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Uncle Earl gets lucky

By John Lupton, September 2005

Page 2...

"And then, you find any number of people like Dirk, who can play the music as well as Dirk and understands the music as well, but to find the two things together...yeah, it's really special."

For example, relates Groves, when it came time to record "There Is A Time," a tune originally done by The Dillards, "That was one of those things that happened right in the studio. It was born right there before we went into the room to record it. We had sort of a more predictable arrangement of it, and Dirk said, 'No, let's make this a little deeper, a little spookier,' and he got out this fretless banjo and started playing the full riff, and we were like, that's all it really needs, and Abby started doing this little, kind of an African, sort of a counterpoint melody with some tape over the bridge, so it sounds really 'plunky'. Then Kristin, of course, did the thing with the feet (she clogs), and Dirk did some magical things with the post-production to make it sound like that big drum."

Though steeped in the kind of old time music that revels in classic, driving tunes like the opening "Walking In My Sleep," the ladies are all talented singers and songwriters as well. The album title is a line from Andreassen's "Pale Moon."

"It just came about while I was driving one day. A lot of songs come about when you're traveling, I don't know why. Flying, driving, walking, there's something about the traveling motion that just lets the conscious part of your brain fall away and images come into your head."

"So, I was driving, and it was a bright blue day, and there was this great, huge moon out there, and I thought 'Wow, what a strange concept - that the moon is there all day long, but you just don't notice it because it's just as bright as it is at night, but it's drowned out by the light of the day, when at night, we notice it'."

As the song began to form in her artistic consciousness, she realized, "In a way, it seemed like a metaphor for myself, sort of like growing up and growing into old time music."

"There have been times in my life when I've been really shy, especially around the music. I wouldn't play in a jam because I was really scared to get out my guitar and my fiddle to jam, I just didn't feel like I was good enough. But when I went home, I would spend hours and hours in my kitchen playing music and playing along with records and singing to myself. It was just like at a certain point I felt enough courage to break out an instrument in front of people, and that was the turning point. So, I guess that's what 'Pale Moon' is about...something that was always there that eventually you get to show to people."

Inevitably, as both Groves and Andreassen readily acknowledge, the discussion winds around to the fact that even in the 21st century, all-female bands are still something of a novelty, and the history of American music, including all forms of country music, shows that they are not always taken seriously.

Andreassen remarks, with a touch of lingering bewilderment, that they often are greeted with comments comparing them to the Be Good Tanyas, a band that, good as they are, bears no similarity to Uncle Earl outside of the fact that both are all-women bands.

"They don't play fiddle tunes...the differences are extreme. It just points out that there aren't that many all-woman bands that you can turn to. So, it's true that we're still unusual. One of the novelties about us, though, is that...we don't feel like we're creating a gimmick because the musicians in our band are just such preeminent musicians in their field that are used to not being compared just with other women," she says.

Looking at the issue from a historical and cultural perspective, Groves adds, "(Women have) played in kitchens along the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Mountains forever, and the music has definitely been passed down, a lot, by the women in the family - a lot of female banjo players, and a lot of the ballads are sung by women. So it's very natural for women to be playing this kind of music. As far as the novelty of it, of women trying to make a living at it, I think the barrier for sure has come down, as in most areas of modern culture."

"Women definitely have more power than they used to, but there's also a long way to go. The fact that some people would still look at us as sort of a novelty is proof that it's still not completely equal, and the fact that there aren't that many, we would like to see more."

It is, as Andreassen sums up, a matter of knowing who you are, what you're about and what you want to be.

"We don't have any issues of insecurity about being women. It's conscious that we want this band to be all-women. That's why we sort of kept looking for a woman to be the bass player." (Gilchrist replaced Dan Rose, who filled in as an honorary 'g'Earl' for much of the past two years).

"We wanted the vibe to be all-women, partly because this band is only part-time for us. We don't do it full time, and each of the five of us in our other musical careers plays with men, maybe almost exclusively with men. So, this is another kind of expression for us."

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