When the Shivering Timbers, aka the husband and wife duo of Jayson and Sarah Benn, released its first album, We All Started in the Same Place, it was the sort of band that had casually made a record.
The Benns, who have both been in other bands, had written some lullaby-like songs in 2008 for their then-newborn daughter Suzi, who is now 4, and had played some shows when they were invited to play a few songs at a friend’s birthday party. That friend happened to be Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who was so impressed by their modern musical nursery rhymes that he invited them to make a record at his Easy Eye Studios in Nashville, Tenn., and a few months later the Shivering Timbers had a debut album.
Now two years later, the duo has grown into a trio, adding drummer Brad Thorla (of Relaxer, cover band Black Sabath and others) and fill-in drummer David Marchione. The band has played many shows and has crystallized its sound adding some frayed rock edges and grooves to its dark lullabies.
The expanded sound can be heard on its new album, Sing Sing. The band is celebrating with a CD release show Friday at Musica in Akron along with White Pines, Good Morning Valentine and Light of the Loons.
“I’m a little nervous,” said upright bassist, banjoist, singer/songwriter/manager/booker Sarah from the Benns’ home in Akron.
For anyone who is enchanted by the band’s calm, ethereal debut, but has yet to see it live, Sing Sing may come as a bit of a surprise with more up-tempo backbeat-driven tunes and unique arrangements of traditional folks songs. The title track is a peppy up-tempo indie rock tune getting airplay on 91.3 the Summit (93.1-FM). I would also suggest a listen to the fuzzed-out stomping song Generations.
Both Benns credit drummer Thorla’s addition to helping focus the band musically.
“He brought a lot of extra energy to the old songs from the first record that wasn’t there before when it was just me and Sarah,” said guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Jayson Benn, adding that it took a few shows with Thorla before the band started “making music that I like. Up to that point it was kind of shticky.”
“It felt like a fling, a musical fling,” Sarah added.
Jayson said: “We didn’t know where we were going to go from there. We were kind of stuck playing those songs, but we didn’t know what to do next. At the same time, we didn’t just want to keep doing nursery rhymes, and Brad helped us expand.”
With a drummer and a batch of new songs, it was Sarah who first floated the idea late last year of recording album No. 2. The band enlisted buddy Cincinnati-based artist/producer Brian Olive to co-produce and used Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound for mixing Sing Sing.
Then the duo had to figure out how to pay for the record and its release. With the help of another friend, local artist Chelsea Blackberby, who made a promotional video and helped with the album’s cover art and packaging, the band began a Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of January.
The initial pledge goal was $4,000, and within a week the band had surpassed that total, eventually reaching $8,784 by the end of January.
The result is a baker’s dozen of strong tracks showing the band’s growing musical versatility and Sarah’s love of old folk song lyrics as the band applies its own melodies and arrangements to several traditional tunes, including the title track, a twangy guitar- and reverb-drenched take on Wayfaring Stranger, a spooky, banjo-driven Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down, along with a slow building, fairly rocking and dark version of Neil Diamond’s Holly Holy.
“It’s darker than Neil Diamond could pull off, he wears way too many sequins to be dark,” Jayson said.
Also included is a song co-written by budding songwriter/singer/drummer Suzi Benn, I Love You Too Much, which hearkens back to her parents’ Suzi-inspired debut.
There are a couple of songs featuring lyrics by local songwriter and Shivering Timbers fan Chuck Auerbach (Dan’s dad), including the lonesome wailing country-folk flavored Without Someone and simmering Annalee.
Many independent artists (particularly young or already established ones) love the new paradigm shift in the music industry that allows them to keep control of every facet of their music and career and deal directly with fans through the Internet. But Sarah Benn, who acts as the band’s business manager, booker, publicist and wears every other business-related hat while being a stay-at-home mom (Jayson works full-time as a drafter at a land survey company) says she’d love to have some help and has been lobbying record labels and bookers and others to no avail.
“We’re not on the road eight months out of the year. If we were, they’d probably be knocking down our door, or at least answering my emails,” Sarah said with a dry laugh, noting that they can only play out on weekends.
“We have a mortgage and a daughter and two cars and credit cards and student loans, you know what I mean? We’re 30,” she said. “We can’t just hope that playing little crappy clubs with no booking help or management or publicist behind us would ever pay the bills because it won’t. We need a machine behind us.”
Nevertheless the Benns say the Shivering Timbers are doing pretty well playing festivals and gigging whenever it can while working on maintaining and building the band’s fan base.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.