Backyard North Carolina label Yep Roc released Tres Chicas' debut, "Sweetwater," in 2004 to almost universal acclaim; Rolling Stone called it "a landmark album," and it was hailed as one of the brightest spots in any genre of music that year.
"It did surprise us in a way," says Cary. "I knew we had something pretty special. It's not every day that three voices go together that nicely, and it's definitely always felt like something special and magic, but we weren't even trying to make a record."
The tidal wave of critical praise for the album and sincere appreciation for their live presentations along with the realization that they had a blast touring together brought the women to the decision to make a little more time in their lives for Tres Chicas.
"We still all think of it as one of the things we do; it's not like we're quitting everything and doing only Chicas," says Cary. "But it definitely feels like something that we want to keep going."
With the positive reviews piling up and consistently glowing responses to the shows, Tres Chicas spent the better part of the next year taking the "Sweetwater" experience to audiences across the country and around the world. It wasn't long before all of this live goodwill began inspiring thoughts of getting back to the studio.
It was a chance meeting at their North Carolina home base where the seeds of "Bloom, Red & the Ordinary Girl," Tres Chicas' sophomore album, were sown. After a particularly successful show at home, a co-billed date with label mate and gifted keyboardist Geraint Watkins, the women were approached by producer Neil Brockbank, who was in attendance to see old pal Watkins.
The post show drinks-and-chat session eventually got around to a conversation about working together.
The air was so charged with inspiration that neither side let the idea fade; when Tres Chicas wrapped up their 2005 European tour, they made a beeline to London and began work with Brockbank (whose credits include Nick Lowe, Bryan Ferry and Tanita Tikaram), Watkins (who has sessioned and soloed widely) and drummer Bobby Trehern (who has played with Paul McCartney, Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler).
"They were obviously charmed by us and us by them, and the opportunity came to make this record, and it just felt like we had to make it work," says Cary. "It was quite the challenge to work the logistics of it; Tonya has a young daughter, Yep Roc doesn't have tons of money, and it was a logistical nightmare to make it happen, but it felt like something we just couldn't pass up. All those things combined made it seem like it was a real thing and that we had to step it up a notch."
The trio's mindset going into each album experience was vastly different. They looked at the "Sweetwater" sessions as rudimentary demos, and they may have gone no further if not for Stamey's insistence on polishing and completing them. On the other hand, the sessions for "Bloom, Red & the Ordinary Girl" were fervently anticipated and relatively well planned.
"The thing about 'Sweetwater' is that it's really a collection of our individual songs," says Cary. "We worked very hard on them together and learned how to play them in a very different way as Tres Chicas, but they weren't necessarily written with Tres Chicas in mind."
"With the second record, we were very conscious of that. Tonya wasn't able to do a whole lot of writing on this record because of her obligations to her little child, but Lynn and I really did spend hours and days writing together, sometimes Brill Building style, real intense including arguments and disagreements. Also, we were under a deadline, which we had never been before as a band; we needed to send demos to London so these guys knew what they were getting into. Things had to gel pretty quickly."
And so they did. Cary also found that her songwriting style changed very quickly when she was writing for Tres Chicas, as opposed to when she's writing strictly for herself - more objective, less autobiographical. Plus there are those other voices to consider.
"I think you write differently when you're thinking about several voices rather than the locked-in-the-bedroom I girl," says Cary with a laugh. "Lynn is the one that's really good at writing for this group. She has this knack for writing songs that are somehow universal feeling and lend themselves to three part harmonies and to a lot of she-sings-the-verse-I-sing-the-chorus-Tonya-sings-the-bridge kind of thing. I don't know whether my songs are as perfect for the Chicas, but I definitely think differently."
Perhaps the biggest difference between the recording sessions was the fact that Cary, Blakey and Lamm were completely comfortable with Stamey as their initial producer (he had produced Whiskeytown extensively), and they had no idea what to expect with Brockbank, other than their initial impressions.
"They came here for a few days, and we had sort of a pre-production session where we played them all the songs sitting around my dining room table," says Cary.
"One of the things they made clear is that they like to work around the vocals, and by that, I mean first you get the singing, then you fit the music around it. They wanted everything to be done live and perfectly. We were a little bit nervous about it; we practiced our singing a lot more than is typical for us so that we would be prepared for this possibly daunting thing. It didn't turn out that way at all. It was very comfortable and fun and pretty free. But we got ourselves worked up a little bit."
Also weighing on the women's minds was the truncated recording schedule.
Based on schedules and budget, Tres Chicas had about a month to get everything laid down and ready to roll. Considering they had meandered through the process of their first album for nearly four years, the seriously curtailed studio time was a legitimate cause for concern. Although they wound up having to leave a couple of tracks for Brockbank and his crew to mix down, they managed to complete the album in the allotted time.
When Tres Chicas eventually begin to think about the inevitable third album, "Bloom, Red & the Ordinary Girl" will be a hard project to beat. The band has set the bar pretty high, and Cary recognizes the fact, but she knows that the next album will have its own personality. Right now, she's content to bask in the glow of this one.
"I feel really lucky, and I think this got put in my head by somebody in London: 'Won't you just love to have this record when you're 50? Won't you just love listening to it?,'" says Cary warmly. "And I think that's true. I think it will be something to cherish. It was such a really great experience making it, I feel like it changed my life. I cried the whole way back to the airport in the cab. I didn't want to leave. It was really something else."