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Exclusive Artist Interview: Eva Holbrook of SHEL

Exclusive Artist Interview: Eva Holbrook of SHEL

RA Beattie: Tell me, are you guys touring somewhere in this vast world or home?

Eva Holbrook: Well, we've been bouncing all over the place this year. Over to Germany, out to Alaska, coast to coast in the US... and apparently we’re just getting started, but we're home now for a couple of weeks working on music videos at the moment.

Beattie: You've been everywhere. I know every place is unique and has its special qualities, but are there any places you've been recently that really stood out where you just fell in love with the place and didn't want to leave?

Holbrook: I mean, my heart is so taken with Colorado. I spent a great deal of my childhood wishing I could visit places like Nashville or LA. Having done so, I’m always excited to come home. These days it's connecting with fans that I’m excited about, more than seeing new places I would say.

Beattie: You brought up video and that's something I wanted to ask you guys about. You guys do a tremendous amount of video, and not only that, but it seems like the video is always very high quality and super creative. What does your video team look like, or is that something that you guys are producing in-house? Where does your video inspiration or motivation originate?

Holbrook: Purely from necessity.

Sarah went to school for videography and has a very natural knack for it. There came a point in our career where we were really keen on having a music video, but we couldn't afford to hire someone, so Sarah said, "Let me do some research and see what I can make." We did our very first one, it must've been six years ago now, and since then we've never stopped. We really enjoy getting to dive into the visual aspect of the world that we're creating through music. That's the part we love most about our job, creating an escape for people, both sonically and visually.

And to answer your question the team is us, though we have hired Roger Pistol, a marvelous director, and videographer, on occasion. We’ve also worked with Derek Pearson, who we hire to edit if we’re on the road, and Sarah doesn’t have time. But in general, Sarah and I conceptualize, I organize the logistics and make the props, and she films, directs, and edits. 

Beattie: Your videos are really well done, and you look at the way people respond to them .. and the reaction is really strong. We kind of jumped in and talked about your travels and video, but for people that are new to your music or your group, would you give us just a little bit of background about the family dynamic and just explain who's involved in SHEL?

Holbrook:    Well for starters, We're all sisters who were basically home schooled by a couple of hippie parents out on a bit of land in Fort Collins. All we can say for ourselves is that we ran wild and listened to a lot of the imaginative classic British rock of the 60s-70s. And of course we grew up seeing our dad on stage. He was a total rock star, he still is, but especially at that time in our lives. Mom and dad were both eager to encourage anything that we were passionate about, so when we started to show an interest in music, I remember my dad searching out music teachers and taking out a loan here and there to buy instruments so that we could really have a chance to pursue a career. Our grandparents and relatives joined in the cause as well. 

I also remember pep talks around the table. Because dad knew we idolized The Beatles, and The Marx Brothers, he would say things like, "If you could just learn to get along, someday you could have a band together, just the four of you." That really put a fire inside us. Now we've been performing professionally the last five years, touring full-time, making music videos full-time, writing full-time. It's our beautiful little business and we feel really lucky to have the opportunity to create an escape for ourselves and our fans. 

Beattie: How's the getting along part going?

Holbrook: Haha. Well, it has its moments. I should say, we have our days, I think as any band does. It's funny, because even though you have this history of learning how to press one another's buttons, you also have a history of conflict resolution that goes back to toddlerhood. When it comes to bringing home the bread, you have to get past the petty things. I think in that regard it's helped massively to pursue a career together. 

Beattie: You guys have been playing together for how long now?

Holbrook: Well, since we were kids. Gosh, like 17 years, probably.

Beattie: It’s very impressive that you started at such a young age and all of you have the same interests and enjoy playing together. What are you guys working on now and what have you been up to lately?

Holbrook: Well, we just got home two days ago from Nashville where we're working on different songs for film and TV, we’re generally writing and recording when we're not on the road, which is always fun, it keeps you on your toes. When we're on the road, we're location hunting.  I'm home right now putting together some different treatments for the next four music videos we have left to film for the album, as well as evaluating the performances. I’ve also picked up a lovely new toy. Grace Design, from Lyons, Colorado makes this incredible preamplifier named Felix, it’s changed my world. I’ve never heard my mandolin sound so dynamic at a live show before. 

I was talking to Joe Glaser in Nashville about it, I actually picked it up from him, and he said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure they just stuffed that thing with $100 bills to make it sound like that." So I’m messing around with Felix this week. 

Beattie:  Tell us, what kind of instruments are your go-to?

