The Talented Shelby Means: She Means Bass!

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Photo by Scott Simontacchi

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine, Issue 8

Authored by TIFFINI TAYLOR

Lovers Leap is a self-titled debut EP that involves an easy groove with a three-part harmony on six tracks—from “Walnut Tree” to the album-closing cover of “California Stars.” Recorded by the four-member band of the same name, it features upright bassist Shelby Means (Sally & George, formerly of Della Mae), Mary Lucey (formerly of Biscuit Burners), Joel Timmons (Sally & George, Sol Driven Train), and Billy Cardine (Acoustic Syndicate, formerly of Biscuit Burners). Shelby Means is a virtuoso upright bassist who has performed in over 30 countries as a music ambassador and who garnered a Grammy nomination in 2013 for her work with Della Mae. She doesn’t stop at bass either; when she’s not playing, you will find her teaching yoga and fifth-grade Hebrew, walking dogs, taming wild cats, growing plants, and paddling through chocolate rivers. This multitalented bassist recently spoke to Guitar Girl Magazine about Lovers Leap and upright bass.

When did you know you wanted to play the upright bass? Did you choose the upright bass, or did the upright bass choose you?

I was 14 when I started playing upright. My parents encouraged me to call the junior high orchestra teacher to ask if I could borrow a school bass. I had a history of starting to learn an instrument and then growing cold on it, so they wanted to make sure I was truly invested in the bass before investing their money into one for me! I was inspired to try the bass after watching Erin Youngberg play at an old time and country music contest in Wyoming.  Even though my mom taught me not to stare, I couldn’t pry my eyes off of Erin’s fingers! I was lucky enough to get a lesson from Erin once I procured a bass from  the junior high. I chose the bass, like I chose so many other instruments before it, but then the bass chose me back, and we have been together for 17 years.

Who inspired you when you were young growing up in Wyoming, compared to who inspires you now? Where do you draw your inspiration?

Alison Krauss and her band with Barry Bales and Nickel Creek were major inspirations for me growing up. Now, living in Nashville and being surrounded by musicians who are following their dreams, inspiration is everywhere. Joel Timmons, Jacob Means, Lihi Haruvi, Molly Tuttle, Rachel Baiman, Lake Street Dive, Paul Kowert, my parents, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga… I could go on and on because the talent and hard work of these friends and people is really rewarding to watch. I try to stay open to inspiration coming from as many different places as possible. Stories, human interactions, news, children, nature, animals, sisterhood, holidays, love, sex, etc.

Formerly with Della Mae, you now have formed Lovers Leap. Tell us more about Lovers Leap and how this collaboration came to be?

After I left Della Mae four years ago, I formed Sally & George, an experimental duo with my then boyfriend Joel Timmons. One of the first festivals we were booked at was the French Broad River Festival. Justyn Thompson believed in the duo and hired us a few years in a row. In 2017, he again hired Sally & George but asked if we would also play a set on the main stage with another musical couple, Billy Cardine and Mary Lucey. Of course, we agreed, and the band was born! We asked the crowd from onstage to help us come up with a name for the new group, and someone pointed up at the rocky outcropping across the river and said, “Lovers Leap”! It stuck, as did the collaboration between Billy, Mary, and Sally & George.

Photo by Steve Atkins
Lovers Leap has released their first single, “Walnut Tree,” which was inspired by an actual walnut tree. What was it about that walnut tree that inspired you to write this song, and do you know how long the walnut tree has been around?

Mary Lucey composed “Walnut Tree.” She explained, “The walnut tree on our property is giant! It must be one of the oldest trees in proximity to our house. Its majestic silhouette dominates the mountain between our property and my parents’. The squirrels seem fairly dependent on it, and I thought there weren’t enough songs celebrating its beauty and importance in the forest.”

Your self-titled EP will be released April 19. Tell us more about what we can hear on the EP?

