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Shepherdess meets Corin Ashley - Q&A (+ Record Release parties!)

Posted by Jonathan Donaldson  February 14, 2013 05:57 PM

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Welcome to installment #4 of Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man--where unrelated Boston musicians are asked to review each other's records. I am your friendly moderator (I like to think of myself as more of a Jack Kirby than a Stan Lee in terms of famous team-ups). In this installment we have two outstanding records from artists that take us deep into Boston's past and future. The first is from the Hilken Mancini-led Shepherdess. Mancini was a member of the great Boston '90s indie-rock band Fuzzy and has been active since in not only bands but also endeavors such as Girls Rock Camp Boston. As Shepherdess is a trio, to say that it also features Emily Arkin (the Operators) and Allison Murray (the Clear Deigns) would be a misnomer. I'm Saving Myself for Shepherdess would certainly not exist without all of them....And then over here we have the new record from alternate-dimension pop idol Corin Ashley, who is still quite giving birth to a promising solo career after rocking the '90s and part of the '00s with Boston power-pop legends, the Pills. Ashley's New Lion Terrace was brought to life over the past couple years in recording sessions near and far--from Q Division to London's Abbey Road (yes, crosswalks and Apple Scruffs).

This post comes in advance of two release parties--Shepherdess Saturday at the Cantab in Cambridge (see details below) and Corin Ashley Sunday at Johnny D's in Somerville. But now enough talking: commence rocking!

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Inbound Sounds: It seems like one of the things that you are both after is the perfect pop song, but in different ways. Hilken, your “Blackout” goes after pop gold with blunt objects that scrape with jittery cuts in order to get to the heart of the matter (reminds me of Ohio rock like GBV, Breeders, Wussy). Corin, you take a little bit longer to get there, as you take the “pet sounds” approach to your songwriting—taking lots of twists and turns (and chords) to get to your hook. My favorite is “Malady” which has a big, bright chorus that pops with harmony. Hilken, do you think that the winding roads of Corin’s songs help make the hooks stand out more in his poppier tunes? Would you like to write in this way?

shepherdess-lindsaymetivier.jpegHilken Mancini: I think every part of his songs are catchy. The verse, the bridge, the chorus. I don't think I could ever write that many catchy parts in one song. I'm not that talented. "Blackout" is probably the catchiest song I ever wrote. Too bad I wrote it after I had a record deal and ever had a chance of getting played on the radio. Ha. I think that "Malady" is pretty straight ahead pop song. He definitely writes more interesting twists and turns to get to the catchy chorus--but it's hard to say that it actually makes the hooks stand out more, because there are hooks everywhere.

Inbound Sounds: Corin, how do you feel about the way Shepherdess works together to deliver “instant-pop” on tunes like “Blackout” and “For Once And For All?” Do you feel like the blunt objects of fuzzy/crunchy guitars and immediate hooks make the brilliant ideas at hand just sound extra effortless and cool?

Corin Ashley: There's a lot of what I love about Hilken on this album--but one of the things that struck me the first time I saw Shepherdess live was Emily's baritone guitar lines. Those jagged shards in Hilken's guitar-playing have this wonderful sound like a big sonic manatee swimming around. I love the band's sound--it's just compelling right from the get-go. I'm glad you liked my tunes but I felt like Shepherdess is serving this really artful meal with strong flavors- like a puttanesca- and I'm showing up to the party with one of those big, swirly lollipops. Then again, once I heard their Go- Betweens cover, I knew we were coming from a similar place. That's perfect, actually. They covered the Go Betweens and I listened to Aztec Camera incessantly while working on my album, so we're just different sides of the same Postcard.

