Athena: Bandshes was sort of born out of happenstance. Zoe always tells the story best!
Zoe: The band slowly grew and came together during and right after high school. We’d been friends since our freshman year, and all did music in different ways independently (I wrote and performed songs at open mics, Athena was a music major, and Emily was a musical theater major who also took violin lessons outside of school — for context, we went to a high school for the arts!). Then, sophomore year of high school, Athena and I decided to work on a song together. It’s funny because that song — Show Me the Moon– is now our second most popular song on Spotify and we wrote it when we were fifteen.
From there, the two of us started working on music together and ended up doing our Senior Capstone project together, where we wrote and performed songs about different societal issues. Then the summer after our senior year of high school, we were asked to perform as openers for another great local artist, Kate Callahan. Emily was over during rehearsal and singing along, and a family friend suggested that she sing harmonies with us for the show. From there, Bandshes was born.
We decided to perform and record for fun. We recorded “Demo (rough)” (released Aug. 2013) and “Beautiful World” (released March 2014) in the living room of a family friend, using a single microphone and one-shot takes of each song. It wasn’t very professional, and the performances themselves are live and imperfect, but at the time, we had the intention only to put the music online to be listened to family and friends. Then, last summer, one of our songs was found on Bandcamp and we licensed it to be in a low-budget film for a Canadian film festival. The film ended up being bought by Universal Studios, renamed “Unfriended,” and played around the world.
The song, “Lost Cities” was heard by more people than we ever imagined would happen. What started as a fun project of friends is now becoming more serious: we’re writing new songs, hoping to book more gigs and do a small tour for the summer, and we’re so excited to share new music with the awesome listeners we’ve gained because of “Unfriended”.
What song of yours is the one you like the most?
Athena: I think we all have our own favorites! Mine is definitely Storyteller, which ironically was the hardest for me to write the music for.
Zoe: I don’t think I have a favorite song at the moment, especially as of late because I’ve been thinking more about the ways that I can improve my songwriting. The song that I’m the most proud of lyrically is “Beautiful World,” and am hoping to write something soon that I’ll like enough to consider my new favorite song.
Emily: My favorite song has always been Wild Geese.Before we had the recordings, Zoe would send me a video of her singing it as a birthday gift! But, (spoiler!) we’re working on a new song that might take first place in my book.
How do you write your music?
Zoe: Originally, back during our first gig, I had come to Athena with lyrics with melodies and she put piano parts to them, and then Emily came in and added harmonies. Now, our songwriting is a lot more collaborative, and we work together on the music and melodies, and occasionally, they help me figure out lines for the lyrics! What I’m really excited for is that on some of our new tracks, Emily will not only be singing but also playing violin. It’s going to add a really nice touch to the songs and I think people are really going to like it. Unfortunately, it’s still difficult for us to write music all together at once because we’re all in school. But Athena and I get together to rehearse and write (our colleges are only a half an hour away from each other), and then send recordings of new ideas to Emily for her to listen to and work on until we can all get together.
What is music?
Emily: It’s an expression of emotion that brings people together.
Zoe: That’s an interesting question. I agree with Emily and would like to add that it’s a way of communication, sometimes to an audience, sometimes just to yourself. Instruments and melodies allow you to communicate thoughts and feelings without words, and for me, even the act of writing lyrics is different than other ways of writing or speaking, and allows me to express my thoughts and emotions in a way that is truly liberating. Music is liberating.
Athena: To me, music is the best way for humans to communicate both what they’re trying to say and how they feel simultaneously. It’s also kind of my whole life!
What influences do you have?
Zoe: A huge influence for me has been Regina Spektor. In high school, I loved singing her songs and her style has been an inspiration in our songwriting. Another more recent inspiration for me have been The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr. because they have songs that are very bluesy but also very contemporary. I enjoy the songs we have that have that are jazzier, and want to continue to write songs that are both inspired by jazz and blues but also very contemporary. I also really enjoy the production quality of these artists, which is something I never thought about until going into a studio this semester.
