As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine June 2018 issue.
The, a sister act featuring identical twins Laurie and Katelyn Shook, is currently dotting the country with a sound that is equally hard to pin down. Rooted in folk and layered with ethereal harmonies and experimental vocals over a combination of electric, ambient, and synth sounds, the Shook Twins bring something new and fresh to the singer-songwriter, folk scene.
Laurie Shook filled us in on their process, their influence, and what the family business of music is like.
Tell me a little about your musical background. Who were your influences? What drew you both to playing music, and what drew you each to of your instruments of choice?
We were always drawn to singing. We’ve been making up songs since we were three years old. There is a home video of us with mullets singing Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You” in our backyard. We were in choir from fifth grade up through college.
It was when a boy with a crush on Katelyn gave her a guitar as a high school graduation gift that we started learning how to play and write our first songs. They were adorably terrible.
When we were first writing, we were influenced by Ani DiFranco, Jack Johnson, Bjork, Lauryn Hill, the Beatles, and a lot of the pop of the 2000s. It was a very poignant time when we were able to accompany ourselves because we were always drawn to music by singing. There was a whole world ahead of us once we started learning guitar. It was about four years after that when I decided to get a banjo, just to broaden our sound. I still play a little guitar, but I love the banjo because of its unique tone and the feeling it gives.
What was it like growing up in Idaho, musically speaking? Was there a music scene you could align yourselves with, or was it just the two of you making music?
When we moved back to our hometown after college, there was actually quite a music and poetry scene blossoming. There was this bar we all went to, The Downtown Crossing. Our friends ran it, and they started an Open Mic Night. It may have been one of the first Open Mic Nights in town. There was a big group of us – poetic, wandering twenty-somethings (a handful of them were living in our parents’ Guest House), and we were all so into this Open Mic Night and challenged ourselves each week to show up with something new that would make each other feel things. That’s where it all started for us – that feeling of impressing your impressive peers and writing things that meant something.
Describe your creative process. Do you write individually or collaboratively?
We write individually and collaboratively. Lately, we have been locking ourselves in our friends’ Air B&B and kind of clocking in – setting up all our gear and writing, practicing, or remixing covers or old songs of ours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It seems like the muse won’t come when forced, but that’s not the case for us. It does. We do a sort of ritual and call the muse in, and most of the time, a song will fall out of the sky for us. I went to Mexico this winter and did the same thing – rented an apartment on the beach and called in the muse.
What inspires you?
We are inspired by many things. Mostly the way we live our lives. We like our songs to mean something to us, almost like a diary entry or a memento from a certain time. Then we use language that can translate and become relatable to other human beings, and perhaps, a few animals, but we’ve written about chickens, rain, living under the ocean, heartbreak, love, robots, the bulls**t of the world around us, finding joy, messages from friends who have passed – you name it.
Being twins, how do you distinguish yourselves and bring your own flavor to your music?
That’s a good question. We definitely try to capitalize on the twinness. We coordinate our outfits and try to match our voices, for example. But there are a lot of differences in what we are playing on our songs. I started learning the banjo, and how to loop that percussively from the very beginning, so that we could maximize our sound. She is also the harmony part for the most part. She has a lower, airier voice. She beatboxes with a special drum mic or adds a delay to her harmony part. Katelyn uses her telephone microphone to give the vocals an interesting, distant lo-fi texture. Katelyn holds down the lead rhythm guitar and the melody, for the most part.
Your sound is very varied, and I especially like the instrumentation on “Stay Wild.” What were your influences on that track?
“Stay Wild” is a song to remind us to find the joy in life, to stay wild. A friend told us once that she felt like she wasn’t living the life that she had dreamed up and that her “palette had gone pastel.” We asked her if we could use that line, and she was honored.
That song started with Katelyn’s fast fingerpicking high up on the guitar neck that made a harp-like tone. I matched that on the banjo, adding delay and playing whole notes. Once we found the groove, we realized it had a disco feel to it, so that’s what we told the band, and they really hit it home. We referenced Pharrell’s “Get Lucky” for tempo and groove because that has the same kind of subtle disco feel we were going for. We had our bass player, Sydney Nash, play a clavinet for the solo, and there were a lot of pedals and knob turning by Niko Slice, our electric guitarist, to create the underlying textures.
There are so many female musicians out there right now, and the numbers are increasing, but the music industry still seems extremely male-dominated.
It has been so great to see more festivals and clubs become more aware of booking female-fronted bands. A shift of awareness is happening, for sure. For me, I am always drawn to the woman on stage in a band full of shredding male guitarists. A woman adds so much to music.