Inbound Sounds: About the "other sides" to your records. Tenderness is a little harder to spot at first underneath the gum snapping, juke-box kicking, boxy UK-insouciance of the Shepherdess record ("Scene of the Crime" stands-out on that front), but it's definitely in there. The cover of "Rock & Roll Friend" is obvious example of painful sentimentality of course (such a GREAT cover, really, hats off from one of the biggest Go-Betweens' fans in Boston here), but I get a sense that "Without a Warning" (with its question "where were you") fits into the same space. "On High" is perhaps a bit healthier, demanding a more immediate answer--"we might be stuck here anyway." Meanwhile the sentimentality is dripping on Corin's record. "Eyeshine" is cooed with a wide-eyed innocence and "Badfinger Bridge" zooms in with a Paul Simon-esque bridge that captures a pin-point memory. I am spotting a little bit of lyrical cynicism in "Malady" as the representative of the album's dark side...but "malady's" homonomous relationship with "melody" almost negates its bite. Acknowledging that we are all ambivalent people, what sort of emotions/reactions to you guys get to each other's work? Hilken, I'm guessing that Corin's record does more than whisk you away to a mystical candy land where men wear bow ties and women carry parasols?

Hilken Mancini: Corin's record reminds me of a time when I listened to Badfinger and smoked butts. The '90s--when I had more time to do fun stuff in my life. I spent more time just listening to records. It was great. When I had to do this for this interview and I actually got to sit still for a half an hour and just listen to Corin's record, it was awesome. It makes me think of swimming in a cool lake, falling asleep easily and feeling happy but like you're trying not to think about something that makes you really sad at the same time. Trying not to think about the sad thing and being happy in that moment--that's what Corin's record makes me feel like.

Inbound Sounds: Corin, I'm guessing you hear more in Shepherdess than sunglasses and a cigarette in the morning whilst strolling to a drab beach?

Corin Ashley: The very sound of Shepherdess leaves room for...not naïveté, but that rawness that was evident back in the Fuzzy days. It's a gift to do this for a long time and be able to stay in touch with what makes you special in the first place. The dichotomy that you're talking about is what makes people lean in for a closer listen when Hilken sings.

I am trying as hard as I can to reject cynicism as I get older. I mean, it can work for you in your 20s, it can even be mistaken for wit. It's hard to maintain in an appealing fashion as one gets older. I grew up on Elvis Costello. I adore his nasty songs with the biting put downs, but when I was recently asked to cover one of his tunes for a tribute album, I chose "London's Brilliant Parade"--one of his more nostalgic lyrics.

Inbound Sounds: How do you feel about seeing so many of friends of yours that you felt were rock's vanguard that you've known over the years slip away, all the while seeing the genre slip towards "irrelevance" at the hands of the media? You're quite hardcore to still be dedicated. I know your dedication and sacrifice. What kind of metaphor is music in your life, as a source of pain and joy? Is it a healing elixir you feel that it enables you to grow and mature, or is it some sick twisted muse that keeps you coming back like a drug?

Screen shot 2013-01-16 at 3.26.12 PM.pngCorin Ashley: I'm not sure that's really my experience. My peers are really inspirations to me and, you know, this is just what we do. What sacrifice? I don't mind what the media is celebrating this week, really. Scott Janovitz or Mike Gent will write a new song next week that will inspire me. Christ, every time I see Mike Viola play, I get so pissed at how good his chord changes are. The last thing I'm worried about is the state of the media! The only thing that has changed, and probably for the better, is a sense of career ambition. I make a living playing music--not my own, mind you! But that's cool, how many people get to do that? And I spent my own money to make this album the way I wanted to on a tape machine in a real studio. I'm not trying to "take things to the next level" anymore, I'm just trying to write the best songs I can.

Hilken Mancini: I feel like a lot of my friends bands still do pretty well and people care about them actually--or at least they have mad respect from their peers and that's really all that matters, or at least to me. I just like playing music. It's fun. I love playing my SG really loud thru my 50 watt Marshall. This is no sacrifice. I feel stupid sometimes playing all ages shows and being the oldest woman there, but that's not always the case. Plus I get to do Girls Rock Camp Boston. I never had time to have kids with all my musical projects and my store, but now I "have" 60 girls a session at GRCB. Life is great--playing music with my loved ones. I have another band with my boyfriend called the Monsieurs, too. It's all fun, good stuff. Life is going so fast...vive le rock

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Shepherdess
Record Release
Saturday, February 16, 2013
with Cotton Candy and Mary Lou Lord
Club Bohemia at the Cantab Lounge

Corin Ashley
Record Release
Sunday, February 17, 2013
with Ken Stringfellow
Johnny D's


Photo Credits:
Shepherdess: Lindsay Metivier
Corin Ashley: Liz Linder

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About the author

Jonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »

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