Last year, Shook Twins, an Americana group fronted by sisters Katelyn and Laurie Shook, received an invitation to try out for American Idol, asking each to audition “INDIVIDUALLY of course.”
The sisters sent a long letter back. You can read the whole thing HERE — but basically they said “thanks, but no thanks.”
For the Shook Twins, music wasn’t a competition — and certainly not one between siblings and fellow band members. They’d rather build their audience one fan at a time, creating the kind of music they’re proud of, not try to make a big splash on TV by fitting into a game-show mold.
A year later and their grassroots efforts continue to pay off.
The Shook Twins are touring through bigger venues and playing at festivals; they’ve secured sponsorship from notable music (and beer) brands; they’ve shared the stage with Ryan Adams, Blitzen Trapper, David Grisman, The Indigo Girls, The Head and the Heart, and many more; and they’ve built a professional team around them to help the group bring its music to a larger audience.
Since Shook Twins are such a perfect example of creating music success on your own terms, we thought we would:
1. interview them to ask about their career so far,
2. and help them throw a rad concert at Revolution Hall, one of Portland’s finest venues.
If you’re interested in seeing Shook Twins, Annalisa Tornfelt & The Sound Outside, and Tall Heights, check them out on Saturday, November 21st (at 8pm) in Portland, Oregon.
Now, about that first goal of ours…
An interview with Laurie Shook from Shook Twins
CR: First, I’m curious about the growth of the band — from your core as a sibling act, to a quartet, and then adding other members who now contribute songs too.
What kind of challenges have you faced when adding personnel — or how have you avoided those challenges? How have you structured the band, both in terms of creative and business decisions?
LS: There has been quite a bit of growth for us in these past eight years. We started as a duo in 2004 while we were still in college. In 2007 we got bored of just the two of us and manifested a bassist (Kyle Volkman), a cellist (Lane Exworthy) who had moved to Sandpoint (Idaho) from Minnesota; and a percussionist (Colin Duclos) who came from Vermont. Starting with those wonderful men, we have had incredible luck finding musicians who quickly become our friends and immediately feel right to play music with.
We trust our instincts and judge of character and it usually works out. Niko Slice joined the band 3 years ago, and that was the best thing that ever happened to us! Mostly because he is another songwriter, which we love. Our sound ninja Jimmie Denny is our newest addition to the band. We put a post on Facebook reaching out, listing all our hopes and dreams in a sound man, and he reached back. We have known him a long time and actually were in college choir together.
Katelyn and I and our manager Phil handle most of the business end of the band and the creativity is spread between us and Niko. It works very well because it’s easy to trust people that you love.
Speaking of teams, what kind of professional team have you put together? (Manager, Publicist, Etc.)
How did you find those team members, and what do they bring to the table?
We have built quite the team for Shook Twins over the years.
Our manager Phil Einsohn has been the team leader and has been responsible for the growth of our team mates. He connected us with New Frontier Touring agency and our booking agent Gregg Little. He found us a publicist Jesse Cutler, our web design guy Cody Fisher (A Great Deal Productions), our business managers James Keane and Ben Coe from Artistzen. He also works with our wonderful sponsors at Brew Dr. Kombucha, Ninkasi, Dimarzio, D’Addario, ProBar, Deering Banjos, Collings. It’s so nice to have all these people working to grow our band; I couldn’t imagine doing any of this ourselves.
Have there been moments when those team members pushed you out of your comfort zone (hopefully for the better)?
Not really, for the most part. Our booking agent and manager have been pushing us out into new territory on the east coast. Which is definitely a good thing, but it’s hard to kind of “start over” in a way, and it’s tough on morale. But we get it, and know that we have to branch out to new places and meet new people.
What are some things you’ve done to build your social media following? How do you keep them engaged and spreading the word about your music?
We like to think of our Facebook and Instagram (our main outlets of social media) as windows into our world. A sort of photographic journal of the road so to speak. On each tour, we try to post 1-10 photos every few days and describe our experience in each city that we get to play in. It’s so fun to look back on those posts and remember what we’ve been through. Phil does a great job of offering contests to win tickets to our shows or free CDs or something to keep people involved and feeling competitive to spread the word about us. (hehe)
One of our most-read blog posts was basically a reprint of your letter to American Idol, declining their offer for you to appear (separately) on the show. Most of our readers were solidly in your corner, and were happy that you stuck to your vision — but there were a few commenters who thought you were foolish to pass up an opportunity to get in front of American Idol’s audience.
