Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Russ Barenberg, Nathan, etc.

I have three stories in the new (December) issue of Acoustic Guitar: a feature lesson with Russ Barenberg, a profile of the band Nathan, and a review of a Baden dreadnought. The interview with Keri and Shelley from Nathan was great, but I had to boil it all down to a short profile for the magazine. So here's a bit of the interview, conducted over cappuccinos and pastries at a cafe in Berkeley:

What were your first musical experiences?
Shelley Marshall: I played accordion as a kid. My parents are Slavic, Russian and Polish, so they put me into accordion lessons, thinking it was the hippest thing you could do for your kid and affordable at the same time. I thought it was pretty normal until about grade 4. My dad played banjo, so we always had a banjo lying around. I picked it up about 3 years ago. And a guitar was always lying around. I had older brothers and sisters so by the time I was able to play stuff by ear I was playing Boney M and Meat Loaf and the Clash and Jimi Hendrix. Kind of classic rock through the ‘80s; that’s when I turned the radio off.

Keri Latimer: Sounds like me. We didn’t really have any musical things in our family. I really wanted to play piano when I was little, but we didn’t have a piano, so I had this piece of cardboard with piano keys, like a cardboard piano that didn’t make any noise. I took group lessons before elementary school, but it sucked really bad. My mom said it makes her feel really sad to remember me playing on this piece of cardboard. As I got older I really wanted to play guitar, starting with ‘80s music, Eurythmics. And I played Journey on the piano, to make myself cry. All that adolescent angst, you know.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?
Keri: I wrote my first song when we moved from Calgary to Lethbridge, in the backseat of the car. It was like “I’ve lost it, I’m never gonna find it, but if I do I’ll guard it well and always walk behind it, where I can see it, and I won’t lose it again.” It was called “Happiness.” [laughs] I was so sad to move.

Shelley: That’s good, I like that. We should rework that one.

Keri: How about your first song?

Shelley: Grade 7, I had my first all-girl band, with stolen band instruments, we called it Petty Larceny. We had “Mating Call of the Mongoose” and “ET Go Home,” silly adolescent songs. I played solos, like every key on the piano down chromatically. I mostly wrote instrumental stuff until I started playing with Keri. I’m not a singer. I never thought of myself as one.

Keri: But you are a singer.

Shelley: On an album it’s nice to have a different, not-so-nice voice so that when Keri’s songs come on it’s like, “Ah.”

Keri: This is our eternal fight.

Shelley: The diversity is nice. I’m not a singer, but I like to write songs.

Was there a particular song or singer that made you think “I want to do that”?
Keri: According to my parents and grandparents I sang since I could walk—you know, right away. I used to love to hog the spotlight. I knew every song when I was 2—Christmas carols and . . . any opportunity there was to get up on any platform and sing some songs, that’s what I did. I got shyer as I got older, I think. Now I’m up there wondering “What am I doing up here?” But when I heard the Eurythmics—it could have been the musical style, but it definitely was her voice too. I remember going “Whoah, I love this woman.”

Was that when you thought “I want to do this, I want to be a musician.”?
Keri: I always knew. When I played Barbies I was the musician. I always wanted to do it.

Shelley: There are so many bands and performers I’ve heard and said “Oh I want to be that person so much.” Like Boney M, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young (when I was younger), a lot of people that don’t sing really well. I’d say “How do they get away with that?” I always loved the idea of being in a band. But I never thought I’d do it seriously.

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