Q&A: Shook Twins at Fayetteville Roots Festival

Q&A: Shook Twins at Fayetteville Roots Festival

Staff Photo Nick Brothers
Katelyn Shook (right) sings into her self-made telephone mic to create a distant, almost eerie sound effect. Her twin sister, Laurie, plays banjo on the left.

While the Fayetteville Roots Fest last week featured a few artists that played traditional folk styles in music with traditional folk instruments, there was one group that stood out from the rest.

They were the Shook Twins.

Renown for their “quirky folk” style, the two identical (yes, imagine interviewing them) twin sisters Katelyn and Laurie Shook certainly play traditional folk instruments such as the banjo, ukulele, guitar and upright bass, but they pepper in a little bit of the bizarre, and well, cool.

While playing, the sisters employ the use of several modern musical technologies such as MIDI drum pads — which play a pre-programmed sound on impact — loop and delay machines, a homemade telephone microphone and a giant golden egg used as a shaker. The result is a sound of folksy, singer-songwriter pop.

Watching the Twins at George’s late night set was a pretty cool experience. At one point Laurie beatboxed into an effects loop to get it bass-heavy and groovy. At this point already, the dancefloor got tranced out. It wasn’t fast paced or funky, just slow, easy and very deep. When the instrumentation of the guitar and banjo came in with the siren-like vocals of the twins, it made for a very trance, chill show. To add to the vibe, Katelyn’s telephone mic added a thin, distant croon to it all that was almost ghost-like. People were digging it.

Here’s our Q&A:

TFW: After touring on your latest album, “What We Do,” what kind of state of mind are the Shook Twins in right now?

KATELYN: I feel like the cycle of the record is coming to a close. We’re going to take the winter off and try to write more and try to start recording seomthign and get some fresh shit happening. It’s been a year since What We Do came out. We feel like we’ve been touring so hard with it. It’s good. It’s gotten a lot of good reactions and it feels like it did stuff (laughs). We’re feeling worn out a little bit. That’s the overall vibe, this summer was crazy. I think maybe we’re wusses, because other bands have way more stamina for touring.

TFW: How many shows in a year do you normally do?

KATELYN: Like 100. Which isn’t that much, but that’s a lot of travel days and days off inbetween. So we’re gone for over half of the year from our house. It’s expensive when you pay rent and you’re not even there.

TFW: Is the road a creative place for you guys? Or do you need a certain space to work?

LAURIE: For us, we don’t write on the road. We do sometimes, but it’s pretty rare. We like to sit down and lock ourselves in the house. Preferably someone else’s house or else we’ll just want to clean everything.

TFW: So you guys have been playing music together for a couple years and you seem to be getting more and more recognition. Could you tell me about the building process for the band?

KATELYN: It’s cool, we’ve kind of have our rotating casts. One member, Kyle our bass player who’s been with us since we started touring is going to step away for a while to do his own adventures of carpentry and bus rebuilding. Nico is our main man right now. He joined about four years ago and he’s our everything dude. Since we moved to Portland, most of the friends we’ve aquired are musicians and we’re all like-minded people and like-lifed. It’s just been making friends and seeing who fits right and has the same musical mindset as you do. I think about 10 people have filled in here and there.

LAURIE: But we’re always there!

TFW: Does that ever feel like you’re swapping out family members?

LAURIE: Yeah, definitely. We’re so fortunate in everybody that we’ve met has been so awesome and we love them well enough to live in a small band with. It’s gradual and it has to be an organic thing. You can’t just be like, “Hey! You look cool. Come be in my life forever.” It’s a process, but everybody we’ve met has been a perfect fit.

TFW: I just had to ask about one of your trademarks, the golden egg. What’s the story there? But more importantly…what’s in it though?

LAURIE: The golden egg, so great! Really, it’s everybody’s manifestation of magic. It started as a performance art piece in Seattle by this wonderful woman, Lucia Meare. She put all this magic into 30 golden eggs. She painted them, sang to them, like cast spells on them, and did this cool kind of flash mob thing where 30 people all dressed as chefs danced with the golden eggs. I wish there was a video or something about it, there wasn’t much information out. At the end they passed it out into the audience and told everyone to make a wish on it — they are wish granting eggs — and there are 30 of these eggs out there in the world having their own journeys. Mine took a path through a guy dressed as a hipster mad hatter and then these four college students who kept it for two years and fell in love with it. They deciced to sign it and pass it on when they graduated. They passed it on with a big hug and a wish — it’s just a beautiful thing. So it just got passed to me as people kept passing it and signing it.

KATELYN: One random night she just sees this random guy in Seattle and asks him what’s the deal with your giant egg? He said “I dunno, some lady passed it on to me and said I needed to sign it and pass it on.” So she was like, “Pass it to me!”

LAURIE: Yeah, so it sat around the house for like two years just being cool. Then I thought, what if I put popcorn in it — or magical hopes and dreams — and I made it into a shaker. I’ve put a mic on it so it can make kick drum sounds, too. It’s become our little weirdo percussive instrument. It’s also our mascot. Some day I’ll pass it on. That’s the tradition.

TFW: One of the things that sets you apart from other folk artists is your use of electronics and looping devices. How did that become a part of your sound?

KATELYN: We’re really inspired by a lot of electronic music. We’re huge fans of Björk and Emancipator.

LAURIE: Just pop music in general. We like really beefy, hooky, well produced, very groove oriented music that makes you want to move around. Nico is the one that really brought all of those elements to the team. He knows how to do it best. He has an electronic drum pad, we don’t know how they work. Since we moved to Portland we started out super folky, singer-songwritery. I just kind of got annoyed with myself. Everybody could do this. We just wanted something a little different with the traditional instrumentation of a bluegrass or folk band and then throw everybody for a loop with our electronic womp.

KATELYN: We just wrote a new song that’s really poppy. Like it could be described as folk club. If it were remixed or something it could be in the clubs. But not with the banjo loop…

LAURIE: Why not? That’s what we want. We want to change the freakin’ club scene and have some banjos. Banjo club songs.

TFW: Prior to the interview, I found out that you two originally had plans to create a Travel channel show titled “Travel Twins.” Does going around to all these towns and doing music videos ever feel like you’re sort of living that life?

KATELYN: We decided not to pursue that because we don’t like being on TV very much. The forever aspect of looking at yourself on camera just kind makes me, ugh… I’d be more okay with us just being ourselves on camera I’m okay with that, but acting… not comfortable with that. I’m sure they make you do stupid stuff that’s scripty.

In college we majored in media stuff and it was angled more toward news. We sat down with our advisor, and were like “We hate TV news.” And he was really cool. He let us sort of create our own kind major and did stuff for a festival. We went on tour with our jam band friends and made a weird, bad documentary. We made a live album for three credits. He was just the coolest dude ever.

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