For the very talented and timeless sounding Oakes And Smith, music is something of a history lesson. With their new album release titled Between the Earth and the Sky, Oakes And Smith are focused on bringing back that classical sense of folk/rock, and all the while they add their own unique brand of sound to keep it very current. With some emotional depth and great composition skills, Oakes And Smith are ready to show the world some great music.
Ryan : Can you tell us a bit about the story behind the creation of Oakes And Smith?
Robert: In 2007, I was living in the Berkshires working on an album called Heart Broken Open (2009) and Kate was a student at the University of Connecticut. She decided to spend the summer break in the Berkshires and began connecting with people in the area online. She found my page on Myspace and sent me a message—she liked my music and wanted to meet. We communicated for a while online, and when June rolled around, we met in person. We connected over so many things, especially music. And when I heard her sing for the first time, I was blown away. We spent a lot of time together that summer; she added harmony vocals to my album and created visual art for it, too. She went back to school that fall, but within a year, she left UCONN and moved permanently to the Berkshires. Not long after Heart Broken Open was finished, we began to harmonize and write together, and in the beginning of 2010, we started playing our first gigs as a duo. One of the first things we did was to venture down to NYC to do a performance workshop with vocalist and teacher Joy Askew. Her enthusiasm about our sound really encouraged us to keep going in those early days. That summer, we started gigging, getting up in front of audiences in cafes, bars, art galleries, even street corners, and we made so many wonderful connections with people who really loved what we were doing. It was so exciting to realize that something very special was happening.
Ryan: Your songs are beautifully written. What does your song writing process look like?
Robert: Thank you! It really does depend on the song. A number of the tunes we wrote together started off as a lyric and melodic idea that Kate had. I added to that idea, and then the two of us worked together to polish it. In the case of the song “Being Broken,” I had written a piece of music with no words. One day, I happened to notice that a piece of poetry Kate had published on her blog some time before seemed to fit with the music, so we tried it out, and sure enough, it worked beautifully. Believe it or not, there actually was at least one instance in which we seemed to be simultaneously on the receiving end of the same burst of inspiration. I was at home working on the chord pattern for a new tune, when Kate came in suddenly saying an idea for a new song had just come to her as she was driving home. She began to sing the melody and, amazingly, it fit perfectly with the chord pattern I had just been writing. Then, as we were putting words to it, we realized that some lines that had come through to Kate a few days before also fit this new song. It really felt like this song was coming in through both of us at the same time.
Some of the tunes we do have been in me for a long time. I started writing songs when I was a kid, and I’m constantly working out lyrical or melodic ideas in my head. It’s exciting when a new song begins to come through; it can be a string of words, a melody or a chord pattern that seems to have a special magic to it. I try to get those ideas down, then feel out where they want to move. Sometimes, it can turn frustrating as I feel myself losing the thread or forcing something in a certain direction that it just doesn’t want to go. Some new song ideas need to be abandoned (or at least set aside a while) for that reason—they just aren’t developing in a clear and natural kind of way. But with other songs, that initial glimpse sparks more inspiration and things begin to grow gracefully. That’s when I really get excited. It almost feels like taking dictation.
Ryan: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Katherine: Inspiration for our music comes mostly from our connection to nature (a muse abundantly present in the Berkshires) and our own reflections on love, relationship and quiet moments that move us most.
Robert: Inspiration can come from dreams, from books, or from other songs. It can be sparked by a conversation or an observation, from a walk in the woods, from a memory, or from what feels sometimes like divine intervention. I think it’s really a way of looking at life experience. When I really pay attention, I can feel that many places, objects, moments, experiences, interactions, have a song or a story in them, and they can resonate with a deeper meaning. The job, then, is to get it down in a way that lets that song shine through instead of getting in the way of it.
Ryan: You are currently promoting the inspired track “Closer To Home”, which features Jon Anderson, how did this collaboration happen, and what is the reason for this song to be a single over the others?
