Folk’s Pretty Faces: Tucson’s Silver Thread Trio on music, Calexico and the new album “Trigger & Scythe”

	Exclusive song from new album “Trigger & Scythe” by Silver Thread Trio. Courtesy photos from Silver Thread Trio, concert photos by Jo Tomaszkowicz, special to the Daily Wildcat.

Heather DiPietro

Exclusive song from new album “Trigger & Scythe” by Silver Thread Trio. Courtesy photos from Silver Thread Trio, concert photos by Jo Tomaszkowicz, special to the Daily Wildcat.

As the darling of the Tucson music scene, Silver Thread Trio lines its otherworldly vocal harmonies with the dark elements of American roots. The band brings Americana, tunes reminiscent of the soundtrack to dusty traveling and the most soulful blues, together in a blend that is unmistakably a modern take on folk in its finest form.

From the stage to one-on-one banter, the band’s members make it known that while each girl is an essential part to the sound, they’re each very much their own person. Laura Kepner-Adney is bitingly witty with smoky vocals on stage, channeling bluesy spirits in both her singing and guitar playing. Gabrielle Pietrangelo’s angelic, glassy highs are the top end of the group — she’s able to both hit falsettos and pluck the banjo simultaneously. Caroline Isaacs is the perfect complement to Pietrangelo and Kepner-Adney’s highs and lows, able to belt it hard and give the audience goosebumps while playing the washboard in mind-boggling ways.

Onstage, Silver Thread Trio is engaging, unnerving and mesmerizing. The band’s play is an exercise in minimalist artistry that produces a sound three times its size. Make no mistake: Despite the dark mood of its latest release, Trigger & Scythe, this is not a soundtrack for traveling on foot across the Appalachians. This is a mature, gorgeous release by a band of musicians who know exactly what they want and how they want it done.

Daily Wildcat: How do you three write typically?

Kepner-Adney: We each write our own songs, bring them to the group and put them together. That’s why there’s so much diversity on the album.

Given the variability of the songs, was there any theme for the album chosen beforehand?

Kepner-Adney: Drawing from the American folk tradition inevitably leads to singing songs of death and misery, so that’s where most of songs on the album are coming from — the sadness and melancholy of folk tradition.

Pietrangelo: There’s a few happy, lighter songs — wait, just one, actually (laughs).

The entire album is locally produced and designed, from the recording to the album art. It’s evident that there’s a lot of local pride in its production.

Pietrangelo: It helped that we had a very successful Kickstarter (a funding platform that allows people to pledge money to creative projects). We did a video of us as puppets downtown. It’s really funny, you have to see it.

Kepner-Adney: We try to be humble and realistic, and we said, “This is what we need, bare minimum, to complete the CD.” Instead, we got almost twice that amount. We had all this extra money to make the album that much better, so we had to push back the release date by three months. The album wound up a lot better than it could have been, given the Kickstarter was so successful.

Speaking of local, you guys have a really strong relationship with Calexico, who are figureheads in Tucson’s music community. How did that come about?

Pietrangelo: They saw an “In Tune” segment for KUAT featuring us, and Joey Burns (Calexico vocalist and musician) asked us to play a festival in Barrio Viejo. We were nervous, singing with them for the first time. They asked us to do some harmonies, and then it just spiraled from there.

Isaacs: They’re truly just incredibly generous people, really about spreading the love, bringing back some of their fortune to Tucson, nurturing local musicians. It’s really an honor to be taken under their wings, so to speak — playing on the album, having us at shows, they really don’t have to do that kind of thing.

The new album is clearly well produced. It’s clean and the sound is so full. It’s obvious that this was a labor of love.

Pietrangelo: People are going to love it! I don’t sound very humble there (laughs), but I’m thrilled about the quality of the recording. This is the fourth record I’ve worked on in my life, and I’ve never had this feeling before, of it surpassing my hopes as a musician. Most musicians can relate to that. They’re frustrated with not being able to capture everything. This record though, we really tried to do an outstanding job.

That’s the thing, the production is really defined, every instrument stands in the recording on its own — nothing gets lost in the mix.

Pietrangelo: We got to work with Jim Waters at Waterworks Recording, and I think it was very much due to our chemistry with him, and how skilled he is.

How long was the writing and recording process?

Kepner-Adney: A year and a half. We tried a couple different studios, and we wound up with Jim — we loved it in there. He gets us.

Pietrangelo: He really keeps it light.

Isaacs: And he’s got a great ear — you don’t feel like he’s taking over the album, but he’s got very clear feedback for you. That is incredibly helpful, especially in the studio.

Plus, the way you all construct vocal harmonies is amazing. How do you piece it together?

Pietrangelo: There’s a formula, but we do break it sometimes. Me on top, Caroline in the middle, and Laura on the bottom.

Kepner-Adney: We have specific parts that we write. We’re very meticulous about writing out the arrangements. Gabrielle and I went to music school, so we get out sheet music and write out the chords that we’re singing — that’s how we teach the songs.

Pietrangelo: There are some people who can just fly by the seat of their pants and make it work, but we can also listen by ear and make it happen. I prefer to write it out and think it through.

Isaacs: I’m the idiot savant. I can’t read music, so I hear it and bring it to Gabrielle and Laura and they help me work it out.

Kepner-Adney: Honestly, being classically trained can be sort of a crutch — it’s a mixed blessing. On the other hand, Caroline has this really incredible ear for picking harmonies out, whereas if I don’t see something written on a page, I have a hard time.

Pietrangelo: Same here. I was talking to John Convertino (of Calexico) about how it’s so cool that he doesn’t need anything to play, and that going to music school has become that — a crutch — where before I was a little more in touch with my intuitive side.

Isaacs: For harmonies like ours though, you really have to construct properly, because there’s big accidents to be made.

Are you planning a tour? I know you’ve done some Arizona circuits, playing the festivals and what not.

Pietrangelo: People at those venues aren’t used to see young women playing this music, so I think that that’s something that works in our favor in that bracket of folky people. We do really well at those shows. We’ll be doing a few around the state for sure.

Tucson is and has been this alternative mecca, where there’s a wide range of exceptionally talented musicians. Can you see the group moving somewhere with more exposure?

Pietrangelo: I think there’s a chance that we might go overseas at some point, given some connections that we have. In my dream world, we’d stay in Tucson, but get to go other places throughout the year, not be a band who gets in a bus for months. I don’t know if we’re cut out for living on the road all the time.

Isaacs: We’re well placed to start doing some shows in spots — New Mexico, California. Part of it is where we are in our lives, to some degree. I have a 2-year-old and job that I really love, so I’m well-rooted here. There’s a real give and take to seeing where things lead, and what opportunities come up, and being flexible and sensible about that. There’s no model of how to grow as a band, so we’re kind of feeling it out along the way.

Silver Thread Trio’s CD release show is on Jan. 28 at Plush (9 p.m., $5 cover) with Loveland and Ryanhood. The show runs till 1 a.m. with a giant gift basket raffle at 12:30 a.m.