Interview: Hannah Holbrook of SHEL
At this year’s New West Fest, I finally had the opportunity to see, live, one of my favorite local bands, SHEL. Their performance was one of the few that has stuck with me. It became essential that I interview this talented quartet of sisters. And, back in September, SHEL passed through their hometown of Fort Collins in order to play a small show and release party at Bizarre Bazaar. My time had come. Hannah, the H in SHEL, is the piano and back-up vocals of the group. She called in for the interview from San Francisco.
The interview below is abridged for brevity and space.
Laurelle (LT): Ok. So, SHEL is a band of sisters. And most people in Fort Collins probably know you guys from New West Fest. And I’ve always wondered. What is it like performing with all of the sisters?
Hannah Holbrook (HH): You know. It’s like doing the thing that you love with your best friends. Whatever that is. It’s always been that way. We’ve been playing together for a long time…at least 14 years. And, yeah, it’s like being with your best friends and, I don’t know, whatever you’re passionate about, everyone’s just uniting around that and travelling around the world doing it together. It’s really a blast.
LT: That sounds really cool. And I guess it doesn’t surprise me. But I have a sister. And I’ve always kind of thought that if I had to be around her all the time and travel the world with her, most of it would be great and then every now and then there would be a sister fight.
HH: Yep, you know, that’s exactly how it is. Yeah, people ask if we fight. And, yeah, you know sometimes we fight about socks! And in those moments, when you’re yelling at each other on a subway in London, about a pair of socks, you’re like, “Wait a minute. This isn’t really about socks, is it?”
Sometimes, those little things just build up when you’re in each other’s space and consistently. Sometimes we live together. And when you don’t take care of yourself, that can build up and affect other people. That’s something we’ve had to come to terms with. You know, like, what does everybody need, personally, to make this sustainable?
LT: So you brought it up so I’ll ask. You guys have done an international tour where you went to the British Isles. Of all the places you have played, including overseas, do you have a favorite?
HH: So favorite venue, speaking for all of us, was last summer when we played at Red Rocks. They took such good care of us and we had a blast. Favorite city? We haven’t played there yet, but we visited a friend in Amsterdam. He lives above a piano shop. So that was my favorite city.
LT: That seems perfect for you!
HH: I was in that piano shop as often as possible. Playing on Bosendorfers and Steinways and pianos that cost more than a house.
LT: Now, I saw you guys at New West Fest this year. And you brought up the influences from your parents, with regards to your music. Can you talk more about that?
HH: Our mom is a visual artist. And I remember she played a lot of jazz and classical music. So I grew up listening to Sting and Miles Davis and Rachmaninoff and Chopin and Gershwin. And then our dad is a singer songwriter. So his influence was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. So between the two of them we had amazing influences.
LT: So when you were growing up with all these influences, for you personally, what was your favorite thing to listen to?
HH: Oh, man. I have always loved George Gershwin and Rhapsody in Blue is one of my favorite pieces. I love how he mixes jazz with classical together. He’s so good. And he taught himself a lot. He was writing essentially pop hits at the time with his brother. And I love their collaboration, because George would write the music and Ira would write the lyrics. And I love that sibling collaboration. And after Rhapsody in Blue, he taught himself how to orchestrate. And I just find that so inspiring. There are so many things I want to do, I don’t really have excuses not to just do them.
LT: So is Rhapsody your favorite song ever?
HH: I’ll always love Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. In that song, Rodeo, where it’s like da da dum dum da da da. Like beef’s what’s for dinner you know? I remember we went to New West Fest when we were kids and we listened to a band play that piece. And we were just running around in the grass with those glow necklaces. I don’t know. I think I had a pretty good childhood.
LT: Then, back to your music, do you have a favorite track you’ve put out?
HH: Yeah, definitely. On our latest album, Just Crazy Enough, the first track, Is The Doctor In Today? All of us just love that song. There was something deep Eva was working through when she wrote it. And we could all tell she was working through something. And that song is just a pearl, you know. And it took what it took to come out. And we were all just, like, “Wow. That’s good. Let’s do it.” And it came together really easily. Sometimes when we play it live, Eva will get emotional and tear up and I’ll just look up and we’re all getting emotional. There’s just something there that’s special.
LT: So you guys have had a few albums out and you have good recognition, now. So where do you hope to see SHEL 3 or 4 years down the road?
HH: You know, I want to take this as far as possible. As long as everyone’s hearts are still in it and they’re excited and getting what they need personally, then, man, let’s take it to the moon! That’s kind of where I’m at.
LT: Wait. So if you couldn’t be in SHEL, what would you do?
HH: Well I’m super interested in film scoring. And that ties into what SHEL is doing. We just had a placement in a Travis Rice film. And we were just in L.A. for the premiere. And he’s this amazing snow boarder adventure guy and he travels all over the world and he used our song When The Sky Fell for the most inspiring film I’ve ever seen. And it takes so much time to be committed to a film like that. And to contribute to that was one of the most fulfilling moments I’ve ever had. So film scoring is my ultimate dream. And when we’re not touring, I’m working on that on the side a little bit.
LT: Ok. Last question. Fun question. If you could jam with any artist or musician, alive or dead, who would you pick?
HH: Oh man. Ok. John Mayer is up there because I love his music. Sting. And, gosh, probably Vince Guaraldi. I just love his music.
A big thank you goes out to SHEL and Hannah for continuing to produce excellent tunes and for interviewing with me.