Emily: I would also like to add Lucius to the list of amazing influences. I love Lucius because from their music I get the sense that they work as a team, and that kind of unifying sound is something I aspire to. Also, their harmonies are brilliant!
Athena: I agree with Lucius and Regina Spektor, especially Regina. Instrumentally a lot of my writing is influenced by hers, but also Fiona Apple and Vanessa Carlton (think Willows, not A Thousand Miles). A lot of our newer and yet to be heard stuff has a jazzier feel that I can attribute to them, at least instrumentally.
What´s the best experience you have had with your project?
Zoe: I don’t have one experience in particular I could name as the best with this project, but there are two things that I definitely love about being in the band. The first, is the satisfaction that comes with finishing a song, and the fact that I’m able to work with my friends to create something we can be proud of. The second, is the positive feedback we’ve received from strangers online who’ve heard our music and genuinely like it. Knowing that you’ve created something, that sometimes is very personal and comes from your own emotions and experiences, that has reached someone else is really special. We’ve received messages to our website and via social media from really enthusiastic fans from different parts of the world, and that has been really amazing and encouraging for me.
What plans do you have this year?
For the next year, we’re working on writing new music, recording, and booking gigs. It’s difficult because college makes us all very busy and music becomes less of a priority, and next semester, we’re all going to be in different parts of the world, but come summer, we want to be performing and working hard to write and record some new music to release.
Mention something you don´t like about your project
Mostly, it’s difficult for us to work on music because of college, distance, and work. We love creating the songs, and having the finished recorded project to share with people, but recording itself is something we’re still getting used to. Coordinating our schedules to get together to record has been hard, and when we’re there we feel a lot of pressure to get it right in the small window of time we have together. This will likely become easier with time though. Our first recording of our album “Beautiful World” was recorded live on one microphone in someone’s living room and when we went into the studio to record a better version of “Lost Cities” from the album, it went very smoothly, and we’re so happy with what we have now, but being in a recording studio is new territory and can be stressful.
Mention the biggest sacrifice you did for your project.
Emily: I can’t think of any big sacrifices I’ve made for our music, though I often make small ones. We all have so much on our plates right now that when we’re focusing on music, other commitments get neglected. The most common sacrifice these days is not staying home to write the paper that’s due the next day so that we can play an open mic. Or calling out of work the morning of to make it to a recording session.
Zoe: We haven’t had to make any huge sacrifices yet, except for that of our time. Coordinating our schedules this semester for recording, for example, has been a sacrifice for time that we could’ve spent doing homework, at our jobs, or doing things with other friends. If we want to continue to perform and record and be more committed, it will require even more of our time, and although sometimes this will definitely feel like a sacrifice because it is not always easy to balance our various life responsibilities, I know it will feel rewarding and worth while in the end.
What band, music project or solist from your city do you like?
Hartford has a bounty of great local musicians, but if we had to choose one of the many to talk about, it’d be Hartford Hot Several Brass Band. The quirky ensemble is unique to our community, their energy is contagious, and continually rally people together wherever they go. Athena even gets to join in on the ruckus sometimes on Melodica!
If your project was a word, what would it be?
Zoe: If I had to choose a word to describe our project, I’d say “unifying.” The band has brought us closer together as friends during a time in our lives where it is very easy to lose touch with people from high school. Performing and sharing our music has also helped us to connect with other musicians and with listeners from around the world, and I hope that as we continue on this journey, we are able to connect with more people.
Athena: This is a tough one, probably “lucky”. We have a continual habit of being in the right place at the right time.
What´s your full name?
Zoe Chatfield (lyrics and vocals), Athena Demaille Von Schmidt (piano and musical arrangement), Emily Gregonis (vocals and violin). We’re all currently in school and worked together to answer these questions from our colleges!