By ERIC SCHELKOPF
These days, it is more common than not to hear a band incorporating a banjo into its music.
But there are few bands casting the banjo in such a beautiful light as Washington, D.C.-based Luray, which just released its debut album, "The Wilder."
Luray, www.luraymusic.com, will perform Sept. 18 at The Burlington, 3425 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago. More information is available by going to www.theburlingtonbar.com.
I had the chance to talk to frontwoman Shannon Carey about the band.
Q - Great to talk to you. Of course, your debut album, "The Wilder," was just released. In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?
I wrote the songs for "The Wilder" in about nine months, after a pretty long drought of no songwriting, so each one was like a gift. I recorded detailed demos for all the songs in my basement in Alexandria, Va. (and then D.C. after we moved there), and sent them along to my brother, Sean.
When we got to Sean's house to record in Eau Claire, Wis., it was pretty intense because we only had five days to record the baseline vocals, banjo, and electric guitar. When I sat down that first day to record, I just prayed that I could get it right without too many takes!
Sean honestly did an amazing job recording and producing the record, and I am very proud of the final product and I do think it captured the original spirit and feeling of the songs.
Q - The album was produced by your brother Sean Carey, probably best known for being a member of Bon Iver. What made you want him to produce the album and what do you think he brought to the table? Was he easier to work with because he is your brother?
Would you consider him or Bon Iver to be a musical influence?
I think one of the main reasons I wanted to work with Sean was his solo album, "All We Grow." I love the simplicity and beauty of the songs, and the way he orchestrated and arranged them, they sound so pure and lovely.
I thought that if I could write the songs on banjo, and he could produce it, we could make something really interesting and surprising to people's ears.
Both Sean's solo work, and Bon Iver have influenced my sound - I like the way they affect your emotions and put you in a certain mind space.
Q - "The Wilder" has strong family ties on it. Your other brother, Colin Carey, is also featured on it along with your husband, Gabriel Wisniewski. Do you think the record was easier to make because it features so many family members?
Yes I do think it helped make the arranging and recording process very comfortable, and it allowed all of us to give ideas. Most of the songs were already written with all the parts being played on banjo, but we needed to reinterpret the songs onto the other instruments (upright bass, keyboard, vibes, electric guitar, drums) and that took a lot of experimenting.
Sean did a lot of it after Gabriel and I left Wisconsin, actually. He would send me rough cuts and we tweaked them over email and Dropbox and Skype over about six months.
Q - I understand that you took up the banjo while living in Northern California in 2006. What drew you to the banjo in the first place and what have you tried to do with it on this album?
I was drawn to banjo for its percussive quality and the unique texture it gives any song. My ears would perk up whenever I heard a banjo, whether it was in country, bluegrass, rock, folk - you name it.
One night in California, I had a dream that I got a guitar for Christmas, but I was really heartbroken in the dream because I wished that it was a banjo. When I woke up, I was convinced that I needed to learn banjo.
So I found a teacher and started taking lessons.
On this album I am attempting to layer banjo, with more banjo, with strumming, with ethereal vocals to create a unique sound and feeling. I was experimenting with using banjo to play outside the bluegrass and country style, almost as if it were a guitar.
It's funny how hard it was originally to break the bluegrass style of playing banjo. I remember talking to my brother Sean about this a few years ago when I first had this thought, and he said to me 'just strum it!"
Q - There seems to be so much interest in the banjo these days and so many bands are using it. Why do you think there is so much interest in using the banjo as a main instrument in a band?
Yeah, I've noticed that too - that the banjo is used more and more in both indie and mainstream music, and I think it has something to do with just being in style right now, and also the way the timbre of the banjo catches your ear.
I must not be the only one who feels intrigued by the sound of a banjo.
Q - There also are a lot of Americana or folk bands on the music scene these days. What do you think it is about Luray that separates the group from other bands that could be put in the same category?
I think that it's great that so many people are making variations of folk music today. I grew up listening to the really popular folk singers of the 70's that my parents loved - James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel - these artists share an earthy, laid back, and super honest style that I think has influenced me.
I think a lot of bands now combine so many genres and influences from their personal background and taste, and what you come up with is often not categorizable. For me, I am hugely influenced by folk, and also by bluegrass, country (my dad was in a country and western band when I was young), but also more layered and ambient styles of music like Frou Frou, Grizzly Bear, Radiohead and Sigur Ros.
I think what sets us all apart is that we all have something unique to say with our music, and we each have a different collection of musical influences even though we may be using the same instrumentation.
Q - Bon Iver has achieved considerable success. Would you want Luray to match the success that Bon Iver has achieved? Do you think that being an indie artist has given you more creative freedom?
I made of list of all the factors that are important to me in releasing this record, and artistic freedom and flexibility was my first priority.
I decided to experiment with different genres on "The Wilder" – if you’re not really a fan of bluegrass, but you are drawn to some of my more ambient feeling songs, you may be exposed to something you’re not used to listening to, like the ukulele for example.
Q - What are your short and long-term goals for the band?
I'd like to tour as much as we all can this year and share our new record. Long term, I'd like to just keep playing at great-sounding venues and meeting new friends and bands, collaborating with other musicians as much as possible, and definitely working on a new material that continues to excite and challenge us.