Della Mae, the band of five ladies, is known for making music without the aid of auto-tuning or any other additional alterations.
Releasing their debut album, I Built This Heart, in 2011, this Boston-based bluegrass band shot to fame and compressed its purpose in a single message: to connect with the audience emotionally through pure music. As part of a US consulate’s cultural exchange program, Della Mae was recently in Lahore.
“Bluegrass comes from a hard place. It was originally played by people living in the mountains – people who were poor or those who worked hard for a living in America,” says lead guitarist Courtney Hartman.“As far as our music goes globally, it’s been amazing being here [in Pakistan] and playing music with the people and this is because our music comes from a deep emotional place in our lives.”
Apart from Hartman on guitar, banjo and vocals, the band includes Kimber Ludiker on fiddle, Celia Woodsmith on guitar and vocals, Shelby Means on bass and Jenni Lyn on guitar. By combining the rather old-fashioned bluegrass technique with a more contemporary appeal, these five talented musicians came together a couple of years ago to revive this forgotten genre of music.
During their visit to Pakistan, the band recorded a track called “500 Miles/Jab Koi Baat” in collaboration with Lahore-based band Laal. It is a fusion of modern bluegrass technique with a folk sound and was sung by folk-singers Peter, Paul and Mary. “The song was popularised in Pakistan recently because some of our verses had been translated to Urdu,” says Woodsmith. Apart from this, the band also performed live gigs with Pakistani artists including Natasha Ejaz, Abbas Ali Khan and various others.
Woodsmith, who wrote 10 out of the 12 songs from their album, admits she is the newest member of the band. “I started playing with Della Mae a couple of months ago. We had a good thing going on, so we decided to record an album,” she says, adding that there is a variety of songs in the album. “I don’t just enjoy writing love songs or performing them with the band, which is what people think we do and believe our songs are about – our songs are about living, travelling and experiences.”
State of the music industry
The band is optimistic about its role in mainstream music despite the difficulties folk musicians face as compared to pop artists. “There is a trend in the US, to go back to the roots whether its old blues music or bluegrass,” says Hartman, in regard to the current state of the music industry. “This applies to old instruments as well; it’s allowing lesser known folk musicians to enter the pop-cultural world.”
Adherence to the logic of commercialism and pop culture has affected the content songwriters are able to write. “It’s requires a very special skillset to write these songs,” adds Woodsmith, who is quite active with songwriting herself. “I’ve learnt that the more you try to ‘write’ a song, the more contrived it ends up sounding – it just doesn’t sound real.”
She feels the art of writing songs has to do with how natural and “organic” the process is. “For a lot of people, it’s all about simplicity – the simpler the song is, the better it actually comes across to the listener,” she says, adding that songwriters like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have been successful in recreating older-sounding music into more modern tunes.
The band’s next album, which is currently being produced by Bryan Sutton, is expected to release soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012.
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