How did the Sacred Shakers album come about?
Jason Beek who is the drummer in the band and my manager came up with that idea in 2005. We used to do a Sunday gospel brunch in a venue in Boston and he got all the people together he wanted to play music with for fun that included Johnny Sciascia who plays bass in the band and myself and a few other people. We played gospel in my country, blues rockabilly-ish kind of way and it went on for two years. Then we had to stop because we had to tour a lot with this band so this is to commemorate that whole era of our lives. We did one show and our boss at Signature Sounds heard us and said, ‘if you ever want to make a record let us known’ so we took him up on his offer and though we no longer do the brunch we may well someday.
What is the hardest thing for you in the music business?
It is hard to explain, but it is hard to stay true to your self. Whether it is to become wrapped up in expectations from other people or hear different voices that say you should do it this way or that. It is hard to stay true to your music and keep your ego out because there is a lot of ways that music can be polluted. I try really hard to keep it real but it is difficult because of all the weird demands that happen.
No matter how hard you try or the demands are on you there does come a time when you need to way away for you to obtain a true perspective of you work?
That’s true. It is easy to write a song because you have to write a song right now, but you then wonder would I have written that song an it been that way if I had not had that pressure. Am I genuinely inspired or forcing it. I feel you have to stay passive but with the demands of having to go from point A to point B all the time it becomes hard to be organic and be true to yourself.
Having to squeeze everything into limited time I expect takes its toll?
The whole enjoyment thing is difficult sometimes. We like our job. It is easy to forget that, oh! there is this music that we love to play. Like ninety nine per cent of our job are logistics and stuff and sort of crapola then when we finally get on stage and the sound and audience are right we can relax because this is the fun part!
You are a big Loretta Lynn fan I understand and have included her song, The Darkest Day on your latest album —why that particular song?
It wasn’t anything complex or anything. We have a side project called Butcher Hollow that is a Loretta Lynn tribute band, and have only played a few times in Boston. Us playing all Loretta Lynn songs! It is most of her 1960s stuff we learnt. I think it is about 23 of her songs we know and now have a full set. The ones that are the most fun to perform and that one to me stood out because of the harmonies Jason adds to it, and when it came to make Sea Of Tears I knew I had to put a Loretta Lynn song on it because we had been loving playing her songs for the last year and living the whole Butcher’s Hollow thing. So I felt I had to pay tribute to her. I could have chosen any one from a whole bunch of them because her stuff is so great.
Her music suits the type of band you have, ideally. Since the plays are sharp and don’t try to compete, and your songs like Loretta’s they straight to the point every time. Music of a bygone age when each artist had his or her own distinctive style as with her songwriting that was of the no holds barred variety.
That is what I love about her. It was gutsy. She was writing about stuff back then women weren’t really meant to sing songs about the birth control pill and stuff like that.
A lot of her songs were autobiographical or about where she was brought up in Butcher’s Hollow and the people living there?
Yes, that is part of what I think made it seem dangerous to a lot people, and I heard that as a country artist she had more songs banned than any other from country radio. Because she hit that raw nerve and that culture she scared them. Her singing songs about divorce and being that other woman and not the victim —it she shook them up laughs Eilen.
Another oldie on the album is Johnny Kidd & The Pirates ‘Shakin’ All Over’ that is a good, but a surprise choice?
Yeah, we recorded ‘Shakin’ All Over’ after having fun doing it live, and I like what the band did with it. It was kind of fun to put it out to the world because I don’t know of any other female artist who did it but I could be wrong. It is good to sing it from a female perspective when so many people have had hits with it were all men.
Do you find that now that you three or four albums out it is now becoming easier to make a record?
In some ways it is easier, but in others it is harder because there are more expectations. Different people have different expectations of what they expect you to live up to or you to be consistent with what you have done. Where it is easier, she adds is I am starting to home in more on what I like in a recording situation and learning what I like to get out of a recording session. We don’t do much experimenting in the studio but there is a trick to it. You have to figure out who you like working with and the studio set up. It took me a while to be able to put my foot down when I wasn’t happy about something. Stuff I notice like when I know I could sing something better I now do it over again. In the past people would say, oh it sounds fine what are you talking about and then it would bug me every time I heard it.
Making Sea Of Tears was good fun so that is a good sign, she laughs. I don’t have any negative memories to which the band chuckle. We had been on the road for a long time and it seemed so good not to be on the road but be hanging out. Before coming off the road we learnt our songs in a hotel room so that we knew them before we went into the studio because, that is a good way to loose money and time learning songs in the studio. The studio we choose was a one near homes in Boston.
There seems to be a number of acts on the Americana scene coming out of the Boston area
There is a couple of music schools there so that attracts musicians and there is a heritage there for music there because in the 1960s in Cambridge at the time of the folk revival. It had Dylan, Dave Van Ronk and Eric Von Schmidt and slightly afterwards, Bonnie Raitt —there too as was blues man ‘Spider’ John Koerner. So there is something of a legacy in and around Boston for roots music and the like.
How important is Europe to your career?
We do well here. We do as well here as our strongest points in the US I guess, but have to travel further there. We also got to this level much quicker and did it in a couple of years so here and are well pleased the way the audiences have taken to our music.
Since you started have you found the venues have improved?
We have played pretty nice venues since we started in the small local Irish pubs in the Boston, and they are still my favourites. On the whole things are getting better. Every now and then we will go to a place and I will think what in the hell am I doing here, rural Texas, maybe laugh Jewell and the band. We get into that too. It is fun to get into the dive bars and honky tonks, as it is fun to play theatres and festivals.
Have you anything ready for the next album?
No. I haven’t done anything. I would like to be always writing and recording but we do everything ourselves and I am in charge of the finances but I do not know how that happened. I split the driving, but I am not complaining for we are at this stage where we don’t have anyone doing the dirty work so most all of my energy is all used up doing the day to day things. I have not even thought about the next record but we have tossed around the idea of doing a live record. That could be fun and I think we are a pretty good live band and that might translate better on a live recording. Maybe we could release a live record sooner than doing another studio recording. It would buy us some time and for me to write some new songs.
When do you find it easiest time to write?
I really need to sequester myself, I need to be alone and not have anything to do. I am easily distracted and this year I am going to go home to Idaho a little earlier at Christmas and spend a week in a cabin on my own. Johnny is trying not to laugh at me and all I will have to do for a week is write. I will take my keyboards and get to work. On this album I play some Hammond organ and we have recently been listening to early rock‘n’roll and stuff with it in and it sounds great. Maybe, if this does not work out I may well become a session organ player!
Eilen Jewell’s Sea Of Tearsand The Sacred Shaker’s Sacred Shakers are out now on Signature Sounds. More info at Eileenjewell.com and Signaturesounds.com