Shook Twins toast our twin peaks
If You Go…
What: Maroon Bells Birthday Bash
Where: Aspen Highlands
When: Saturday, Aug. 2, 3 – 9 p.m.
Cost: $10/advance; $15/door
3 p.m. Let Them Roar
3:45 Ute presentations
4 Paper Bird
5:30 Rick Bass keynote
6 Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams
7:15 Birthday cake
7:30 Shook Twins
Appropriately enough, a pair of talented twins will help Aspen celebrate its most beloved twin peaks this weekend.
The Portland, Oregon-based alt-folk band Shook Twins, led by identical twin sisters Katelyn and Laurie Shook, headlines the Maroon Bells Birthday Bash at Aspen Highlands, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 in the shadow of twin fourteener peaks.
Presented by Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the U.S. Forest Service, the daylong festivities include an address by activist Rick Bass, author of “Why I Came West,” and a Ute Nation ceremony, along with four bands.
The Shooks are originally from Sandpoint, Idaho, a mountain town in the northernmost stretches of the state. Surrounded by protected forest lands, growing up there gave the Shooks an appreciation for open spaces and unspoiled forest.
“We’re not super-hardcore, but we spend a lot of time outdoors,” Katelyn Shook said when asked about her experience in wilderness areas. “It’s really important to me to have protected areas and open spaces we’re not tearing up and building condos on.”
Since their debut album, 2008’s “You Can Have All the Rest,” Shook Twins have carved out a unique niche in folk music. They use dual harmonies along with the usual tools of the trade — acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright bass, etc. — but with modern touches like beat-boxing and a looping machine. The result is a sound that both honors the American folk tradition and nudges it into modernity.
The band’s most recent album, “What We Do,” released earlier this year, includes touches of electronic drums alongside the strings. Among the standout songs on the record is “Shake,” a boot-stomper with a refrain appropriate for Saturday’s occasion: “The Earth is gonna shake you down.”
The twins started playing together as teenagers, with Katelyn writing most of the lyrics and Laurie composing the bulk of the music.
“We were listing to a lot of pop and folky pop, and we’d just look up certain songs we wanted to learn,” Katelyn said. “Eventually we started playing our own songs that were pretty crappy.”
Steadily, they moved out of derivative pop songs into their quirky brand of folk. Moving to Portland, they found the eclectic sounds of the local indie-rock scene permeating their songs. Then they met Niko Daoussis, who plays bass, guitar and mandolin with the Shooks. He had been in a bluegrass band, and his multi-instrumental additions gave the band a more full-bodied and far-reaching sound.
Over time, the band found itself driven to experiment and willing to sound different. Katelyn began singing with a jerry-rigged telephone microphone, giving her vocals a tinny, otherworldy sound. In 2010, they began playing with a large decorative egg filled with popcorn kernels — a percussive touch that’s become a signature for their live shows.
“Any time Laurie and I write a song together, we try to make it different from any song we’ve written or any song we’ve heard,” Katelyn said. “It’s hard to do, but our goal is always to make it something new.”
They record in the basement of their home in Portland, but Katelyn said they wait for the muse to call them before they write and record new material.
“Whenever we’ve forced ourselves to write a song, they haven’t worked,” she said. “So we just wait until inspiration comes, and when that happens — when it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I need to write this song!’ — a song comes out of us in literally like an hour, and it’s done, and that’s it.”
Locals may have caught the twins last summer at their Bluegrass Sundays show atop Aspen Mountain. On that stop in town, the band also shot a video for the “Gondola Sessions” Web series, featuring the five-member band (they had a fiddler and a ukulele players in tow as special guests) playing “Jessie” and “Window” on a rainy afternoon in a car on Aspen’s Silver Queen Gondola.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Katelyn said. “I was like, ‘What? We’re all going to cram in there?’”
Paper Bird soars
When they’re on tour, Denver’s Paper Bird travels in an RV. The band is successful enough, five studio albums into its career, that it could stay in hotels, but, as singer Genny Patterson explained, the band prefers to explore, to set up in or near the woods and to get outside.
“We’re all Colorado kids,” she said. “We all grew up in love with the mountains and being outside as much as we can.”
A weekend camping near Aspen and playing the Maroon Bells Bash, Patterson said, is a “dream come true” for a band that spends much of its time on the road gigging elsewhere around the U.S. these days.
“We can always just go camp somewhere and see some beautiful parts of the country,” Patterson said of the RV-tour approach. “We love when we can do that at home.”
The band emerged out of a trip to a cabin in Breckenridge in 2006, when Genny and her sister Esme and friends started playing music together. They ended the trip playing on the street in Breckenridge, and Paper Bird was born.
The band has evolved since then with a loose approach to its sound, playing soft vintage folk with group vocals alongside indie rock and poppier offerings. It has bucked the pressure to have one lead vocalist, taking a cue from bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles, with a democratic approach to taking the lead. The band added a drummer three years ago when it collaborated with Ballet Nouveau Colorado on a project. The band toured often and recorded when it had the time, releasing seven albums — including a live record and a disc of remixes — between 2007 and 2013. It first played Aspen at a free show at Belly Up in the fall of 2009, returned that winter to open for Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and last year played the main stage at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.
This winter, the band went from a seven-piece to a six-piece. When its stand-up bass player left the band, it opted not to replace him. Instead, banjo player Caleb Sumeril has been learning bass and doing double-duty.
“There are a lot of songs that we just didn’t relearn, and we’re just moving into a different phase and looking forward,” Patterson said.
Patterson has started playing keyboards and said fans should expect a slightly different-sounding Paper Bird this weekend.
“It’s kind of a new sound, but we’re the same bunch of goofballs,” she said.
The band’s last record, 2013’s “Rooms,” was written in a month on the road and then recorded in a week in Denver. The band is currently working on a new album but taking its time this go-around, Patterson said. The band expects to play some of the new material Saturday at Highlands.
“We’re writing a lot of new songs,” Patterson said. “Especially with the new instrumentation, we’re figuring out what we want to be before we put something new out there. It feels good for there not to be a rush — to have something where we’re taking our time, finding exactly what we want, exactly the kinds of songs we want to write.”
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