Now that some time has passed, have your thoughts changed about that decision? How would you sell the slow-and-steady grassroots strategy to a young artist with no fan base that might have a similar opportunity to get in front of a big audience?
Good Question. Our thoughts have changed a bit about the concept of “selling out.” We still would never compete against each other in a drama-based reality competition show, but we are attracted to the idea of taking a big step up in the game. We would love to get a song placed on TV or a commercial someday, or appear on a talk show or something. We see the benefit of TV exposure for sure.
We have been trying to understand the phenomenon of viral spreading of our music, and would like to tap into it. I don’t have anything against a young artist who may be interested in an American Idol (or other) opportunity. To each their own. There are so many paths in this musical world, and if that is something that feels right to you, then by all means, do it!
What does your songwriting process look like?
Our songwriting process is always a bit different. But for the most part, Katelyn and I get together and let the music and lyrics pour out of us in the moment. We aren’t ones for keeping lyric journals or recording sketches. We have found that when we set the intention of creating a song, it will usually flow out of us somehow. We just have to let it.
Do you keep your audience in mind when you’re making creative decisions while writing or recording?
We do keep our audience in mind for sure. We like to write songs that people can easily understand and relate to and evokes emotion. But there are definitely times where you must listen to yourself and honor what needs to be written for personal satisfaction.
One thing I noticed about your live videos, your sound and balance is great. Every instrument and vocal is not only performed/sung well, but also crisp and rich.
Are there some tips you can offer to musicians who need to tighten things up and improve their live performance?
Ah, thank you! We have been putting a lot of intention into tones lately. Katelyn has gone into the amp world and soon Laurie will too. Niko has his instruments dialed with his choice of pedals and amps as well. It’s really important to create the sound that you want with your instrument from stage, especially if you don’t have a sound man out at the board. (We are lucky to have a great one). I
also try to pay a lot of attention to mic control. Singing consistently into the same spot in the mic and from a consistent distance is really effective and can bring such a strong presence to your voice. Also we personally like to allow space in the song, where there aren’t too many notes happening. For instance, an instrument could just come in at the choruses or not be played at all. You don’t have to play everything all the time.
What’s your favorite thing about music festivals?
I love to walk around and feel people’s happiness. Granted, there are many people who are quite haggard, but for the most part, festivals have this “freed up, one love” vacation vibe to them, and it’s wonderful to pick up on that.
We also love it when a festival puts extra effort into ambiance and lighting of the grounds, not just the stage. To feel transported to a beautiful alternate community is so uplifting. We also love when there is a good “backstage hang zone” where artists can come together and friend up in a communal space. Making new musical friends is always a plus at festies.
What do you want your fans to take away with them after a show, besides merch?
We want people to feel inspired, comfortable in their own skin, expressive and communal during and after our shows. We always say that the whole point to putting on a show is to gather people to share our art with and to elevate their spirits so that a room full of people are feeling good simultaneously… that’s got to be good for something, right?
What’s the deal with the golden egg?
Hahaha. The Golden EGG is our manifestation of magic. Its story has slowly unfolded itself to us over years. It started as a performance art piece in Seattle, WA in 2008 by a wonderful woman, Lucia Neare. Thirty people dressed as chefs had thirty golden eggs that they handed out to the audience with the instruction to make a wish. My egg passed through the hands of several people including a “hipster Mad Hatter” looking character and four college students who kept it for two years and then signed it and passed it on.
I got it five years ago from a sailor outside a bar in Seattle and after he signed it, it was my turn, and I have had it ever since. I stuffed popcorn into it to make it musical, and then attached a small mic to make it a drum. I make many a wish on it and encourage others to do the same.
Lucia Neare put so much love and magic into all her EGGs and I am so thankful to have this one. Someday, I will pass it on…
Can you talk a little bit about this Revolution Hall show that’s coming up? What should we expect?
Oh man oh man… we are so excited for this show! We will have a full band, aaaand Horns and Strings on half the show! Portland saxophone player Kirk Hamilton composed horn parts for sax and trumpet. The amazing John Whaley will be on trumpet. Anna Fritz composed string parts for cello, viola (Amanda Lawrence) and violin (Sophie Bloch). These musicians are such badasses, and we feel so honored to have them on stage with us.
We will be sharing the show with our new friends from Boston, Tall Heights. They are wonderful men who make beautiful music! Annalisa Tornfelt and the Sound Outside will be in the middle. We are HUGE fans of Annalisa’s and will be collaborating on one of her songs that we have been playing all over the country.
We always try and bring the heat to the home court, and we hope this one will be our hottest yet!