While sorting through this years list of 100+ artists playing at various Lilith Fairs across the country, I stumbled upon a group of four musical sisters going by the name SHEL. An acronym for their names (Sarah, Hanna, Eva, and Liza), the sisters SHEL live in Ft. Collins, Colorado, where father and performer/singer/songwriter Andrew Holbrook guided them along their musical journeys.

Although SHEL’s 5-song EP Mad King is already on iTunes, the sisters, ages 16-21, are anxiously awaiting the release of their first full-length album with Republic Nashville, and so are we. Because in a day where we continue to see a repetition of similar music acts, it’s become increasingly difficult to find music that’s fresh, unique, and new, until listening to SHEL.

We recently spoke with the lovely ladies of SHEL about about how they went from four sisters recording music in Eva’s room, to landing a record contract with Republic Nashville, to playing Lilith Fair. Here’s what they had to say. (iloveshel.com)

RockHer: When did you start playing?

Hanna: I was 10 when I started playing piano.

Eva: A year after Hanna started playing piano, when I was 10, I started playing mandolin. Liza started playing pedal harp at 6. We had private teachers who taught us.

Sarah: I was 9 when I started playing violin. Eva and I started playing the same year.

RockHer: Pedal harp is an unusual instrument to start playing at 6. How did you discover it Liza?

Liza: My dad suggested it because he played when he was a younger man. Dad said “Sarah already plays violin, why don’t you try pedal harp.” I was upset because I wanted to play violin, but figured I might as well try, right? I played the harp for a few years and then switched to the drums. They’re a lot more fun to me.

 

RockHer: Since you were home-schooled, did you play music all the time growing up?

Eva: Yeah, we loved it. We all went to college except Liza, she’s still home schooling but she’ll graduate soon. We’ve all had college experience but decided that music is what we wanted to do.

RockHer: What were your earlier  performing years like?

Eva: When our dad would perform live, he’d let us go on stage with him do one song. He helped us write parts for it. We continued to back him up. Then we started writing our own arrangements for his music. When I was about 16, we all started writing our own music. It’s always been a musical collaboration. It just grew from there.

RockHer: When did SHEL form?

Eva: Sarah or Hanna came up with the idea.

Sarah: It was Hanna.

Eva: At first we were playing with our dad so we were called Andrew Holbrook & SHEL. Then we became just SHEL two years ago. We were still playing a lot of his songs though.

RockHer: What’s dad’s role now in your music?

Eva: He stepped back. He said he’s older and wants to work on the farm. He has dreams of his own. That’s fair. But we asked him if he’d please come out on the road with us. He said yeah! He’s involved more with the production of it. More like a co-producer. It’s cycled all the way around. At first we were backing him up and now we got to a point where he’s backing us up.

RockHer: When did you start taking music seriously, as a working/touring band?

Eva: We’ve been taking music seriously for about 3 years. As far as touring every year, at least for me, it started when I was 17/18. I think it was pretty similar for everybody. I really want to do this. Every year we improve and become more serious. It’s definitely been a gradual, growing process.

RockHer: What’s the music scene like from where you live, Ft. Collins, Colorado?

Liza: It’s nothing compared to Nashville or LA, but we have a pretty good music community in Ft. Collins, for the size of the town we have.  There’s a very supportive vibe. Two of our friends from Nashville, Katie Herzig and Brooke Wagoner, both came from this area, but ended up moving to Nashville.

RockHer: What’s the music business experience been like since you started taking SHEL seriously?

Eva: We are still learning how the music business works and how up in the air everything is. There was a company we were working with a couple of years ago that promised us a tour bus and headlining tour. Pretty outrageous promises. That was our first introduction into the music business. But we’re in touch with reality.

Sarah: There’s lots of big talk in the music world. People will say “I love your music,” “I can get you on a tour with so-and-so,” and “these people want to sign you!” At first we thought this was awesome, but after awhile we learned people say things but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen. You go around telling all your friends “this is going to happen!” and when it doesn’t, it’s so disappointing. You have to learn to take this stuff with a grain of salt.

Eva: I remember being in a room with this producer who told us we should basically kick our dad out of the band. He said “we can do something huge if you’ll get out of the way, let’s just focus on the girls blah blah blah” talking to my dad. It felt so terrible. He offered us this really outrageous deal in the first place, and for him to be trying to call the shots like that was just not cool. We stepped away from it. We wanted to be in control of our careers.

 

RockHer: How did you hook up with Grammy Award winning producer Brent Maher?

Eva: Right after meeting that other guy, through mutual friends, we met Brent. At the time, we had no idea who Brentwas. He came over to the house, sat down, and asked if we’d mind playing a couple of songs. We played him every song we had. He said “cool, thanks.” We gave him some CDs, and he left.

Sarah: After we met Brent we did some research and found out who all he worked with; discovered The Judds, worked with Ray Charles, Nickel Creek, so many cool people. We’re like “oh my gosh, this guy was at our house!”

Eva: He started communicating directly with our dad and said “there’s definitely something very special here. I think we can do some really cool things.” He had so much respect for our family, so much respect for our dad, and so much respect for our creativity and music. There was such a big difference in that relationship

Sarah: That was just the best we’ve ever had it so far in the music business. How different an experience it was with Brent then all these other producers. It just felt so right from the beginning. With the other folks, there was always an unsettled feeling. Red Flags.

RockHer: How’d you hook up with your current label, Republic Nashville?

Sarah: We played a showcase last October in Nashville. Brent invited different record companies to come and watch. He invited [label CEO] Scott Brochetta. Brent said “Scott’s probably going to come but he’s not going to stick around that long.” They told us he’d leave before it was over, but Scott stayed for the entire half hour set, the encore, and then made sure he talked to each of us individually afterward. That was how our relationship grew.

RockHer: Did you have a “this is it” moment?

Sarah: It was more like “oh snap! This is awesome!” We were so excited. It was kind of unbelievable. We didn’t know what to tell people afterward. We didn’t know if it was actually going to happen.  We didn’t know how to be excited about it.

RockHer: What happend after you met Scott Brochetta at the Nashville showcase?

Sarah:When we got home from the showcase in Nashville, we had a Skype meeting with Scott, and basically shook hands over Skype. I didn’t really believe it until we signed the contract. After we signed I thought ok, I guess this is really happening. We just finished signing the official contract in March.

RockHer: Tell us about the upcoming full-length album?

Hanna: We finished recording. We’re not releasing it till next year. We don’t have a date yet. Until it’s released, we’re just practicing and doing shows and waiting to see what the record label wants to do. We know they know what they are doing so we’re just going to wait on them.

RockHer: What’s was the recording process like?

Sarah: We recorded the record with Brent. We recorded part of it here in Ft. Collins and sent the files over to him, and recorded other parts of it in Nashville in the Blue Room. All songs were recorded like that for our EP too. The LP was recorded like that, minus a couple of songs. They add the effects there in Nashville, then of course they mix and master everything over there.

RockHer: You recently performed at Lilith Fair in Denver. How did you get hooked up with Lilith?

Eva: Our music publisher hooked us up with Lilith Fair in Austin, but then the Austin date got canceled, so they switched us over to Denver which was perfect because it’s an hour and a half away, as opposed to a 12 or 13 hour drive to get to Austin. We were so honored that we got to play on it.

Liza: It was an amazing experience.

RockHer: Did you get to meet the one and only Sarah McLachlan?

Eva: Yes! She called us “the ladies in the fancy hats,” because we were wearing these special hats we made. She was so sweet.

Hanna:She was so nice, but it’s like “whoa, this is Sarah McLachlan” I don’t want to say anything stupid. I was nervous.

Sarah: She’s one of my heroes.

Liza: I totally got goose bumps when I shook her hand. I was really excited to meet her, pretty ecstatic.

Eva: We didn’t have the best backstage passes, so we couldn’t get back to the business office to pick up our check. Sarah ended up taking our mom backstage to get it. When we were driving home, we’re like “mom that was so cool when Sarah McLachlan took you back to the office.” She had no idea. “That was Sarah McLachlan?” she said. She thought it looked like her, but thought that Sarah wouldn’t be walking her back here to get a check. It was so funny.

RockHer: What was going on stage like?

Sarah: We were on one of the side stages before everybody went on the main stage. There were no bands competing with each other. It was set up so that when one band was over, the next band on the other stage would immediately start up, and go back and forth. We were going back and forth the whole time, watching all the sets. Then we just hopped up on stage and started our set.

Eva:We sang “Because the Night” by Patti Smith & Bruce Springsteen during the finale. We decided to dance, and at one point started doing Thriller. Sarah [McLachlan] and Emmy Lou Harris turned around and just started laughing with us, right in the middle of the song. It was pretty funny.

RockHer: That’s a hard song to do Thriller too!

Sarah: It was a challenge. We just did that little signature part. We ran into Sarah earlier and she’s like “You guys are going to come sing on the finale with us, right? We’re like “oh yeah, we choreographed a dance for it.” We hadn’t. But she said she’d try to keep up.

RockHer: What did it feel like to be surrounded by so many talented female artists?

Eva: It was a good lesson in entitlement for me. Watching all those people in that backstage area where there’s nice greenrooms, air conditioning–they took excellent care of us, but we were back there in a sweaty tent. But I thought, you know, these ladies all paid their dues to be where they are. I was sitting back there thinking I’m not entitled to anything. Not air conditioning, or a green room, or anything. It sure was awesome to be there, and I want to enjoy this time when we’re paying our dues. That was how I felt a lot of the time there.

Hanna: I wish we got more footage on our little Flip. I wish we could have gotten pictures with Sarah and Emmy. We didn’t want to seem unprofessional. We didn’t ask for autographs or anything like that. We were trying to act natural.

RockHer: What advice can you give to other women that are trying to break into the music world?

Liza: Keep doing it. Keep following it. If you enjoy it, there’s no reason for you to stop. Follow your dreams.

Hanna:If you want to play music, and it’s really your passion, you just have to practice really hard, like with anything in life. If you want it bad enough, just go for it. It’s awesome if you have support from your family and friends. That helps so much. But really, it comes down to you and your drive.

Eva: It’s important to develop passion. Passion is not something you’re just born with. Sometimes that comes from just perseverance and hard work. There’s some times when you’re like “I really don’t want to do this,” but those are the most important times where you just have to push through and make yourself work hard, and then in turn you’ll find you begin to really love what you’re doing. From that, passion is born.

Hanna: We ask people what their dreams are and what they want to do with their lives and they don’t know. I think it’s good to try different things till you can find something you really want. Try singing, try dancing, try sports, whatever it is, try things till you find something you really love and then go for it.

Sarah: Never stop eating chocolate.

 

RockHer: Where do you see yourselves 5 years from now?

SHEL: World Tour!

Hanna: Hopefully we’ll have a couple of albums out. We’d love to go for the Grammy’s. We’d love to get some Grammy’s for our producer. I think he wants 10 before he dies. I think in 5 years we’ll still be together playing music and pursuing our dreams. We love each other and we’re all committed to following this road wherever it goes because we love it.

 

RockHer: What are you going to do until the album comes out next year?

Eva: There’s so much up in the air right now. We’re in the middle of trying to get an agency to work with. We’re just kind of waiting on a few things. Basically what it boils down to is how to launch the band.

Sarah: We’ve gone out for shows a lot this year. We’re heading out in a couple of weeks to New Hampshire, to a folk festival, and we’ll play a little bit in New York and New Jersey, and then we want to go to Nashville. We just finished this new song and we want to go lay down some tracks.

Eva:We’ve been working on our second album. We’re hoping that we can get our writing done ahead of time just in case that does happen. We did release an EP (Mad King). It’s just a soft internet release but they’re telling us that they’re going to release a single in the next few months.

RockHer: Who are you listening to right now?

Liza:Phoenix, Robert Plant, Regina Spektor, Allison Kraus.

Hanna: John Meyer, Switchfoot, Sting, Pat Metheny, Lyel Mays, Miles Davis, Vince Guaraldi

Eva:I’ve been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin and Imogene Heap, Harry Nislson. And this really weird Scandinavian music that my friend passed on to me a couple of years ago that I can’t pronounce any of the names or sing along to it, but I absolutely love it.

Sarah: There’s this new band SHEL that I just can’t stop listening to!

And neither can we! Watch SHEL’s video for The Latest and Greatest Blueberry Rubber Band from their EP “Mad King” below.