The Shook Twins are identical twins from Sandpoint, Idaho. With smiles that emit a grounded and radiant glow, Katelyn and Laurie perform a joyfully eccentric live show. Their brand of “quirky folk” music is as unique as the infectious spirit running through them. I was immediately struck by their elegant, angelic voices, creative songwriting and witty sense of humor. Recently, I sat down with the girls over dinner and talked to them about the band, their music and hopes for their career.
You guys recently released a new album, Window. I was actually at the CD release show at the Alberta Rose. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of the album?
Katelyn: Window was our “step up” album, though originally we had intended to record it ghetto style in our basement and we started doing it that way. We were trying to record demos but constantly on the phone with out producer asking him what all the little wavy things on the computer screen meant (Laughs). Pretty soon, we realized that we didn’t want to deal with the technical side of recording; we just wanted to write songs and play them. Our producer eventually saw what we had and told us he couldn’t use any of it!
Laurie: So we totally switched gears and started recording live jams with our friends all across the west, in Santa Cruz and in the mountains of Colorado with Elephant Revival. There are fourteen people credited on the album including our little niece! Our previous album took two weeks to record but this one took upwards of a year.
When we went to record the studio versions of the songs we were thinking about the amazing times we had with our friends jamming on these original song ideas. We tried to imagine having a psychic “window” into those jam sessions. We wanted to recreate that feeling as best we could on the record.
For people who don’t know you guys, how would you describe your sound?
Laurie: Well, we call it “quirky folk” music.
Katelyn: We don’t take ourselves too seriously. As much as we love playing live and writing songs, we get really uncomfortable when people take themselves too seriously.
I think your sense of humor comes through on stage.
Katelyn: Well that’s good. We hope that’s the case. We like to create a vibe at our shows that feels like we’re hanging out with friends. We love to connect and celebrate with the audience because that’s how we are off stage. But the quirky part? Well….
Laurie: I beat box. And we have a giant golden egg that sits with us on stage and we use it for percussion sometimes. We filled it with popcorn. There’s a story behind the egg too, but that’s long. We’ve got an old telephone on stage that Katelyn sings into and it morphs her voice. We like to sing about chickens. So, yeah we are pretty weird. Our favorite compliment is when people tell us our music is unique.
Katelyn: It’s pretty hard to create original music these days, so much has been done before, but we strive to express ourselves in a way that is true and particular to us.
How did you start beat boxing Laurie?
Laurie: Well this Mormon A Cappella group called The Standards came through our high school in Sandpoint and all the girls were just going crazy. We loved them! They put on a concert in the gym and this one guy was beat boxing and all the girls were just giggling and flirting and asking him how he did it. I was standing in the back just trying it out and he heard me and said, “I think you got it”! He asked me to come up with him and try and I did a really simple beat and everyone went crazy, it was pretty fun. Then at our choir concert that year I beat boxed through our version of “Killing Me Softly” and had the best time! So now we do it. I used to practice when we worked at a restaurant one summer. Every day I’d walk to work and practice my chops! (Laughs)
So you will loop those beats on stage?
Laurie: Yeah we loop the beat boxing and we loop the percussion that I play on the banjo or with all the stuff we have lying around. We construct full songs sometimes with just the two of us. Sometimes Katelyn just calls for a beat box solo and then I’m on the spot and have to drop it!
Katelyn: Another thing I think that makes us unique and that we got ragged on a lot for when we were just starting out is our sense of positivity. Look, we know the world is turning to shit. We don’t pay attention to the news, but we know it’s out there. We can feel it. One of our lyrics says: “I do admit I close my ears to conversations of war/I even read the cliff notes to 1984”. Sometimes ignorance of this crazy world can be bliss. We want to surround ourselves with people who try to make joy. I mean I still love a lot of the heartbroken, tortured soul songwriting out there, I even just wrote one of those songs myself about a breakup (laughs). The thing is I’ve seen people get into the trap of just torturing themselves to try and produce “authenticity” or something. That’s not what we’re about at all. We like to write songs about loving our friends and wanting to go camping with them, ya know?
Laurie: We kind of had a carefree childhood growing up in Sandpoint. It’s really the best, its idyllic, like this vortex of goodness! There’s a huge, gorgeous lake in the middle of the mountains. We were so lucky to bliss out as kids, running around this playground. We are really close with our parents, so when we started writing songs when we were older it was natural for us to write about the way we felt and people gave us shit, “oh those Shook Twins, all they write about is happy go-lucky stuff”. It used to make us uncomfortable (Laughs). We’ve grown up a lot since we wrote our first songs and we haven’t lost our happiness! (Laughs) We don’t focus on the negative, we want to celebrate and make people happy.
