By Jillian Dawson
Auralai (the chamber-folk duo comprised of Stephanie Tschech and Nate Lehner) joins us at Rock Garden Studio Thursday September 8th for a live in-studio performance of their second album “Songs For Dogs (that sleep on beds).” Of the handful of interviews I’ve done for the blog, so far this has been the sweetest – Stephanie sits down with us to talk about her new album, Damien Rice and a dog named Bella.
Tell me about the history of Auralai - how did you and Nate meet?
The first configuration of Auralai began as a three piece about four years ago with Namiah Tribolini on drums and Matt Krempien on Guitar and Banjo. Nate and I started playing together about a one and a half years ago. I had known him through the local music scene, and when (the original) Auralai broke up, I wanted to complete the album we had started as a solo album. I reached out to Nate to do engineering and he wound up adding instrumentation to most of the songs. Once the album was about done, we decided to start playing together.
Coming from a classical background, how did you transition from a classically trained cellist to an indie performer?
When I decided I didn't enjoy classical music anymore, I really dug in to try and decide what to do with this set of skills that I had been fine-tuning (pun intended) for a decade at that point. I was really into Damien Rice at the time and his style influenced me a lot. The first song I ever learned how to sing and play was his song "9 Crimes.” It was no small effort and it definitely was not pretty. But once I learned it, something clicked in my brain and a whole new world opened up for me and my cello.
Do you still alternate between doing solo and duo shows?
I try not to play solo anymore if I can help it. Before Nate and I started playing together, I performed solo all of the time. I couldn't really imagine being in a band again. Now that I know how much fun it is to have a partner in crime on stage, I don't think I will ever enjoy playing solo again. It feels like being lost in an airport all alone.
Tell me more about your newest album. What inspired you?
"Songs for Dogs (that sleep on beds)" is right between an EP and a full album. I tend to lean toward non-tradition in just about everything I do. The song title itself pays tribute to my dog, Bella, who is the only being allowed to be present while I go through the painstaking process of writing a song. It's really a messy and embarrassing process, but she always seemed to find this completely different level of whimsy while she would lay on my bed and listen to me write. Bella was present for the writing of all songs on the album and she never seemed to mind my clumsy song-writing. The style of "Songs for Dogs.." was largely inspired by Damien Rice's new album, "Faded Fantasy,” which was released just before we began recording album number two - it moved me greatly.
Where was your album recorded and what was the recording process like for you?
The album was recorded in Nate's recording studio. He owns and operates a video production business for which he usually records all of his own soundtracks so he is pretty equipped for recording. It's great to be in a comfortable, familiar environment while recording. It allows us to ‘try’ things and experiment a little bit, which every recording musician knows is not something you usually do at a professional studio. There have been several songs on both albums that were finished in the studio, minutes before we recorded them. I chalk that up to some song-writing advice that I was given from Namiah Tribolini over the years when I have been stuck on a song for too long: when in doubt, repeat. Repeat a catchy line, repeat the first verse of the song, just repeat. I might use that too much, but it almost always helps.
Did you collaborate with additional musicians for the album?
We brought in a few incredibly talented musicians for this album. Rebecca Hron (formerly from The Guilty Wanted) added some gorgeous vocals and piano work. Jeff Mitchell added musical saw to a track and it wound up being the best part of the song. Namiah Tribolini did all of the percussion work on his rad vintage Roger kit and Leroy Duester put down some pretty fun pedal steel licks on the last song [on the album]. We didn't really bring in a producer, but we did bring in a friend of mine, Jay Spanbauer. He has a great ear for things in songs that no one else notices and is fierce and bold with his opinion. Jay gave us so many great ideas that really helped shape the final stages of a handful of songs. I also had the luxury of bringing every new mix to Namiah to let his ear pick out oddities and give ideas. He has a great ear for production and I really respect his musical opinion.
What is the writing dynamic like between you and Nate?
It took us a little bit to get into a collaborative writing groove, mostly because I came with so many of my solo songs. Nate really liked them - which is great- but within the last six to eight months, we have really started firing away at collaborative writing. The style turns out really neat, a lot different from the songs I write solo. It usually begins with me showing up to a rehearsal and saying, "Hey, I started this new song," and I usually only have a verse and maybe a rough idea of the chorus. Then Nate sprinkles his magic dust on top and it all comes together.
What can we expect from your performance at Rock Garden Studio?
We will be doing a video at Rock Garden. As far as I know, it will just be the two of us. We are probably going to play our album through from start to finish and then tack on a couple of our new songs that we are planning to release as singles in the near future. The audience can expect awkward banter between some really intense songs, that's usually how it goes.
You can catch Auralai this Thursday, September 8th at Rock Garden Studio, 7pm.