: We’re always excited to keep the adventure going, to play somewhere new.
How did you come up with your interesting stage names?
Erin: Shevaughn is my middle name. We knew we were going to be Miss Shevaughn and …
Chris: I found my name on a road sign in Colorado. This way to Akron, Yuma and Wray. It was serendipitous. Drop “Akron” and there I am …
Erin: And now we have Ben Tufts on drums too, but he doesn’t have a stage name … yet.
What can folks expect to hear at the Trillium Café in Hood River?
Chris: A band that sounds much larger than the three people who comprise the lineup. We go for a textured full sound and incorporate three-part vocal harmonies. Ben is a great drummer; he brings out all kinds of great rhythms, and utilizes lots of extra percussion — hopefully on this tour, he brings his wind chimes!
Erin and I will play guitar, banjo, mandolin, keys and harmonica. Sometimes one of us will even play keys and guitar and sing in the same song.
Erin: We pull in a lot of influences and most of them come from the 1960s and 1970s. You’ll probably hear some classic California country, some psychedelic folk and blues, with a little bit of Memphis soul. We’ve been told our songwriting is really narrative, that the storytelling aspect of the songs can pull people in.
Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
Chris: I never started out with the intent of being a “protest singer,” but a lot of my songwriting ideas seem to come from things that I’m frustrated about and can’t change, both in my personal life and from world events. But whatever I write about — I feel that it has to tell a story, or it feels kind of pointless.
Erin: I’ve written a lot of “based on a true story” songs about family members and about myself especially on “We’re From Here.”
I think that a lot of my aesthetic comes from a kind of dark Southern Gothic place. I think one of the biggest things for me in songwriting is passion. I won’t sing something that’s just not believable. We write together a lot too and always add to each other’s songs and then when we play live together, the songs undergo even more changes.
We each have musical feelings that are natural to us, Yuma brings in a lot of desert/western soundscape elements as well as a lot of power with dynamic shifts in the songs. On this tour we’re trying out a lot of new material that may or may not end up on an album we’ll be recording this year.
How are you able to transfer the music from your CD, which seems to have a few more players on the songs, to your stage format?
Chris: You’ve touched on one of the biggest challenges facing Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray.
When we set out to record “We’re From Here” we decided that we were just going to make the album, and worry about recreating it in a live setting later. So we got ambitious and invited many of our friends to contribute, in addition to adding a lot of sonic ideas on our own.
Since finishing the album, we decided that there was no way we could exist solely as a duo anymore, hence the addition of Ben Tufts on drums. But in a live setting, it is still just the three of us — so we are faced with A LOT of multi-tasking. We don’t use pre-recorded material, so we do a ton of instrument switching. Which is good for us — it keeps us limber.
I may play rhythm and sing lead on one song, but will have to totally shift gears in order to do percussion and lead guitar on the next. But no matter how many bells, whistles and extra players we may or may not add to our songs, one thing remains constant.
The songs have to be just as powerful in a quiet, stripped-down setting as they are in a rock club. A good friend of mine once told me “If you can’t play it with just you and your acoustic guitar, it probably ain’t a song.”
What was the recording process like for you guys: Was it live all at once or track by track?
Erin: We love recording and we think and talk about what we’re going to do in the studio when we’re first getting a song together. It’s like a fun, giddy thing to do with a new song.
Most of “We’re From Here” was recorded in a bathroom with the exception of the drums, which were recorded at The Greenhouse in Signal Hill, Calif., using every microphone we had. Chris does most of the engineering and we come up with new ideas as we go along.
Chris: The way that we record our songs is part of our attempt at self-sufficiency. Several years ago, I decided that one of the ways I could have more control and musical freedom was to learn how to engineer my music on my own.
I’m quite lucky that Erin feels the same way. I am by no means a skilled audio engineer, but I have figured out something that works for what we do. Some people are quite creative in a big studio environment. I personally have always felt rushed when I’m tracking a song in someone else’s house.
