Identical twins Katelyn and Laurie Shook formed the now Portland-based indie-folk-pop band Shook Twins in 2004. They released their first album, You Can Have the Rest in 2008. Subsequent albums, 'Window' (2011) and 'What We Do' (2014) highlight their enticing vibe and unique sound that has evolved and shifted over the years. The layers of ambient and, at times, percussive vocal harmonies that thread through many of their songs remind me of the experimental vocals Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian brought to Dirty Projectors. With groovy acoustic and electronic instrumentals, evolved from their early folk roots, Shook Twins explore all genres and really cannot be confined to one sound; thus, they reach a wide audience. Neil Gaiman has taken notice and put eloquently, “I love the harmonies of the Shook Twins, the dreamlike songs that seem somehow permeated by the American Folk tradition, without actually being part of it. They make music that twines through your soul the way vines cover an abandoned shack in the woods." Shook Twins are coming to The Bluebird Theater this Sunday, October 15th, and we had the lovely opportunity to chat with Katelyn all about the band, from the beginnings to what their future looks like. Read on:
Who makes up Shook Twins?
Laurie, my twin sister, and I are the lead and main singers of the band. Then we have Niko- we just call him Niko Slice- his last name is hard to pronounce, so we just call him Niko Slice. He's kind of the other core member. He plays electric guitar, mandolin, and some bass. We do several of his songs in our set too; he's a songwriter. And then we have Josh Simon on the bass mainly, but he plays guitar as well, and plays some flute, too, actually. And then Barra Brown on the drums. He's mostly all drums, but he does plays flute as well on one song.
How did Shook Twins get their start, both with you and your sister, and then growing into a bigger band?
We started playing just the two of us at local wineries and bars and stuff in our small town that we grew up in, Sandpoint, Idaho. That was in 2006, after college, when we started doing that, just playing around kind of just for fun. We realized how much we really enjoyed it, and at that point, we were starting to write our own songs, just moving slow and having fun with it. And then we found some players to play with us, none of which are still in the band. The first crew was awesome, and we went on some really fun tours, nothing too legit or anything, but you know, a great time. That was in 2007 and 2008. Then the first band kind of all went their own ways, and Laurie and I decided to move to Portland. We just started meeting other local musicians there- Barra and Josh we met in Portland. Niko we met earlier in California, and he eventually moved up to Portland. Yeah so just a slow process. Laurie and I kept playing since 2007 and have kind of gathered players along the way.
Did you and your sister grow up playing music at all before you started playing at local wineries and bars?
We grew up singing, but we didn't play any instruments until we were 17, so we didn't take it too seriously until after college I'd say.
Did growing up in Idaho influence you all in any way?
It definitely did when we were starting out. When we were writing our first songs, we were there and were really influenced by nature and just the beauty of Idaho. The town we grew up in is totally gorgeous. We had a lot more nature time back then. But with our sound now it's definitely more influenced by the city life. In Portland we're absorbing all that creative indie-artist, indie-rock genre. Our sound has gotten a lot more electronic-y and a lot more groovy than it used to be. It's more city-influenced nowadays.
What kinds of music did you both grow up listening to, and do any of those artists or bands influence Shook Twins?
Growing up our influences were kind of all across the board from all genres and everywhere. Early on childhood was like, you know normal pop, Celine Dion and Spice Girls. But then the first artist that kind of grabbed us and started turning our ears towards the folk scene was Ani Difranco. And it's amazing that you just asked that because we've been huge fans of Ani since we were 12 or 13 I'd say, and that kind of got us into writing more poetically and darker and deeper lyrics, outside the box. And just last weekend we got to sing with her on stage at the Festy Experience over in Virginia, and it was the best! She doesn't necessarily influence our sound too much today, but her power and her fierceness and feminism are definitely still influencing us hugely.
Yeah that's definitely become an essential part of our sound. I found it on Craigslist actually. I forget what year I found that; I think it was 2010 or something? We were experimenting at the time, recording ourselves, and started finding it was cool to do different effects, like distortions almost, on certain parts with our vocals. We thought that it added a lot to have a different texture, especially since when we sing together or in unison it's hard to tell that there are two voices singing. But if you add some texture to your own voice then it kind of pops out a little bit more. I was looking on Craigslist for a bullet mic, which is a harmonica mic that kind of has that same radio-y effect. And then I found that weird DIY telephone microphone. It's an actual old phone handset from the nineties or eighties or something, and I got it. And then a fan got me that golden case that goes over it.
That's awesome. I love the vocal stuff that you all incorporate into your music- it's really interesting.
I was also wondering about what the music writing process looks like for both you and your sister and the group together.
Mostly it's Laurie and I that write together. Sometimes I'll just write a whole song by myself and visa versa. Lately we just sit down and write together, and it's been completely collaborative. On our upcoming record which will come out in the spring, we have a song on there that we wrote as a band which was really fun to do. We don't have that much experience writing with anybody else other than the two of us, so it was a cool experiment. It worked out really well. We will do that again in the future. But mostly it's us, and then we will bring it to the boys and they'll come up with their parts.
You mentioned an album coming out in the spring. Aside from the tour you are on now, what's up next for Shook Twins?
Well that actually! We have a duo EP coming out in November, which will tie people over until we get out the full-band, full-length album in the spring. In the meantime, I think we're going to be touring straight through and then start touring really hard, focusing on the album release tour in the spring when the full length album comes out. Nothing too extraordinary coming in the future but just playing shows!
Katelyn did inform me that Shook Twins will have some special guests at the Bluebird playing with them this weekend; some famous Coloradans. I have a few ideas, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see!
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.