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Interview: Acoustic Son by Sandman

Acoustic Son

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Interview: Acoustic Son
by Sandman

Recently I had the pleasure of "caging" one of the more popular groups on the site, "Acoustic Son," specifically Ken Kingsbury and Carolyn Shaw, the voices and songwriting force behind this talented band. Acoustic Son hails from San Francisco and may be familar to our listeners on the west coast. For those of you who have not heard them I urge you to give them a listen. Their eclectic style of writing and impeccable harmonies backed by a highly competent group of musicians blend together to give the listener three or four minutes of musical bliss. Without further ado let's jump into the heads of these caged Songbirds for a few minutes.

Sandman: Would you and Carolyn please tell me about your childhood days. Did you guys come from musical families? Did you play instruments or sing in your youth? If not, was there a defining moment that pulled you forever into the world of music and performing?

CAROLYN: My brother and I used to pretend we were the Beatles or the Mamas and the Papas and put on shows together with the neighbor kids. I think I was about four or five. My older sister played the guitar for real, and was the inspiration, I think, for me to take up the guitar when I got old enough to wrap my fingers around the neck. My cousins and I used to love sitting around singing harmonies, and my best friend and I used to sit out on the PE field singing Joni Mitchell songs word for word.

KEN: I didn't grow up in a musical family per se, but my parents did get me listening to the Beatles at a young age and the bug was planted! I think my first guitar was a wooden tennis racket and I was George Harrison playing those riffs!

Sandman: What do you draw upon to write music? That is, is it an incident, a moment, an idea that stirs around for awhile?

CAROLYN: My lyrics always seem to come from some strong emotional response to something. And for the most part, it comes, I write it down, and it's over. Although I have a lot of bits of songs on pieces of paper that want to be fleshed out. Some of them, I go back and think "how did I ever think this was supposed to be a song?" And some of them are begging me to spend more time with them.

KEN: For the most part my inspirations come as chords and rhythm ideas. I hear lots of music and try different combinations until something sticks. Then I wait for a lyric idea from Carolyn and the songs start evolving. I do write some lyrics, but the music part is definitely the strongest piece for me.

Sandman: How many songs do you walk around with in your head at any given time? Do you record "rough" ideas first?

CAROLYN: I generally don't feel comfortable letting anyone hear them until I think they're done. Then I hand it over to Ken and he finds some chords to play. So far that's the way it's worked most often.

KEN: I usually have a 1/2 dozen musical/melody ideas.

Sandman: Have you always lived on the West coast?

CAROLYN: Yes, except for three months in college when I lived outside of London - does that count?

KEN: I was born and raised in San Francisco and still live here!

Sandman: How did you guys meet?

CAROLYN: In a singing workshop.

Sandman: How did you form the band? Was it slowly or did you start out as a duet and grow over time? Also, did you start with cover tunes or always perform originals? Do you do cover tunes now when you perform?

KEN: The band originally started (2000) as 3 guys with acoustic guitars (thus the name) and within 6 months added drums, bass, keyboards and Carolyn's wonderful vocals. We've always performed original music, but have also played an array of covers from Stones to Mary Chapin Carpenter. For the most part our live performances remain original with complementary covers. If the crowd is begging for some dancing we might throw in some dance tunes but it's not our preference.

Sandman: In relation to the above question, what groups over the years do you think have most influenced Carolyn and yourself?

CAROLYN: The Beatles fer sure, but also Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Patsy Cline, the Finn Brothers.

KEN: CSNY, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Matthews, Sting.

Sandman: Are you guys drawn to one particular genre or do you enjoy a wide cross section of music?

CAROLYN: I'm definitely drawn to the singer/songwriter genre, and also some standard rock and pop acts. I like good lyrics and/or gut-wrenching vocals.

KEN: I like strong guitar work like Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Our lead guitarist is very rock n roll so the live performances have taken on a more rock flavor.

Sandman: Your gift of harmonies is well recognized by many listeners on our site.

CAROLYN: Thank you!

Sandman: Was this a natural gift for you two or did it take awhile to hone it to the incredible level it is heard at today?

CAROLYN: Well, truthfully, I think it worked pretty well from the beginning. We used to have another guy, Mark Jacobson, singing with us, and the three of us just loved singing our parts together -three very distinct voices somehow hooking up to sound pretty cool. And while I'm pretty happy with just the two of us singing together, I think Ken is always searching for that elusive perfect third.

Sandman: Ken what type of guitars do you play?

KEN: Martin, Taylor, Rickenbacker.

Sandman: How about your other guitarist?