I’ve noticed at your shows there are people that are coming back frequently and seem to share this spirit?
Katelyn: Yeah! It’s awesome. We love our fans and there is a crew that keeps coming. We are so thankful. We are definitely feeling the love hard in Portland and when we feel the love we just put it out harder! There is this growing feeling of joy and satisfaction that the hard work means something when people can come together like that and celebrate being alive.
What do you guys like about living and playing in Portland?
Katelyn: Portland is so great! We’ve met so many musicians here and we all support one another. There is this amazing group of like-minded people that want to come together and celebrate. Nonetheless, Portland still has a lot of people that like to stand still and shall we say, “observe” during concerts, but we are finding that our shows are a little different. We love playing with bands like Medicine for the People, Fruition, Ben Darwish, and so many others. We all go to each other’s shows, play on collaborative bills with each other and play on stage together.
Yeah there are always lots of different people on stage with you guys!
Laurie: We love to collaborate. It’s in the spirit of having fun with friends and never playing the song the same way twice. We don’t want the live show to sound EXACTLY like the album, we’ve played the song “Window” with so many different types of musicians its crazy – hip hop, bluegrass, a jam band, just the two of us. So with guests up there we like to encourage them to add their own sound to the song and we will play off that.
Katelyn: We love playing with other people. We’ve played with Marv Ellis, this local hip-hop guy who is a friend and our friends in Elephant Revival. We love to sing back up for people and we do that a lot too.
How do you guys write your songs?
Katelyn: Writing is hard! We try to sit down together. We are a bit more formal with it than some other people. I keep notes in my journal but sometimes a new Shook Twins song takes a long time. The music usually comes first, a riff, or a phrase or something that Laurie plays and then I start mouthing some lyrics. Recently, the music and lyrics have been coming together all at once! It’s been pretty exciting.
Laurie: We have a roommate who is into magic and witchy-ness, if you know what I mean (Laughs) and she has this “witch cave”, we call it The Spell Nook. She’s got all these magical trinkets in there and recently I went into the Nook and felt all this swirling energy, I was just trying to breath and channel it, meditate. I felt all this energy tunneling down into me. It was pretty amazing. I started writing write there on the spot.
Woah! The Spell Nook!
Laurie: Yeah I know! It was really cool.
Talk about the future. What are you guys hoping for in your career?
Katelyn: We always want to have control but we want to sign with a larger, independent label that gives artists creative control. Our dream is to sign with Ani DiFranco’s label, Righteous Babe Records.
Right now our band is us and Kyle Volkman on bass, he’s one of our best friends and is the best. We want to round out the band with a cellist because cello blends really well with our sound and I think it makes people feel more! Our former cellist Lane now lives in Minnesota and we don’t think he’s coming back.
Laurie: We definitely want to increase our exposure and tour. We aren’t huge fans of long tours. I’m kind of a homebody. We like to go out for 2 or 3 weeks at a time and then have 2 weeks at home. But what a “job” to have, thankfully we don’t have to go to a cubicle every day so we are definitely grateful. We want to get to a point where we can play theaters and tour the country, I’m not totally sure our music translates to bigger venues than that but we will see! We want to get some more like minded people on the team helping us out with tours and booking, things like that. Our skills and desire really are in playing music so we want some other support!
Could you guys talk about your favorite or most profound musical moments on stage? When music really moved you.
Laurie: Ooooh. Yeah! So many times. It happens every day!
Katelyn: But the CD release show for Window we played this summer at the Alberta Rose Theater in Portland. It was webcasted live, all our friends dressed up to celebrate. The theater was packed, it was amazing! We said it all night…
Laurie: “This is the showiest show we’ve ever had!”
Katelyn: Last year at the Oregon Country Fair we played in and near the sauna for 50 naked people! We love the vibe at the Oregon Country Fair every year but that moment was such an amazing feeling. I couldn’t stop feeling so happy because people were enjoying it so much and I couldn’t believe I was making these sounds!
Laurie: Also, sitting in with Elephant Revival last weekend on a song we had never heard before. I just came out on stage and their fiddle player, Bridget Ward was jamming with an octave fiddler player and my body was just absorbing the power coming off their instruments. It was flowing right into me.
Katelyn: The thing is, every day is an amazing musical moment for us. To be able to play our songs for people who sing along and for the people who are just getting to know us is simply an incredible feeling every day.
If you want to know more The Shook Twins’ upcoming plans check out www.shooktwins.com