Interview by Kara Wilbeck
Photo courtesy of the Shook Twins
The Shook Twins are two of our favorite local treasures here in the Pacific Northwest! As they gain popularity, we Portlanders consider ourselves lucky to have the identical songbirds Laurie and Katelyn right in our backyards. Their band’s fun and magical sets have been a Northwest String Summit mainstay for years, and we’re looking forward to yet another festival with them! In anticipation of this weekend’s festival, we talked with Katelyn Shook about the Shook Twins’ music, their new album, and what we can expect from them at NWSS!
1. Portland Metronome: Your music has a sound that we just haven’t heard before. Growing up and making music together, how did this sound develop in its incubation period?
Katelyn Shook: Well, it’s been a long process of finding out sound over the years. When we first started playing music we were covering songs of all genres for no particular reason, mostly if a song was simple enough for us to play and interesting enough for us to “Shookify.” And then out of the chords and harmonies of the cover songs, we crafted our own cheesy originals, which were not good in our opinion now! Over time, we got more drawn to the ambient and eerie sounds that we incorporate in our originals nowadays… and of course adding other extremely talented musicians like Niko [Daoussis] and Kyle [Volkman] helped us compose way more intricate instrumental parts!
2. PM: Your voices sound so similar, but you both have your unique musical personalities. As twins, how have you found ways to explore and broaden your individual styles and talents?
KS: Well, Laurie has really expanded and focused on her looping and beat-boxing and percussion over the years, and she has also strengthened her harmony skills being in our side project, Morning Ritual. I have been able to focus on my rhythm guitar and vocal skills through both bands as well.
3. PM: You are known for playing both daytime and late night sets at festivals – do you play differently depending on the setting?
KS: Yes, our day sets are pretty normal… our night sets can be quite interesting depending on the festival! We always try to bring out the grooves for the late-night sets or at least get as dancy and weird as a folk band can be! We’ve been known too bust out some classic hip hop covers like “Gangster’s Paradise” and “No Diggity” and we also feature Niko and his solo project, Cyber Camel. He has some amazingly fun and surprising hip hop-esque originals that we do specially for those late-night festy sets. It’s so much fun to throw some surprises like that in… especially at a bluegrass festival!
4. PM: You play with band members other than the two of you. How do these outside elements affect your music and the way you interact onstage?
KS: Niko (guitar/mandolin) and Kyle (bass) are the two main guys we play with consistently, and they have brought so much to our sounds, we could never go back to performing just as a duo! They both have played in other bands with many different styles from rock to bluegrass so they bring a wide range of knowledge to the music. And they look so good up there on stage with us we honestly couldn’t do it without them! And we occasionally have drummers with us; Russ Kleiner who recorded on the album with us is an absolute genius and we wish we had him full time because we feel that he brings out the best in all of us. But he is so good that he keeps very busy in several bands! We also play with several violinists: Anna Tivel, Chris Lynch and Sophie Block, all of whom bring a certain magic to the set- and we love having the string element in our sound!
5. PM: What can we expect from your sets at this year’s Northwest String Summit?
KS: We will have several special guests this weekend that we are very excited about… but you’ll have to be there to see!!!
6. PM: Can you share a favorite String Summit memory with us?
KS: Pretty much all of our late-night sets that we’ve done there have been epic. We love the setting and the vibe that the Ninkasi Stage sets and it’s hard not to create magic down there!
7. PM: What acts are you excited for at this year’s String Summit? Are any of your friends also playing at NWSS? Are there any sit-ins that we should be looking out for?
KS: We are big Wood Brothers and Motet fans so we’ll definitely be getting down to them! Also, we’re so happy that our good friends Fruition will be there this year… there just may be some sit-ins between our two bands!
8. PM: Can you tell us about your new album, “What We Do“? How does this album compare to your earlier work?
KS: We are very excited about the new album! We release it independently in early April and we’ve been getting great feedback so far! It’s different from our other albums in the sense that it has more groove to it. Having the drums in the mix really adds a new element to our sound. I’d say it’s a lot more indie-folk-soul and less folk-bluegrass than our last albums.
9. PM: You moved to Portland from Idaho – does the city and the Pacific Northwest inspire you musically?
KS: Very much. Once we moved to Portland almost five years ago, our music has changed quite a lot. You can almost hear the buzz of the city in our sound now. Being surrounded by all the talented musicians from this city has really pushed us to be better and try new things. It’s an incredible place to be.
10. PM: What’s next for the Shook Twins? Where are you looking forward to playing this summer?
KS: The festival season is here! We love summertime because festivals are some of the best places to be and play. We’re really looking forward to String Summit of course (it’s always one of our favorites to play!) and also, the Mohawk Valley Music Festival in Marcola, OR. That has a very diverse lineup and so many of our friends are playing it with us! It’s always more fun with all your homies are there! We have so many [festivals] ahead of us and we’re so excited to make new fans and develop some new band crushes!
The Shook Twins will play two sets at Northwest String Summit (at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, OR). The first is a late-night set on the Ninkasi Stage on Thursday, July 17 from 1 – 2:30 a.m. The second set is on the main stage on Friday, July 18 from 4:15 – 5:30 p.m.
Buy tickets to Northwest String Summit here.