If variety is the spice of life, then the music that Laurie and Katelyn Shook (Shook Twins) make is very spicy. Their early albums have included everything from tales about robot love to near Biblical levels of flooding, and their live shows feature beatboxing, singing and one of the twins clucking like a chicken. Their efforts have largely been whimsical and fun, and if you have ever seen one of their live shows, which you can do Wednesday, June 4 at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, let’s just say that Laurie Shook is fascinated with a giant egg-like orb she plays on stage.
All of which makes their newest release, What We Do, so interesting, because many of these out-of-left-field elements are absent from this record. The album is a charming, if somewhat sobering, missive on the transient nature of life, but instead of musically running off in any direction imaginable, the album is a cohesive work of Americana and folk tunes. The unifying themes and structure of this record have their roots in the fact that the Twins took a different approach to the making of this album.
“It was a very different process for us this time,” says Laurie Shook, who plays the guitar, bass and banjo. “We stayed at the studio for about three weeks so we could really focus, whereas on our previous albums, we’d do it in chunks. We tried to keep a cohesive vibe throughout.”
It was key for the Twins to make the material work together, especially since it covers a broad range of subjects and wasn’t written all at the same time.
“It took us three years to write all the songs and get this new album out,” Shook says. “A lot of the subject matter is about our lives and how we live them.”
The content on What We Do ranges from the personal to the universal. “Hooks” is a tender folk ballad about the lingering effects of a broken relationship, while the groovy Americana strains of the title track add weight to the song’s look at the almost nomadic existence the Twins live as musicians. And while songs like the almost macabre folk number “Daemons” employs Laurie and her sister Katelyn’s siren-like vocals as they croon about battling inner demons, the album does have its moments of joy, too.
“A song like ‘Toll Free’ is about traveling around with your best friends and making music,” Laurie says. “It’s a really fun song.”
One thing that Shook Twins have learned being musicians is there is a constant need to rise up to challenges. Whether it’s finding new gigs or creative ways to perform live, there is always something they need to face head-on so they can continue evolving creatively. For instance, fellow Northwest musician Nick Jaina encouraged them to take part in a songwriting challenge last year with the goal of writing 20 songs in a 12-hour period, and though they found themselves hitting a wall towards the end, the Twins completed the task. But that is not the only way they think outside the box.
They have also been performing for a couple years with noted Portland jazz composer Ben Darwish as part of an avant-garde project called Morning Ritual. This pairing has encouraged the Twins to broaden their lyrical and vocal horizons, two factors which are easy to pinpoint on What We Do. Laurie and Katelyn have grown by leaps and bounds in these two areas since their last release, 2012’s Window. And that’s not to say there was anything wrong with Window; far from it. It is simply obvious that the Twins showing have matured considerably thanks to their time with Darwish.
“He definitely has some darker tones to his music, and on the composition side he’s really good at picking out harmonies for us, so that’s definitely influenced us a lot as far as our singing parts,” says Laurie. “It’s been really cool to collaborate with Ben.”
The Twins might be striking a more serious note with What We Do, but Laurie says there is still fun to be had.
“Music is a beautiful platform to be able to spread your message, and ours is to take what you can from the hard times, let them go and live a happy life,” she says. “We try to portray that by having a good time at our shows and spread those moments of happiness around. A bunch of people together in a room having fun — that’s got to be good for something, right?”