IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE there's an album out this week with a more concise title than It's Album Time by Norwegian neo-disco DJ Todd Terje. But Portland's Shook Twins might've bested Terje with their new release, What We Do.
Katelyn and Laurie Shook's newest album is, in fact, an 11-track primer on what they do. And what they do is folk music, but not the old gal-and-a-guitar brand of folk music from decades past. No, the Shooks are modern women—identical twins in their late 20s—who, after four years in Portland, have begun to soak up some of the city's more eclectic musical proclivities.
"Being around all the indie rock, I used to not be that into that sound," says Katelyn. "But now it's... grown on me and I'm really liking that rich, padded, layered, thick sound. That's usually achieved with a synth, [but we] try to make that richness and that thickness with all acoustic instruments."
The Shooks were born and raised in Sandpoint, Idaho, a tourist town of 5,000 to 10,000, "depending on the season," says Katelyn. Their family wasn't particularly musical, but they began singing in the school choir in fifth grade and never stopped. The twins picked up instruments at around age 18 before heading to the University of Idaho.
By 2009, they were ready to try a career in music, so they moved to Portland, where things have gone swimmingly since. The duo, once a "slightly bigger fish in a small pond" in Sandpoint, found smooth sailing here, beginning with a monthly gig at the White Eagle and, later, headlining shows at the Wonder Ballroom and Mississippi Studios, where they'll celebrate the release of What We Do with their full band on Friday.
"I had never lived in a city at all. Looking back, I'm kind of surprised at ourselves," Katelyn says. "We just kind of jumped into it. We were positive the whole time and never got discouraged or anything. I guess we were pretty lucky. We fell into the right places at the right times and met the right bands and right venues, so we just kept going and it kept growing."
The new album was funded by a $26,000 Kickstarter campaign and was produced by Ryan Hadlock (the Lumineers, Milo Greene). It highlights the Shook Twins' strengths: hauntingly melodic tunes, unexpected instrumental twists, a sense of earthy mysticism, and the kind of harmonies honed by a lifetime entered and spent together. What We Do is the sound of two preternaturally talented siblings making the music they want to make with a wide-eyed sense of wonder and the good sense to absorb whatever the world puts in their path.
"We have a golden egg and a telephone microphone. Laurie beatboxes. We do all-live looping," Katelyn says. "It's definitely not your average folk."