Robert: When we were recording “Closer to Home,” our co-producer Jemal Wade Hines mentioned that it sounded like a tune that would be perfect for Jon Anderson’s voice. As it happened, Jemal and his partner Moksha Sommer (HuDost) were working with Jon on a different project at that time. So, Jemal decided to send him the tune to see whether he might like to sing on it. Sure enough, Jon sent us back vocal harmonies that he had added, and we worked them into the final mix. As a long-time fan of both Yes and Jon’s solo work, I was absolutely blown away the moment I first heard his unmistakably unique voice singing with us on one of our songs!
As we continued to work on the tune, a number of other musicians lent their talents to the mix, including Dan Walters on bass, George Tortorelli on bamboo flute and Chuck Mauk on percussion. And as each layer was added, the special alchemy continued to grow. By the end, it felt like this tune in particular was the culmination of this entire project, the happy homecoming after a long and sometimes difficult journey, blessed from above by an inspired artist whom we deeply admire. I think it was just natural that we would want to put a special emphasis on this tune when it came time to share the EP.
Ryan: Your music has a few different genres within it. How would you describe your style to someone that has not heard it yet?
Robert: We consider ourselves a folk act because at the heart of this duo is the simplicity of our two voices singing in close harmony with acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment. The music we make comes more from our natural instincts than from a special musical pedigree or training. So, the term folk just feels right. We would also say we share a kinship with new-age music because of our spiritual themes and meditative quality. And though it may not seem obvious at first listen, there is also a musical theater and art rock influence in what we do, the likes of Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Yes, and Kate Bush.
Ryan: What advice do you have for any new artists looking to create their own album?
Robert: We have been very fortunate in our friends. We know some amazing musicians, engineers, and producers who have blessed us with their talent and expertise and helped us learn to craft our own recordings. So, I would say, find your musical community and reach out. There is magic in collaboration, and very often, if people are inspired by what you are doing, they will want to be involved. That said, I would also encourage new artists to get clear first on your vision. Know what it is you want to create. And be sure to do as much advance planning and homework as you can, so you can make informed choices and save yourself a lot of time and aggravation during production.
Ryan: At this point in your musical career, what are some of your musical highlights?
Katherine: Recording one of our songs with harmony vocals by Jon Anderson was an amazing experience that I know both Robert and I are still glowing from. His presence on our EP means so much to us on many levels, truly a highlight. We have also enjoyed many amazing collaborations with other talented musicians many of whom we have become close to as friends. Those relationships have meant the world to me.
Robert: There is something so deeply gratifying about seeing a song through to completion, to release into the world something that began as just a little kick somewhere deep inside. This is especially true of songs I wrote years ago, songs that may not have had their moment to shine until now. To sing one of those songs for an audience, to see it make connection and have an impact, is probably the most gratifying experience I can have as an artist.
Ryan: You seem like a band that might favor the physical copy over the digital. How do you feel about digital sales becoming more and more prominent?
Katherine: I want our work to be available to everyone, and digital distribution is an amazing tool that Robert and I can use to make instant connection anywhere in the world. I love that. I, myself, own a lot of digital albums, though I do prefer the physical copy. I love having that CD or LP in my hand. This goes for other art forms, too. I am someone who prefers a big stack of books on my nightstand to reading it all on a tablet. Having a physical copy of our work also allows us to make a lasting impression on audience members at a live show. These days, we are so inundated with digital material that I think it’s refreshing for folks to be able to avoid the screen-time all together and buy directly from a living, breathing musician. And it brings home the experience for us, too, when we, the artists, can see and speak directly to those who care about our work.
Ryan: Many albums have themes that run through them. Does your new EP Between the Earth and the Sky (EP) have a specific theme?
Katherine: My hope is that our listeners will experience a feeling of soul connection when they hear Between the Earth and the Sky. There is a persistent theme running through the EP of someone trying to reach across time and space to connect to a moment or another person and send the message: “I see you, I miss you, I want to make it better, I want to return, I want to understand.” I think we can all identify with moments like this. Often, these efforts to contact what has been lost or what is distant or unknown can evoke spiritual thoughts and connections. I hope our EP will inspire listeners in this way.
Ryan: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Do you have any news that you would like to share with your fans?
Katherine: We will be working on another recording very soon. We hope to begin tracking sometime this summer.