Photo: Shannon Straney
If asked to describe Joan Kelsey’s Silver Lining it would feel much like it did on the blustery cold December day The Collaborative recorded the band’s “Three Songs” video in cellist Raquel Velho’s downtown Troy apartment: bright, lush, comforting and warm. So much of that has to do with the band’s sound. The depth of Velho’s playing reaches in, centering and grounding as it blends with the soft tones of Kelsey’s vocals and guitar while fiddle player Connor Armbruster plucks you to attention. Equal parts awakening and soothing.
The trio has been making music together for a little over a year. They had their first show at Troy’s Superior Merchandise Co. in December 2018 and their debut four-track debut EP Best, (made up of songs Kelsey had composed, written and kept in a back pocket for a while, with fiddle parts written by Armbruster) was recorded live at Caffe Lena in Saratoga, mixed and mastered by Kelsey and released in June 2019.
With each member bringing unique notes of their musical training—from baroque and classical to traditional folk and Celtic—their gentle sound leaves plenty of room for Kelsey’s songwriting and is easily adaptable to spaces big and small.
“I wonder if that has something to do with the kinds of spaces that are available around here,” Armbruster muses. “We do a lot of performing in house shows and basements. There aren’t a lot of places around that are made for loud pop or metal, maybe this is what we’ve become accustomed to.”
“I also think we’re a generation of deeply anxious and uncertain people who crave some quiet,” Kelsey adds.
“That generational thing is really important,” Velho says. “All the conversations I’ve had with young people—and the community of musicians specifically—has been around a lot of uncertainty about the future. Yes, we’ve lost a really important venue in Troy [in the closing of River Street Pub] for that loud sound, but we’re simultaneously adapting and thinking of alternative ways to participate in this community.”
As the band continues to grow into itself and look back at their first year together, they’ve identified the roots of Troy’s circle of artists as one that has encouraged them to thrive. In recognition, they’ve turned the project of their new album—Friends and Family, dropping in early February—into a collaborative labor of love.
“This is our first real studio album and a few instruments have been added,” Armbruster says. “We invited Carolyn Shapiro to play banjo on one of the tracks. Rick Spataro (Onlyness) helped with recording and is on a few tracks. The always excellent Evan Marré (Russel The Leaf, Blue Ranger) plays the bass. The resulting sound captures the spirit of what we’ve been doing really well but it has a new force behind it.”
“The songs are stronger and more tightly put together. When I listen to the songs from the EP and we play them, I do love them but it does feel like a first effort,” Kelsey adds.
Where Best offered quiet reflection and an initial exploration of their sound, the new album has absorbed the confidence of the band’s established place in the world. It’s getting louder, trying out new ways to communicate their stories, thanks to the artists who back it up.
Lyrically, Friends and Family will explore the “positive” and “painful aspects” of some of Kelsey’s close relationships. The overarching theme hinges on intimacy—how we individually interpret it for ourselves, our friends, romantic partners and family.
“It definitely feels like a true continuation, the core of it still feels like us—a lot of introspective, trio storytelling…Intimacy is always the word I think of for us playing together. I think it’s just a lot of the elements that are being invited in support that in ways that we hadn’t had access to before,” Velho explains.
It feels like a monumental time for Troy musicians. The band notes that they’ve been able to capture the way the scene continues to rally around each other.
“We doubled down on that a lot. There are moments in the record, like where everyone in the room is doing group vocals—which we don’t tend to do live—that really lends to the sense of a group of friends doing this together,” Armbruster says.
Staying on theme, the album art for the project was also made collaboratively, a group of friends collaging the cover in a living room. (The scene of which was the subject of their first self-produced music video for “Big Blue,” released in late December.)
The band has also embarked on other projects to invest in their community.
Kelsey recently began the Perpetual Adoration music series at Yesfolk’s basement space at The Church in Troy to continue stoking the fire of the city’s music scene by pairing unlikely acts in the space to encourage audiences to attend unfamiliar shows and support a more diverse community.
All the Perpetual Adoration shows will be recorded to a public tape library with the help of Marré on sound with a donated soundboard from The Sanctuary for Independent Media and a bunch of tapes from Matt Griffin (Blue Ranger, Let’s Be Leonard). The tapes will eventually be available on Bandcamp and will be physically available for listening and borrowing at Yesfolk in the near future.
“It’s felt like a necessity. There are a lot of great spaces to play shows but they almost invariably don’t pay money. With the Yesfolk shows, musicians go home with a pretty fair amount of money,” Kelsey says, adding the performers from one fall show, UTAH and Andy Weaver, went home with about $150 each.
“That’s pretty unusual,” they say.
“We’ve been learning how to advocate for ourselves,” Velho says. “We’re learning to recognize what real opportunities look like. The development of the community network is great, but it’s important for musicians to know when to say ‘no’ to things that don’t recognize we’re trying to make a living out of this.”