There are many amazing studios that I would love to be able to create in, but at this point in our career, the hard truth is, we just can’t afford it. I would rather spend $400 on microphones, and learn how to use them properly, rather than pay $400 a day for someone else’s microphones.
Home recording has its own pitfalls, too. Without anyone there to tell you “hey that was the take, you got it, let’s move on” you can sometimes get stuck in a rut trying to perfect something. There I always try to remember that some of the greatest classic recordings were usually done in one take. It may not have been the perfect take, but it was the take.
So our process is a delicate balancing act between wanting to have the time and not feel rushed versus recording songs that still sound organic and real, and not overly polished.
I noticed a “pay what you will” format for downloading your songs. How have people responded to that?
Chris: Not all of our music is pay what you want; we put money into “We’re From Here” so we feel we should get money out of it. Even though I’m sure there are plenty of torrent sites out there where you can download us or anyone else for free.
The live album we just put up is “pay what you want” and the response to that has been fairly evenly split; some people pay and some people don’t. We are living through a time where the ways that people appreciate music and support artists are changing every day.
When people are given the option to get something for free, some will always take that route, no matter what. But there are some people out there who get that musicians are people, too. We need to eat and pay bills and put gas in our tank.
Some people are figuring out that if they do not support their favorite musicians financially, then there might come a day when people like Erin and I won’t be able to do music anymore. At least, that is what we are hoping.
Erin: I don’t think anyone, especially artists, wants to think of music solely as a commodity. There is something kind of perverse about saying a song is equal to 99 cents.
But at the same time, we fear a future where only the independently wealthy are afforded the luxury of having their voices heard in the music world. I think pay what you want is nice, because it is similar to what we are doing anyway; offering up a song or a performance as a gift and in return asking for a gift of monetary and emotional support to be able to continue making songs and performing them in as diverse locations as possible.
And we’ve found that people can be incredibly generous. We’ve had people pay more than the asking price for CDs or for admission just because they liked the music and want to help out.
Your press release includes a lot of comparisons to some pretty well-known people in the music business. How does that feel and who do you compare yourself to?
Erin: Of course it’s incredibly flattering to be compared to legends like Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm and Jimmy Page.
One blogger called us “guitar heroes,” which made us blush. We’re both self-taught guitar players, and are far from being technically correct.
One of the results of comparisons that has been super nice is that it spurs us to listen to music we may not have in the past.
For instance, my voice was compared to Joni Mitchell a lot over the past year, and I had never really listened to any of her music. So I got a copy of Blue and I love it, it’s in constant rotation. That happens a lot on tour, too; people will say, “Hey, you kind of remind me of such-and-such band,” sometimes it’s a local band and we’ll check it out. We’ve come across a lot of amazing music that way.
We were really nervous about how people would receive “We’re From Here.” We wrote the songs that we wanted to and recorded them the way we wanted to.
We were aware that commercially speaking it was kind of a long album and that we don’t stick to one genre exclusively. So the best thing about hearing the comparisons that we did was that people really got what we were going for.
We were reaching back to a time when whole albums were considered as one cohesive piece rather than a collection of singles and we were definitely inspired by the diversity and genre-bending tendencies of a lot of great classics like Jefferson Airplane, Gram Parsons and Led Zeppelin. So it felt amazing that other people felt the same way about the record, that we were able to successfully share the fun and challenging moments of our songwriting process.
Chris: The comparison of our work to the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s is about as flattering as you can get. I recently read an article called “You are not too old, all the songs do sound the same and they are all way too loud” — about the homogenization of sounds and the recording techniques which make everything as loud as the commercials on TV.
This article went on to say that the reason so many people will gravitate to a copy of, say, “The White Album” or “Dark Side Of The Moon” before choosing to listen to most of what came out last year, is because the variation in actual sound levels and choices of notes and chords in those songs are more pleasing to the human ear.
While this may sound scientific and sterile when applied to something as emotional as music, it still means that if people think we sound like those classic albums, then we are doing something right.