Few things in life are as magical–or difficult–as finding the exact right formula for a musical outfit. But when Madison, WI-based trio Gin, Chocolate & Bottle Rockets got together for the first time in 2014, they discovered instant three-part harmony chemistry. Beth Kille, Shawndell Marks and Jen Farley put their diverse musical backgrounds and unique voices together, solidifying their individual talents into something even stronger.
The trio — which is often compared to such multi-part harmonizing powerhouses such asWilson Phillips, Andrews Sisters and Wailin’ Jennys–is poised to release its sophomore album, Lean, on June 1. The record is a special treat for fans who have been clamoring to take home the emotionally moving songs they’ve been hearing from the band of late during live dates.
“I think in general the themes to our songs, and thus this record, focus on basic and raw emotional truths,” explains Kille of the new set. “Whether it be learning to ‘Lean’ into the tough stuff in life; or celebrating the power of love, desire and even sisterhood, we just kind of tell it like it is in our lives and explore our personal and collective feminine histories.”
Indeed, Lean explores a variety of sonic influences as well as lyrical directions, kicking off with the pop-rocking title cut and moving through touches of blues and Motown, sweet ballads, and instrumental highlights of piano and even accordion–all buoyed by the trio’s incomparable harmonies. The songs dig below the surface of such unvarnished, personal topics as friendship, love, depression, and the ability to turn darkness into light. In addition to the nine originals, the band does a unique rendition of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” which adds a meandering, wild feel to the ‘80s original.
The album, produced by Jake Johnson of Paradyme Productions and recorded at various locations around Wisconsin, including two of their own home studios, takes inspiration from their live-performance energy. Adding to the mix are talented musicians Jenna Joanis (bass and drums/percussion), Brady Bachmann (cello), and award-winning guitarist Dan Kennedy adding licks to round out the sound.
“From a performer standpoint, I think going into the studio really forces you to finish songs and up your game on the songs you’ve been performing,” explains Kille. “Especially when we do so much three-part harmonizing. You want it to be fun and authentic, but still tight and cohesive at the same time.”
Marks grew up honing her keyboard skills and vocals listening to Patsy Cline in Portage, WI. Kille didn’t pick up the guitar until she was in grad school at UW-Madison, where she was influenced by folk-rock writers like the Indigo Girls and Willy Porter. Marks and Kille were introduced by a mutual musical acquaintance in 2010 and began collaborating on a variety of musical projects. They were introduced to Farley–a product of the Cleveland, OH rock scene who’d fronted a successful cover band for many years–in 2013 when she joined them for a showcase featuring female vocalists in Madison, and quickly realized she was the perfect element to complete their trio.
Gin, Chocolate & Bottle Rockets released their first EP in November of 2014 and took home the 2015 & 2017 Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) Award for Ensemble Vocalists of the Year. The three women also have founded founded Kille, Marks and Farley and a Be Your Own Superhero motivational presentation which combines MUSIC+MOTIVATION through personal stories and audience participation.
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