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INTERVIEW: Humphrey-McKeown

1. How would you classify your music? 

Although our musical style is pieces of many genres, we would consider our sound to be Americana and more on the folk-rock side. There are elements of folk, rock, blues, bluegrass, progressive and even jazz all rolled into our music, but cohesively, it’s Americana.

2. Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?   

Our sound has developed since we started writing 10 years ago with influences coming from our backgrounds and even more current artists.  From our backgrounds, we look to Fleetwood Mac, more progressive rock sounds and progressive folk-rock bands such as Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers and other Americana artists such as Avett Brothers and Mumford and sons.  With our dual his/her lead vocals, you may hear influences of the now defunct band, Civil Wars.  Even with our dual lead vocals and songwriting, before working together, Heather was very much from the musical theater side of things and Tom was more influenced by progressive music.

3. What do you want fans to take from your music? 

We always want fans to come to the foot of our music and be willing to be surprised by where the music might lead them and be open to taking the path.  From our thought-provoking lyrics, to the third voice of the violin to the unexpected chords, and broad sweeping melodies, our fans tell us they’ve never heard a sound like ours.  So we’d like our fans to take the trip with us!  No matter if the song is slow or fast, we want people to feel something. Music is emotion and its very important to us that we reach people on some emotional level.

4. Can you tell us a bit about your latest album?

When will it be released and how does it differ from your previous work?  Our new album, “Tapestry of Shadows,” will be released on May 20 and christened at Durty Nellies in the Chicagoland area on the same day. 

What’s different from our previous work is that we opened up the creation process to the entire band. The previous 4 albums, Tom and Heather typically did all the studio work and would give the band the finished songs for them to perform.  We really began writing the new album while we toured in support of our previous release “All I Wanted to Hear.”  We would hang out at tour stops and Tom would play something on the mandolin, Gary would spontaneously create a fiddle lick and Tony would bring on the bass.  So keeping that great connection going, the recording process began in early 2016 with scratch tracks we gave to the guys so they could create their parts.  The album was “officially” recorded from May-December and we had final mixes off to be mastered in late January. We’ve never taken so long to record but we honestly feel it’s our first “band” album – – very cohesive, connecting and you’ll hear the difference. 

5. What do you love and hate about the Music Business? 

If we had to say what we hate about the business, we would say it’s hard to reach people at a global level since everything on radio is pre-selected for you – – it’s not what it used to be like with a grassroots build up of what people actually like or what they could like.  They aren’t given a choice.  We don’t like to think about it being the music business very often because if we did, we probably wouldn’t do it.  Gary Jacklin, our violin player always says, “Hey, tonight we get to perform our music!”  And that’s what we love – – being able to share our music with others and have it connect to someone else and maybe make a difference in their lives.  We were performing a song called “Morning is Broken” at a tour stop and we noticed a fan got up in the middle of the song and left the building. At the break, we asked the table if everything was ok.  They said that the song reminded this fan that he hadn’t said he was sorry to someone very special to him.  So he felt as if he should go tell this person he was sorry.  That’s what we love…when our music can make a difference.  Alternatively, what we dislike is the fact that we still have day jobs!  We’d love to write and perform full-time!

6. What is the best concert you have been to?   

My favorite concert was SAGA at the Metro in Chicago in the late 1980s – it was super intimate night unlike all the bands of the day where they used lots of glitz.  It was minimal light show and they were phenomenal musicians. I got to meet them afterwards and found out that they were really great people (Tom).  My most recent favorite concert was seeing Coldplay in downtown Chicago, where by the end of the concert, all the fans in the stadium were drenched during the largest thunderstorm of 2016. It was an incredible evening of theatre, music and outdoor drama – – entirely memorable!

7. What do you like most about playing live? 

Of course the energy during a live concert is fantastic, but it’s also being able to see people experiencing our music.  Whether it be singing along with the music, dancing to the music, crying to the music…whatever it is – – that “people to music connection is incredible.  The energy from the audience is where the rubber meets the road.  Do our songs touch people at some level?  If we see it happening right in front of us, it’s really powerful.

8. Is there a song on this latest CD that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?   

Heather’s personal favorite on the album is “Sasha on the Carousel.”  This song was written based on a true story of a woman whose family fled Russia in the 1980s because of religious persecution. The song speaks to always having hope even though you’re waiting.  It’s definitely a folk song, but book-ended by swamp grass and big beat folk-rock songs, it’s sorbet on the album. Tom’s favorite is “Beautiful.” From a purely writing standpoint, it transitions through multiple key changes without sounding contrived or overtly clever while remaining catchy and assessable.  It takes the listener through the phases of a relationship with all its trials.

9. How have you evolved as an artist over the last few years?   

I think every artist has a starting point and ours was that we were too eclectic.  We tried to be too much to everyone and it just didn’t work.  We had a country song, a rock song, a pop song and more.  We’ve evolved writing in so many styles to honing in on specific sounds rather than just genres — where we create an original song from that mix of sounds.  So you’ll hear the sweetness of the mandolin and piano as lead the gutsiness of the dobro, upright bass and two ton drums for our swamp grass sound, then the all-out folk that brings you to a different place and time.   I think other than evolving our sound, I think we’ve grown to be patient in our persistence.  We don’t let anyone tell us no and we keep moving on.  Also, we understand that everyone’s path in music is different and to never compare ourselves to another band’s progress.  We keep persistently moving ahead and saying “Hey, we get to perform our music tonight!”  And this attitude has been an evolution.

Over the last few years we have really begun to distill what we are all about. There’s a focus to what we are doing that is being reflected on our last two albums. Our first few releases had a very wide variety of instrumentation and song styles. That made the vocals the only real common element over an entire album. It was sometime hard to tell what kind of band we were. Fortunately, we’ve refined our style much more in the last two years. Self imposed limitations on instrumentation has helped us to become a much better band and the music reflects that. The turning point was probably when Heather took over all piano playing and Tom expanded on mandolin. That combination has been working well in the writing process.

10. If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, get drunk with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

Tom:  If I had a chance to sit down and talk with anyone, I’d talk with Kerry Livgren since he had such an influence on me when I was growing up.  Heather:  I would like to meet Johnny Cash.

11. So tell us what’s next?   

As soon as we are done with our album release party on May 20, we hit the road for tours to Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  We love performing for and meeting new people.  We will also continue our exploration and refining of our musical art.  We love to write music so who knows?  We may come to you with album #6 later in 2018!  We encourage new fans to check us out at www.hm-music.com and like us at www.facebook.com/humphreymckeown.  We can’t wait to meet you!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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