Sweet memories linger in the hearts of the sisters SHEL when they talk about Bohemian Nights at New West Fest. SHEL is a band of sisters: Eva, Hannah, Sarah and Liza Holbrook, who was born in a five-year span, now all in their 20s, raised in a beatnik-and art-centered family in Fort Collins. They hit the Mountain Avenue Stage at noon Saturday New West Fest.
“Sarah says, “You know, growing up we always looked forward to playing New West Fest, and getting on the main stage for the first time a few years back was a huge deal for us. We’re honored that they’ve asked us back. We always look forward to playing in Fort Collins!”
The sisters spend most of their time in Nashville or on the road, but never really lose the roots that Fort Collins gave them. They grew up playing in Avogadro’s Number and all the local dives, such as Coffee Connection. Their teachers and mentors live here. Their first songs took shape in the mountains and spaces along the Front Range. It is the core of their music foundation, and they are excited to see the music evolution.
“I just want to say I’m excited for Fort Collins and what will be coming out of this town in five to 10 years because of Bohemian Nights and the Music District,” Liza says. The music education that’s coming here for younger people and the fact that it is affordable and accessible is really exciting for me. It’s fascinating to leave and come back and see all the changes.”
This year the sisters were signed with Round Hill Publishing & Moraine, so their normal massive touring life has paused for writing. This is the first time they have been allotted time to devote to ideas and genuinely get to the heart of their musical stories. Sarah said the deal offers the band the ability to focus on a cohesive project.
“When you’re on the road, there’s so much going on,” Sarah says. “It can be very challenging to write, but actually having the ability and the freedom to sit and take a moment to build something is amazing. We’re very thankful to them for giving us that.”
Instead of claiming one genre, the sisters choose to focus on their unique style of collaboration by creating personal music stemming from the spaces they find in everyday life and the resolve from the tension created by the sisterhood. Their unique ability to channel that vulnerability has led them to some significant victories recently. In light of that, the sisters say their music isn’t all wildflowers and majestic hilltops. Some of their most significant pieces of work come through their abilities to wrestle with each other’s ideas. Sisters often have conflict, and they are not immune — but that is where the true songwriting magic happens.
“Music to me is so much about communication,” Hannah says. “One day I sat down and looked at a score and all the markings on it — how every note was placed, whether the stem was going up or down, what the dynamic markings indicated, etc., and I realized this particular score was written down so well that I understood exactly what the composer was trying to communicate. I also realized at that moment that when we’re collaborating together and we’re trying to share our ideas, so much of it comes down to effective communication. If we’re fighting, it’s usually a symptom of a communication breakdown, and I ask, where did we misunderstand each other? It’s not a bad thing to fight. It’s a learning experience, but if there’s a pattern, that usually means there’s something at the root we should take notice of so we can understand each other on a deeper level. We’re always working to communicate better and get to the heart of the music quicker. The fights are important. They have to happen, but it’s also an amazing learning experience. It’s conflict resolution.”
The sisters have had some significant accomplishments this year, including the upcoming release of “Send My Kiss,” a song on the first film released on Blockchain, No Postage Necessary, starring George Blagden from Vikings, Versailles, Les Miserables on Friday, Aug 10.
SHEL was the music ambassadors for the Nashville Music Festival this year and performed live interviews on the red carpet of the festival. The band also is involved in a community outreach program called Youth Villages, an organization committed to providing care, resources and a safe environment for children and families to succeed.
This year, SHEL also wrote and recorded a song with teen girls in foster care. That experience was documented, and the song and video did premiere during the festival ahead of the film, FATHERHOOD on May 13.
“It’s important to offer back to the world, and I think any gift starts with vulnerability, and enough humility to let go and listen,” Eva says. “Creativity is so much bigger than the artist. It comes from somewhere beyond our initial understanding and ability, and often what we end up giving the world is more than we thought to try and give when we first began writing a song or painting a picture, etc. Maybe we offer up whatever truth we’re brave enough to allow to take root inside of us. That truth eventually produces fruit to feed the artist’s hungry soul and all the hungry souls that gather around them.”
If there are limits with SHEL, they channel them into opportunities. They are budding artists in the music industry, but they never forget that Fort Collins taught them just how to believe and achieve their greatest dreams.