What has your experience been like as women in music? Do you ever find you’re not taken seriously or like you’re at a disadvantage?
We have – thankfully – never had any blatant sexist experiences, but it definitely makes us wonder where we might be in our career if we were twin men?
What is it like being a sister act?
We love being a sister act. That is the most common comment we get – that our sister harmonies are something else. We love how our voices blend together with our matching DNA.
Are there any sister or sibling acts you look up to?
There are so many sibling acts, which is awesome. We look up to the careers of many sibling acts like First Aid Kit and the twins in Brandi Carlile’s band. One of our favorite bands is The Barr Brothers.
Is there a particular type of guitar/banjo/instrument you’re drawn to, either in a general sense or at this moment?
We are so lucky to have these two guys out of Bend, Oregon be such generous fans and such skilled luthiers. They started a guitar-making company called Cannon Acoustic, and they have hooked us up with a handful of beautiful custom instruments. They made Katelyn’s parlor guitar that she plays at every show now. They made me a custom banjo and a tenor guitar that I tune like a banjo. I’m very attached to my trusty ol’ Goodtime Banjo from Deering, mostly because it’s so lightweight, and it has a warm, folky tone versus a bluegrass twang.
What are you ladies listening to right now?
Lots! We have delved into the massive amounts of music Spotify has to offer. Katelyn has compiled a 350-song playlist of all the songs that she digs from her “Discover Weekly” playlist that Spotify makes for you, or just of the songs that she hears out in the world. Many of the bands we can’t remember, but the bands that we are big fans of are The Barr Brothers, Chris Staples, Gregory Alan Isakov, Laura Veirs, Lucius, Hiss Golden Messenger, Paul Simon, Fruition, Rayland Baxter, Annalisa Tornfelt, Bjork, Bonobo, Emancipator, Ariana Grande, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson – so many!
Any wild or weird tour stories you can share?
Well, there have been many travel hiccups, but one that was a particularly close call, was about nine years ago in our first tour van, “Sherpa” the Dodge Caravan. We were driving her down to Park City to play a bar during the Sundance Film Festival. It was somewhere in Montana where she started to die.
We happened to be by a repair shop, so we sputtered our way there. The mechanic told us what was wrong, but we couldn’t afford to fix it or wait for the part, so he told us how to rig it to make it down to Utah by wiggling some wire near the battery whenever it started to sputter.
So, we wiggled that wire all the way down for, like, six hours, and she completely died about fifty miles from Park City. We called a tow truck, and when it arrived, the driver said he would buy it off of us and haul it away. So, we took the offer, got all our stuff and gear out of the Sherpa, and waited at a gas station for a friend to come get us as we watched our trusty steed get hauled away for good.
Our friend showed up in an SUV already full of stuff, so we somehow piled all our stuff on top of ourselves and drove the rest of the way to the bar and showed up just in time for sound check!
Any twin shenanigans you’ve played on your bandmates or fans?
There is a sweet tradition that we have with our dear fan named Calvin, an older man from northern California who comes to all our shows in the area. Each show, we take two pictures with him, one of the three of us from the front and one of the three of us from the back. After each show, he makes himself a new t-shirt with the pictures printed on the front and back. He wears that shirt in each photo, so it’s now an infinity shirt of a photo of us all with him wearing a shirt with a photo of us, of a photo of us…and so on. There are about nine tiny “us’s” on the shirt now, front and back. It’s so sweet, and it brings us all such joy!
Alive or dead, who are your dream collaborations? Who would you love to play with?
I would have loved to sing with the Beatles, to be able to be a part of their amazing harmonies would have been a dream. We also have dreams of being backup singers. We love adding to people’s songs and choiring out! We’d love to hop on a tour with any of our favorite bands of the moment.
Who would you love to have a conversation with, musical or otherwise?
I would love to have a conversation with David Byrne because I think he is a genius when it comes to performance. Also, John Lennon would really be inspiring to talk to about making music that is for change and empowering people to be peaceful, which is something we need again.
What would you tell your younger selves who are just starting out in a band or as musicians?
Remember this feeling – the feeling of excitement and joy of playing for a group people of any size who may or may not be listening to you. [The feeling] of traveling around with your good friends and doing what you want.
Keep it about the joy, not the numbers of money or likes, or followers, or debt. Remember that music is important for feeling good, and that’s the point.
Don’t get your hopes up, and don’t take things personally.
Don’t let it go to your head. Keep your feet on the ground and keep doing you