Six Questions for Shannon Carey of Luray

Shannon Carey is the ethereal lead singer and banjo picker for Luray, a new presence on the bluegrass scene. Make that post-bluegrass, as Luray’s sound is an ambient mix of grass, country, indie folk, and splashes of lots of other things–a bit like the kind of stuff her brother Sean plays in Bon Inver. Luray have just released The Wilder, the band’s debut recording.

Your PR material mentions that your past has involved a lot of wanderlust. How has this affected your music?

SC: I grew up in Wisconsin and Arizona, but I’ve moved around a lot. I picked up country music from my dad, who was in bands that played at country fairs. I also lived in New Orleans for a year, where there’s so much street music. I learned about bluegrass in the Bay Area of California, where amazing musicians are creating new versions of it. When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area I decided to see how what I could meld together.

Were there specific musical influences you picked up in your travels?

SC: Well, you try not to sound like anyone else, but I love the singing of Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris. You also hear things you have to learn on your own. Bluegrass singing has a kind of yodel thing going on. I had to teach myself how to do that.

I don’t have specific influences for the banjo, though Alison Brown has been a strong role model for women for many years. Of course, I love Béla Fleck. But I also like a lot of the banjo that’s been in recent Indigo Girls records. Mainly I liked melodic banjo.

I like to ask musicians how they describe their sound and you’ve just released your debut record, so what’s it sound like to you?

SC: (Laughs) Well… I wrote a lot of the promo material, so I don’t want to repeat myself! The sound of the record is supposed to be textural and comforting. It has earthy, natural sounds, but also layers of banjo picking and vocal lines. I wanted it to be transporting and ambient, but with the sense of joy we get from country and bluegrass music.

I want to ask you, in turn, about my three favorite songs on the album, beginning with the title track “The Wilder.” Tell me about it.

SC: It was actually the song that inspired the entire project, which is how it ended up as the title track. It’s about trusting the universe and stepping into an unknown space both spiritually and physically. It came as I was turning toward music to reinvent myself after a career in social work. I had to step into that unknown space and trust that things would work out.
How about “Crying,” a sweet little song I really like?

SC: I wanted to see if I could write a country song. It’s about getting in touch with my feelings, even though the story is told from the perspective of a man trying not to cry. It also came out of my social work job that involved families and children. You try not to let it happen, but that kind of job can shut you down emotionally. I had to relearn how to be sad and cry. As it happened, my dog died and I cried for months!

Kalorama is bouncy and unlike a lot of the other tracks.

That’s actually the name of the D.C. neighborhood where my husband (Luray guitarist and Greenpeace employee Gary Wisniewski) and I lived. It’s in the northwest of the city and we had an apartment on the corner of Kolorama and Columbia. It was all new, including trying out apartment living, which we had never done before.

The song tries to capture the experience of being a newcomer and feeling like you don’t belong in the first place. The neighborhood is next to Adams Morgan (a historically black neighborhood in the process of gentrification), but it’s also a mixture of college kids, embassies, and middle and upper class people, all living near Kalorama Park. It often felt like being an alien. We live on a farm in Maryland now, which makes for a longer commute into the city, but it suits us better.

NOTE: Those living near Northampton, MA can catch Luray at the Parlor Room on September 6. Others can hear tracks (or order the CD) from www.luraymusic.com

No comments: