Katelyn and Laurie Shook, twin sisters who perform as the Shook Twins, have been singing together since they were two years old “in the back of the car driving to grandma’s house,” Katelyn tells me over the phone.
The sisters grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho. In school, they were “huge choir nerds,” Katelyn says, “all the way up to first year of college,” but they didn’t play any instruments until after high school.
It wasn’t long before they were writing songs centered on the sisters’ preternaturally crystalline vocal harmonies.
Even then, Shook Twins had a pretty low-key songwriting process, which has continued to this day.
“We just start,” Katelyn says. “We don’t think about it too much. We just show it to the other one.” The sister who wrote the song “has the most power over the song,” she adds.
Early songs written by Laurie were about finding the light within and not restricting yourself, Katelyn says. Katelyn’s songs had more of an external, searching quality, with themes of the open road. These subtle differences say a lot about the unique personality of each songwriter.
After playing tiny gigs around Sandpoint, the sisters moved to Portland and, over the course of about 10 years, they’ve become a popular live act in Eugene — performing their folk rock everywhere from the McDonald Theatre to the Oregon Country Fair.
This time, Shook Twins play their largest local venue yet, the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater. They’re in town supporting their brand-new album, Some Good Lives.
The album showcases the group’s usual acoustic songwriting, with some faint through-lines of African highlife music and Joni’s jazzy period. “We love Joni Mitchell,” Katelyn says, particularly the lyrics and the early, simple stuff.
The record also offers plenty of contemporary production technique, with enough adult-pop sensibility to fit in nicely on NPR or Austin City Limits. Most of all, there are the Shook’s voices, clear and true.
The album was partially recorded at Hallowed Halls, an old library building in Portland, and the music reverberates with space while also feeling solid — like an old oak desk in a long-neglected room.
The song “Stay Wild,” with a music video playing off the experience of having a twin as metaphor for different sides of the same person — one wild, one buttoned-down — may be Shook Twins’ most pop-oriented offering to date.
Lyrically, the sisters wanted to pay tribute to the good men in their lives, from grandpas, uncles and godfathers to Bernie Sanders — everyone’s favorite grandpa — on the song “What Have We Done.”
The track “Grandpa Piano” even features actual recordings of the sisters’ grandfather playing piano in the final weeks of his life, and the song “Dog Beach” was written by the sisters’ godfather Ted, who recently passed away.
With the #MeToo movement, men were getting a lot of bad press. “We wanted to take the other side of that,” Katelyn says, and to herald the good men that do exist in the world as part of the healing process, as goal posts or examples of what a good man can be.
Because, after all, it’s about equality, Katelyn says.
Shook Twins with Free Creatures (Marv Ellis & Emily Turner)
Friday, March 29, 8pm, Hult Center