KEN: 1963 and 1965 Fender Startocasters, 1958 Fender Telecaster, 1963 Gibson Hummingbird.

Sandman: I think "Solitude" is one of the coolest tunes I've heard in years. Who wrote this song? The words? Is that tune a bit from the heart and making a statement to someone in real life?

CAROLYN: I wrote it. It absolutely is from the heart. As a mother, a person in a relationship, and a busy member of the community, getting a little time to myself has become critical. But I think the song came before I knew how really important solitude was to me - and that I deserved it from time to time.

Sandman: What level would you guys ultimately like to perform at?

CAROLYN: Always just a little above where we currently are. I don't think we would feel comfortable making a sudden huge leap to superstardom. Although we're willing to consider it!

Sandman: Do you want to be at the top of a major label or is this something you may abandon if another career opportunity in another line of work popped up? In other words, is this group quite dedicated or is this more of a hobby?

CAROLYN: I certainly wouldn't call it a hobby, I would describe it more as a calling. But I am grateful that Ken has the drive to keep trying to get us "out there", because my life is rather complicated, so it's nice for me just to be able to focus on the singing, performing and writing aspects of band life. No other career opportunities would take me (Ken) out of the music world.

Give an example of one of the best gigs and the worst gigs you have played. What made those gigs good or bad?

CAROLYN: Best: the Little Fox Theatre because it was a great big crowd of people just really digging our music. And it was a great venue with a great sound system. Worst: uh, the Santa Cruz County Fair?

Tell us about an embarrassing moment that you would rather forget that happened onstage.

CAROLYN: I'm not sure if this counts as embarrassing, but it definitely was awkward. In the middle of a public gig where we had the tip jar sitting out in front of us, a guy in a wheelchair came by and stuck his hand in the jar, and rolled off with a big wad of money.

Sandman: What is your proudest moment thus far in working with Acoustic Son?

CAROLYN: Any time someone tells us that they love one of our songs, especially when it's someone we don't already know! Feedback from a stranger on the Internet is too cool!

Sandman: What are your thoughts so far about and their drive to put the best Indies on the radio for all the world to hear? Is this a movement that is long overdue for the talented but vastly unknown Indie stars?

CAROLYN: I think it is wonderful and the time is definitely right for some alternative music sources.

Sandman: What are you guys' thoughts about the major labels and the cookie cutter clone bands that make up 99% of radio play? Is there any hope for changing this in the future?

CAROLYN: I think music radio's days are numbered. It's a whole new musical world out there, thanks to the Internet.

Sandman: Are you presently working on any new material.


Sandman: If so, do you see this as moving in any new direction? Do you want to always be evolving musically or rather do you seek perfection with one certain style?

CAROLYN: I just want to keep getting better as songwriters and performers. But seeking perfection is a dead-end journey. I seek growth and expression. I'd like to see us bring some new influences into our music, but ultimately, we are who we are.

Sandman: What is something musically you've always wanted to do but haven't had a chance to do quite yet?

CAROLYN: Play somewhere out of the Bay Area. Have our music give us the opportunity to do some traveling.

Sandman: Do you have any favorite indie artists that you listen to or admire?

KEN: There are many I have enjoyed. Not to try for any brownie points but I enjoy the artists on the Sandman's Songbirds!

Sandman: What do you see in Acoustic Son's future?

CAROLYN: Rehearsal, tomorrow night!

KEN: We definitely see another CD coming out and hopefully continue playing at better venues and sharing our music with appreciative fans. We're open but realistic and will always try and keep the muse as pure as we can.

Sandman: Does the group get along pretty well or is there some tension like in so many of the major bands that we hear about?

CAROLYN: There's a lot of laughter - whatever tension there is is probably highly repressed. I really like all these guys. I learned pretty early on in this process that I didn't want to be spending too much time making music with people I can't relate to.

Sandman: How about saying a few words about how you found the site and your experience with it so far. What would you like to see at IAC that isn't there now?

KEN: I believe it was ArtistLaunch and we were invited to put a song on one of your stations. I have so enjoyed your site I don't think I pay too much attention to much else right now. You guys keep making it better and better!

Sandman: Where do you guys see the state of the world today as a whole? Are there any great hopes you have for the future of things? Are there any great worries you have about the future of things?

CAROLYN: Carolyn - Don't get me, actually, I am a very hopeful person. I have great faith in the Universe.

KEN: I tend to be a bit more freaked out about things especially the environment. But I believe that each of us needs to be in service to something besides ourselves and through that process the world can be a better place.