“The Shells, a trio consisting of young female performers Carrie Welling, Melanie Klaja, and Jessica Rae Waltz, are a completely original pop/folk-rock harmony group. Their original sound has appropriately been dubbed as ‘cosmo country’…”
Zack Daggy: What is the origin story of The Shells? I understand Craigslist is involved?
Jess: Mel & Carrie were in a duo and felt like it would work a lot better with a third harmony, so they put an ad out in publications across NYC, including Craigslist. I had just moved into the city and was looking for a band to collaborate or sing with as a hobby and found the ad in Craigslist for an audition for a harmony girl group. Having been in an a cappella group in college, I was really interested, showed up the audition, and 4 years later, the rest is history!
Zack: You describe your style as “Cosmo Country.” What is Cosmo Country?
The Shells: Cosmo Country is a mix of both urban country and city pop. Our songs are grounded in the honesty with which we write them, and our roots are folk inspired, so that combo created a genre we feel is unique to us! We spent a long time putting a really long tag behind our name (pop-rock-fok-alternative-country) but it just wasn’t getting the point across, so we decided to simplify it…Our sound is a mix of classic folk rock (CSN), modern country (The Dixie Chicks), female singer songwriter (Sheryl Crow meets Fiona Apple meets Janis Joplin) and pop/rock (Alanis Morrissette). Our style always has to pass this one test: If Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & the City would wear/do it, if Carrie Underwood would wear/do it and if Carrie Welling (from The Shells) would also, then it passes The Shells’ Cosmo Country test!
Zack: I gotta say that I’m blown away by your vocals! Amazing! When did each of you first start singing?
Jess: I think we all starting singing and performing from a young age. My first experience singing was in my pre-school church choir and always with my dad jamming out to Tom Petty. But, through the years, we all have been in musicals, bands, choirs, etc–so we’ve had a long time to figure out what our passion was and what kind of style we wanted to roll with. It’s definitely a refining process though that doesn’t happen overnight!
Carrie: In the womb… Ha ha, no really in front of my family actually from the age of like 2. I would make up songs with my Dad that made no sense at all.
Mel: I sang in a Jerry Lewis telethon when I was 4! I then continued in my Catholic school choir, then high school musicals, and then onto majoring in theatre at SUNY New Paltz where I began to write.
Zack: Where do you find inspiration?
Jess: Everywhere! I love to take inspiration from our fans and family/friends. I think you can become too self-focused if you’re always writing from a personal experience…which I absolutely do!…But, I find that the best songs I write are the ones I’ve written from inspiration from a situation of someone close to me. The combination of their personal experience, combined with my personal experience and relating to them combines to make a powerhouse song that’s really honest, but also means something to the people who are in our lives. We have this song “Sunday” that we wrote about our friends’ weekly ritual of “Sunday Funday!” We all work in the service industry, so Sundays are the day to party, but everyone has that one day of their week they spend chillin’ out and hanging with friends, so it’s really about spending time with your peeps and rockin’ it out :)
That’s one of the great things about being a musician in NYC, also. You’re forced into this crazy world where there are things going on around you non-stop so you really don’t have a choice but to have your eyes open to the world, and that’s really inspiring.
Mel: Our fans are a large part of our inspiration. They encourage us to be honest and truthful in our music. It gives us the strength to reach down to those deep parts of your soul that make you who you are.
Carrie: I find inspiration in traveling & meeting new people actually. I like to write about others peoples relationships & I really learn from other places and people.
Zack: Tell me about The Shells’s VERY first live gig. What was it like?
The Shells: We think it was a Christmas party.
Jess: I don’t even remember really, but it was at a place in midtown called Blaggard’s Pub. I don’t really remember because I was really nervous, but I do remember it being a really flawless gig. It was like all the stars had aligned to bring us together (as cheesy as that is….) and it was so easy just to sing our songs and harmonize–and sound good doing it! I do remember that we all felt like, hey we really have something here…so, that was exciting.
Mel: It was harmony at first sight. Our voices naturally blended in a way that I knew was fate.
Carrie: I was nervous and excited.
Zack: What do you think about New York’s music scene? Is it treating you well?
Jess: It’s like I always say…just living in New York and stepping outside is like a war! That definitely translates into being a musician because all the variables that a musician in another city has to think about is blown up on this huge level just by the sheer amount of competition there is here! It makes it harder work, but when you succeed, it’s all the sweeter. Similarly, it’s sometimes difficult to create a fan base and a following, but once you work hard enough to start getting a good draw and you look out to see all these jaded New Yorkers who range in age, race, walks-of-life, etc and you think, “wow, these people don’t have much time in their day and there’s a lot of music out there, but they’re here at our show…” That feeling is pretty sweet. It makes the blood, sweat and tears all worth it!
Mel: I think it’s just the city in general that kicks your ass. Not just the music scene, though it does have the same attitude as the city does. It’s like shape up or ship out. You need to stay fresh and focused or you fall by the waste side and move back to Buffalo. That won’t happen here, though we hope the harshness of NYC will help to create our longevity that will bring us to more amazing cities around the world!
Zack: How did your nomination for MTV’s Best Breakout NYC Artist come about?
The Shells: Our PR firm, Absolute Pitch, entered us into the competition which was advertised on a band competition site called ourstage.com. We’d definitely recommend bands get themselves on that and on sonicbids.com because we’ve come by a lot of great opportunities on those sites!
Zack: You have a CD release party coming up, right? Excited?
The Shells: Oh Hell yeah! This is what we worked towards for the last 4 years.
Mel: It is truly amazing!
The Shells: Excited, relieved, proud, nervous….a plethora of emotions when we think about it! But, it’s what we’ve been working towards for four years and we’re so happy to have this dream finally come to fruition and to have all the friends, fans and family who have helped us get through it all finally be able to share with us this moment and see what we’ve been doing all this time! The release is October 8th, 8pm @ The Canal Room in NYC. After party to follow–and if you’ve partied with The Shells before, well they all know, come out and see for yourself!
Zack: What is the best and worst part of being an indie artist?
Jess: I think having no financial support is hard, but it also forces you into thinking outside of the box. We’re not only changing the face of the music industry by our sound, but we’re the model for how an indie band CAN make it on their own as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, time and creative thinking (and a little begging…) the little bit of luck you’ll need to get you to the next level will surely follow.
Carrie: The best part is you have so much control and you can create anything you want with nobody telling different the worst part is hands down 100% MONEY! Ugh!
Mel: Freedom is the best for sure. You have free range to explore your true inner artist and not worry about censorship. But the flip side is that we have no sugar daddy!. It is very difficult to do it on your own with no financial backing. But if you do and make it the on your own, it is well rewarded in every way!
Zack: Got any advice for up and coming artists?
The Shells: Network, network, network. Make connections, get business cards, beg-borrow-steal…haha. I think finding artists who are better than you to bill with is the best way to grow your fan base. Never get down in the dumps about a failed opportunity, because any opportunity is a good one! Keep your chin up, stay positive, and let your experiences as a band inspire your songwriting. So much honest emotion and story telling happens when you can draw up that pain, frustration, happiness, relief and incorporate that into a song and that’s what you have to remember. Our lives as musicians are everyday inspiration for our art–how lucky are we?!
Stick to it. If you live and die for your art then do it. Don’t be scared of the ups and downs. Ride it out and be yourself. Enjoy the learning process and never stray away from growing!
Mothpod 156 (Available October 5th, 2009 at Mothpod.com)