We recorded six songs together at Billy and Mary’s home studio in North Carolina. The landscape of the hillside their house is perched upon and the solitude of the area allowed us to dive deep into the music and the themes of nature and love. Mary, Joel, and I brought songs to the table, and we added a Wilco/Billy Bragg cover to the EP. The lead vocals rotate between the three songwriters, and we all had fun coming up with harmony parts for each other’s songs. Billy’s dobro fireworks spark joyful interplay between the guitar, banjo, cello, and bass. The gentlemen had a lot of fun laying down a percussion jam on “Great Expectations.”

How was the recording process for this EP? Do you have a favorite moment in the recording process?

The recording process was unlike any other experience in the studio I have had before. From preproduction to engineering to mixing, the entire EP was produced by the members of Lovers Leap. Each song used a different approach; sometimes we recorded the body of the song and added the vocals later, and sometimes we recorded a few instruments with a scratch vocal and then added other parts on top of it. Bill was the main engineer, but at times Mary or Joel would take the controls. One thing I am super excited that you can hear on the album is my cello playing debut! My favorite moment in the recording process was when Joel and I snuck in to the studio late one night and added cello parts to “Walnut Tree” and “Red Dawn Awakening.”

What kind of upright bass do you play? Do you have a favorite?

I play an Engelhardt Swingmaster and a Chadwick Folding Bass with D’Addario Helicore strings. Both basses have their strengths. The Swingmaster was my first bass, and I used it to record on the Grammy nominated album This World Oft Can Be with Della Mae. It will always be dear to my heart! The folding bass I have dubbed Woody Ganesh, and it is a true road warrior, trusty and supportive like a good bass ought to be. With my touring lifestyle, I enjoy playing basses that are a little more durable/made with plywood. One day I hope to own a carved bass, but the problem with owning multiple basses is figuring out where to put them…there are only so many corners in my house!

Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with that you would like to do a collaboration with?

I am a huge fan of collaboration, and there are so many people I’d love to collaborate with. I’m currently dreaming about Gillian Welch and I’m With Her.

There have been many changes in the music industry, from music streaming to how record companies do business. What do you think are the positives and negatives?

As an independent artist, the ease of getting music out into the world now is a positive aspect that I see in the music industry. More artists can produce more music. It is a bit of a catch-22, however, because with more independent artists producing music, there are more fish swimming in the sea, and it might take something truly special to rise to the top and greet the masses. Today we are lucky because there are more roads to success and ways to directly connect with an audience.

Lovers Leap has already been touring and will continue to tour throughout April and a little in May; do you have any expectations on this tour? Do you have any preshow rituals you do before a performance?

We just finished taping for Mountain Stage and have exciting shows coming up in Asheville, N.C., Johnson City, Tenn., Nashville, Tenn., Charleston S.C., and Charlotte N.C., along with a few great festivals this summer. I’m looking forward to introducing some of our favorite towns to the Lovers Leap EP. It is nice to release a body of music and have that be the focus of the shows. I expect the band to be tighter than ever before, to introduce a few new instrumental tunes to the live show, and to expand the jam sections of the songs to shine a little light on my virtuosic bandmates.

My preshow rituals include casual vocal warmups/breathing exercises while curling my hair and putting on makeup! When I am traveling with my folding bass, the set up and tuning of that instrument is a preshow ritual that makes me feel centered.

What’s next for Shelby Means and Lovers Leap?

I am so happy to have a plate full of delicious musical projects. You can expect new music from Sally & George later this year, and I am looking forward to continuing my work as a side woman with Rachel Baiman. After a hiatus from IBMA, I am delighted to return with Lovers Leap this fall. 2019 is the craziest year of travel I have had in a while. January and February brought me to NYC, Boston, England, Wales, France, Scotland, Ireland, and St. Thomas, USVI. March will bring me to Cuba and the southeast U.S. I’m heading to Colorado and Wyoming before a big trip to Israel for my brother’s wedding this summer. Joel and I will meet up with Lovers Leap in France for the La Roche Bluegrass Festival.

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