Holbrook: My Weber Beartooth. I've had him for going on 16 years now, and I’ve beat the heck out of him, but he still loves me, or at least I feel like he does. We've been doing a lot of fly dates this tour, so usually I'm just carrying him. He’s never let me down. 

Beattie: Please tell me about the album.

Holbrook: I know I can say it's the band's favorite so far. We co-produced it with Dave Stewart and our long time mentor Brent Maher. It was incredibly fun to explore the possibilities with those two mad genius types. I think especially For us, even though we have some primary instruments that most people would consider traditional, like mandolin, and violin, we also have drums, keys, and beatboxing. Also, as I mentioned, we grew up listening to classical music and British rock. So even though Brent and Dave come from two very different worlds it ended up suiting our own vision and peculiar fancy. We were excited to have an opportunity to really explore what we could do with our sound. Oh yes! And we dubbed the album ‘Just Crazy Enough’. For obvious reasons.  

I think it's been an incredible learning experience for the group as well. I'm already thinking about what the next album's going to be like, imagining what we can do.

Beattie: Well, that's interesting, when folks finish a new album I’m always curious - when they conclude a big project, are you totally exhausted? Do you need to go somewhere sunny for a while and just take a break or has this left you chomping at the bit and are you now full of more ideas and possibilities? 

Holbrook: Yeah. I would definitely say so. I think in this industry nobody seems to take a break, they just go all the time. I've been learning to try and input while I'm outputting so that I don't reach a point where I'm just completely empty when I need to create something. At least for me, I can't keep the passion alive by any common means. I have to go and seek out inspiration. I have to go find music that I love, find paintings that I love, anything that will keep my imagination sustained.

Beattie: You were inspired by the '60s and '70s and that was a tremendous period in time for creativity and growth and it feels like we're in a little bit of a lull, from a creative standpoint. Do you see this trend changing out in the younger music scene?

Holbrook: Well, and yes. I'm looking back, and I'm thinking, they don't make voices like they used to. There's no Everly Brothers, going back to the 50s, there's no Emmylou Harris, and there are times I think modern melody and subject matter are as unimaginative and uninspired as Hitler’s paintbrush. But I have to say there are also artists like the Punch Brothers, or Sarah Jarosz, or Alabama Shakes, or Alt- J, who give me a tremendous amount of inspiration and hope. There are still artists who are excellent and doing great things, and they inspire me as an artist to be devoted and intentional.

Beattie: You guys are very dialed into technology and utilizing all of these different assets to reach people. How do you see technology playing into your workflow and how you guys reach new audiences? 

Holbrook: Definitely social media, it's almost impossible to have a career today without being inundated with it. The good thing is that you get to stay in touch with your fans, and I love that. More recently I’ve been thinking about things like Spotify and the way we absorb music now. 

When you think about it, the way that we experience music is no longer a privilege. It used to be an experience that we got only if we had a radio, if we had a record player, if we knew how to play an instrument, etc. It's everywhere, all the time now. We can have it whenever we want, when we're running, when we're cooking, at most workplaces you’re subjected to it for hours at a time without any say in the matter. We can’t escape it.  Listening isn't the same experience for an audience or an artist. It's not like you just have your record collection that you struggled to get the money to buy, complete with records that were really hard to get, depending on where you lived. You have everything you want, whenever you want, all the time. That part I struggle with a bit. I wonder how this privilege is affecting me as an artist. Is it good that I have so much to draw from, or is it actually creating less of a focused sound.

Beattie: That's a really, really good point. When you guys are producing music, are you thinking about your album as a collective work, or as a collection of independent songs?

Holbrook: The last two albums have been a combination of that and necessity because we've always been touring at the same time that we've been recording. We put all the songs together and let the best ones fight their way to the top, and I’m proud of the winners and the story they tell. I’m also excited to start working on the next album now so that I have the time and liberty to tell a more intentional story. 

Beattie: What's up next for you guys? Do you have a massive tour schedule to support the new album? What does your summer look like?

Holbrook: Yeah, it's ever growing. I keep looking at my calendar and they keep popping dates on there. We're hitting the road again in about a week and a half. We'll be back in Colorado for the Triple A Radio Conference as well as some festivals around that same time.

Beattie: Well, for folks just learning about you through this interview and want to hear more, learn more, what are the best ways for people to connect with you?

Holbrook: If you go to, you'll find all the social media platforms on there,  more information about the band and things that we're doing right now, as well as our tour schedule.

Beattie: Thank you so much for taking the time. I know you just got back from being on the road. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat. I'm we’re really excited about the new album!.