Leela and Ellie Grace Cover Article in Columbia Daily Tribune’s Go! Magazine! on February 14, 2008:
The Grace sisters pour tunes, heartfelt beliefs into a new CD by CHRIS BOECKMANN
On a typical day, 2,500 miles separate Leela and Ellie Grace, but this is no typical day, month or year for the young sisters.
Starting next week, the former Columbians will travel across the country, performing at many venues and promoting their just-released sophomore album, “Where the Waters Run.”
Though they now live on different coasts – Leela resides in Portland, Ore., and Ellie in Asheville, N.C., – their latest album is very much a local, homespun effort.
“We grew up around music all the time,” Ellie said. “Our parents were always having music parties. That was our norm, that’s what people do. They don’t get together and watch TV. They get together and play music.”
The duo recorded the album in early 2007, when Leela decided to leave Columbia for Portland, a place “where she was unknown and where she could grow as a person.”
But as she mentally packed her bags, Leela found herself re-appreciating her home. She remembered canoe trips on the Meramec River – a Thanksgiving family tradition. She thought of her love for the banjo, an instrument she first picked up as a teenager. These re-discovered memories of local nature and music seeped into the record, which combines local influences, such as the late Bob Dyer, with recent discoveries from Ellie’s current hometown.
“It’s like an homage to our roots and where we came from,” Ellie said, “and then using that as a jumping-off point to places we’ve gone geographically and the new music that has come out of those life changes.”
Travel has given Ellie and Leela the opportunity to perform with more musicians and grow from a technical standpoint. Although “Where the Waters Run” shows a growth in instrumental prowess, more important, it features more of “that unique Grace stamp.”
On this album, the sisters penned nine of the 11 songs, a step up from the five they wrote for their debut. On the CD, Leela and Ellie chose to be more open about their political views.
“We decided that we’re not going to hide our beliefs and what we care about anymore,” Leela said. “We’re going to be more out there.”
The sisters now continue this tradition by finding a way to talk about issues that matter to them – like gay rights, women rights and sustainable energy – without alienating listeners.
“We try to be positive,” Leela said. “Instead of being anti-this, anti-that, we’re pro-love and pro-cooperation.”
“We’re just tree-hugging hippies,” Ellie joked.
The Graces produced the album themselves, and it was recorded in town by local instrumentalist and recording engineer Pete Szkolka. Leela and Ellie asked Columbia musicians Kevin Hennessy, Jake Hanselman and Szkolka to constitute the backing band, which added even more community flavor to the release.
The resulting effort is a warm folk album that features a little bit of everything: Some songs are sad and reflective; others are upbeat and powerful. Although tones shift, some things stay constant throughout, like the lush, soulful harmonies and honed musicianship that carry much of the album.
For the most part, “Where the Waters Run” sounds effortless, but making it wasn’t so simple. The first six tracks were recorded in two days, paid for by Leela’s friends as a present for her 30th birthday.
After that session, “we thought, ‘Wow, that went really well. We could just put a few more songs together,’” Leela said. Ellie ” ‘could come back. It would be easy. It would practically record itself!’ It wasn’t really as easy as we imagined.”
The album required several more meetings and cross-country flights.
The two even celebrated the release via phone. Now that they’re finally home, they’ve had the opportunity to celebrate together in the place that inspired it all.
“Nobody gets it,” Leela said. “You go to the East or the West Coast, and they’re like, ‘Missouri? What’s going on there?’ They don’t understand there actually is a lot going on here. … Every time we do a concert here, it’s not just us performing and people clapping. It’s like being enveloped, and I think it’s the same for people in the audience. It’s a really connected experience.”
Chris Boeckmann is a freelance music reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.