The Silvershakers / Courtesy photo, Jeremy Scott Photography
For the recent success of Northwest Arkansas rockabilly band The Silvershakers, you can credit several things: Facebook, a burlesque show, a bit of dogged determination and perhaps a renewed interest in all things vintage.
First, the burlesque show. Husband-and-wife duo Tara and Matt Norwood often watched the live entertainment at Bear’s Place in south Fayetteville. Tara had even performed there as backing vocalist in the Brick Fields blues band. With a burlesque show scheduled a few months away, the booking agent at the venue approached Tara. ‘We’re really wanting a female rock show, and you sing,’ she told Tara.
Tara and Matt talked it over. They really wanted to do it, so they said yes. They had a gig, but no band and no songs. Which, as you might guess, was problematic.
Matt, a drummer, was working with bassist Mark Scharf in a rockabilly side project. And Scharf, who had also spent some time working with the Brick Fields Band, had for a long time been encouraging Tara to sing lead on a project. So that was a start.
What: The Silvershakers release “Barely Scrapin’ By
When: 7-9 p.m. Aug. 5
Where: George’s Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville
Info: Visit thesilvershakers.com
While Tara cruised the internet looking for songs that fit her low alto to tenor vocal range, Matt worked to fill in the missing pieces. Their first guitarist, while good, had too much of a ‘90s indie rock vibe. Tara hoped to create something that would be a soundtrack for the burlesque show, something like the YouTube channel/band Postmodern Jukebox.
Matt, fired up about the upcoming gig, posted something to Facebook to brag about booking a gig but did not explicitly seek musicians. A friend offered to play guitar anyway, if the position hadn’t been filled. That friend, Mike Rickard, wasn’t much of a rockabilly guitarist, either. Or at least not on the surface. He was trained as a blues guitarist, but was working with a Cajun band. Those influences, sped up and coupled with a booming rhythm section, brought everything together. “You add a little thumpity thump, and you’ve got rockabilly,” Tara said.
The first gig was a success, and now, more than a year later, they are gearing up for what is likely the most exciting month in the band’s 18-month history. On Friday night, the band will release their debut album, “Barely Scrapin’ By,” at a concert at George’s Majestic Lounge. In a couple weeks, they’ll pack up their things and play at a Retro Festival in France.
Rockabilly was the sound the Norwoods had been looking for all along, even if Tara’s original inclination was for a jazzier approach. She wasn’t exactly stranger to rockabilly. Matt played in the rockabilly side project with Scharf, and she discovered rockabilly backwards, she said. Instead of first landing there via the genre’s pioneers, those such as Johnny Cash or Buddy Holly, she listened to some of the punk and psychobilly artists influenced by those forerunners. Perhaps as a result, there’s a bit more of the Pixies or even Weird Al in The Silvershakers’ sound than some rockabilly acts. That gets added to more traditional rockabilly acts, and other classic vocalists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Brown and Etta James.
“We’re not a ‘50s, clean cut sock hop band,” Tara says. There’s playfulness, edginess and sexiness in their songs. As an example, she points to the track “Eat My Brain,” which is included on the new album. Tara describes it as a “zombie love song, with twang.”
The band wrote the 13 tracks to have something to hand out to festival-goers in France and as a way to establish themselves as a creative force. It started out as an EP, then grew as more songs started to come together. Tara says she loves albums that sound like a cohesive idea, something that starts with the first track and ends with the last one. That’s what the band hopes it has accomplished with “Barely Scrapin’ By,” which was recorded over the course of five days at Stoneridge Recording in Siloam Springs. Nathanael Stone, the studio owner, also helped produce the album.
Looking back now, Tara wonders why rockabilly wasn’t more of a fit for her from the start. She’d been listening to classic country, blues and punk records for years. It finally came together with the band, and it came together in a hurry. And where it goes from here is just a guess. But already, the band is busy enough that Tara left her pursuit of becoming a physical therapist and Matt is trying to carve out more time from his day job as an IT professional to tour around the region.
“We’re at this crux in our lives,” explains Tara, 36, who has a nine-year-old daughter with Matt, 38. “It feels like we should be hunkering down.”
But rock ‘n’ roll, or more specifically, rockabilly, is a powerful thing. Similar to how it happened with the construction of the record, there’s been no discussion from the band members about settling. The EP became a full record, and the gig without a band went from hobby to full-time pursuit in a hurry.
The only thing they’ve settled on? That would be their classic rockabilly sound.