How did you start in music?
Kalyn: I started when I was young, but quit because of the judgmental side of it. I was going to vocal assessments as a young child and that tainted the music world for me. I wanted it to be about passion and just enjoying myself. When we met, Thom was already playing and performing in front of people and that made it a lot easier for me to perform with him instead of just by myself which was terrifying.
Thom: When I was really little, I would just memorize any song I liked. My brain still works in the same way, starts in the beginning in a stream of music or melodies – it’s very linear. I knew that I would need to do something with that. Then I found my mom’s guitar in the closet and tried to play the same riff for three years until I got lessons. Then my grandma was like “you need singin’ lessons, I can’t barely stand to hear the sound of your voice!”. That’s what she did to my aunt who is now a professional opera singer. She’s very honest.
You seem pretty comfortable entertaining now.
When we’re learning, like when we’re trying to talk to people on the microphone. It’s almost a bust every time. One time we tried to plan something, and that was a huge fail, you can’t go planning what you’re going to say. But playing music for people is easy because you can tell when they’re enjoying themselves and we ignore the people who aren’t.
One of the cool things about playing old music is that you can pretend to be time bandits and you can pretend to be mute when you’re not singing. It’s like we’re an installation or something. Then there’s awkward moments though, that if we did know what to say, it would really help… no matter how mysterious we think we’re being.
How did you two meet?
Kalyn: I was working at this cafe that I’d been working at for a couple years. I saw some jazz music happening in front of the window I was waiting at. So every time I had some free time, I’d go and listen to it. That was my last day and I was going to go to California after that, and he was going to go on tour. Instead, the tour got canceled and he asked if he could jump on my ship.
What was your reaction to that?
Kalyn: I’m gonna have you call you back on that tomorrow because I just met you… and this is crazy.
Then I called and said he could come.
Kalyn, did you sing growing up?
I sang until I was about 13 but there was too much assessment and not enough joy. I was terrified to sing in front of anyone. Pearl Street helped. Walk around and you see all walks of life performing. I think that was the first time we played music together.
Thom, Did you know that she could sing when you met?
We were listening to Billy Holiday and I heard her singing along, and I was like… “you can do that? Alright, lets start learning things.”
You were on your way to California, but how did you end up in Boulder?
We had another friend in the car who was going to DJ, and he wanted to go to CO Springs. I had a friend in Boulder, so we could stay with her. By the route we took, we ended up in Boulder. We were going to stay for one night, but then she said we should stay for two weeks and play music. We couldn’t help it anyway, the mountains are so beautiful.
There’s nothing like Pearl Street. There’s New Orleans which has every street you can perform on, but it’s more intimate here and there’s more of a variety of different kinds of performers here that we really like. There’s so many styles of music that we don’t touch at all, and there’s so much to learn. New Orleans is the spot for the style of music we play, there are SO many people who play the same type of music.
So it helps because you can stand out from the crowd?
I think people have a greater appreciation for our style of music here, and not a lot of people our age do it. There are a lot of older folks who play this music, and we’ve been blessed to play with them also – but there are very few young swing musicians here. I think people appreciate it when the younger generation can get together with the older generation and connect.
I like the Blues influence in your music, could you talk about Robert Johnson?
Thom: I love Robert Johnson, he’s a really great storyteller and a really great guitarist. Doing things that’s hard to imagine doing now because it’s so different than any style of guitar playing from today. It’s an amazing style of using the whole guitar. The blues style is not so much about the skills and the chords, but about the emotion.
Kalyn: I don’t know who Robert Johnson is. But if you play the music for me, I probably know one or two of his songs. I mostly liked Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, a lot of soulful females.
How’d you get introduced to Blues?
Well if you trace pop and rock back it all goes there. I really like rock bands, and you get into a jam band, and you wonder who they listen to and they like this jazz band. Then you start to appreciate it more, and you just keep tracing it back. Robert Johnson is somewhere along the way there.
On the future:
We’d really love to be part of an electric swing band. The electronic swing stuff could be taken a little further, and we’d love to be a part of it. The same thing with merging the young generation with the older generation. The young are into a lot of electronic music, and swing should never die.
Did you both have musical families?
Kalyn: My grandmother sang in church, but never took it further than that. I think my family viewed art as something very difficult to make money on. I grew up thinking the same thing, that if I were to do something with art, it would be a hobby. They’re talented, they just didn’t go as far as they could have I think.
Thom: I come from music appreciators in my immediate family. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were professional sweet music musicians. Sweet music was like jazz tunes before they had any syncopation to them. They didn’t really pass that down, my grandfather didn’t play and my grandmother didn’t play. From my mom’s side, my mom isn’t a musician – she plays some guitar and sings – but my uncles and aunts are all different walks of life musicians. All my cousins play violin. There is a huge importance of music in my family.
What are some of your upcoming events?
We will probably be doing community and art events in Ward and the mountain towns. We play weekly at License No.1 (or as people call it, ex-catacombs). With beautiful low lighting and jazz, it really puts people into the feeling of The Boulderado. Louis Armstrong played back there in the day, and I think they’re trying to bring back the life what was once a really cool jazz bar.
We play at The Stanley up in Estes sometimes, we’ll be there on the 31st. It’s that theme that I really enjoy. When we play jazz, it really brings you back to a previous life. The Stanley has a similar atmosphere.
What’s it like to know that you can start playing somewhere and people come up to you and ask you to play for them?
Always say yes. If we have one solid gig that we can rely on every week, then everything else we can just say yes to. We love to meet new people. We don’t know many people around here, so whenever someone comes up to us, we always try to connect with them and bring it a little further.
Does that help boost your confidence to know that people will stop what they’re doing and want you to play for them?
That feels really good, I think it’s the self criticism that can shine beyond that. We have to overcome that within ourselves, but it really helps to have other people tell us how they feel about it. We’re not often telling ourselves the positive things, so to hear it from other people helps a whole lot. We hope to help those people too who maybe want to have an event or a party that we could add to.
Is it easy to randomly collaborate with other musicians and just start playing together?
Yeah, especially when they’re experienced in swing music. Sometimes it’s fun to teach people a new style though. We’re fortunate to know some really talented people and we just end up running into them.
Who has helped you out in Boulder?
The Goorin Hat Company has given us some really beautiful hats… we just make people dance in their store while they’re wearing hats.
Of course, The Boulderado has helped us out a whole lot.
There are some more experienced musicians, particularly a guy named David Williams who is an incredible song writer, a great gypsy guitarist. He’s been a great mentor for me. He wrote a bunch of songs for a children’s show on PBS that are crossover swing songs about things like jungle animals. He can entertain anyone. He’s so spontaneous and such a friendly person, we would be playing and he’d say “hey, why don’t you hop in on some of my gigs and back me up” and we’d learn some of his songs. He’s also an english professor at the University.
Another Williams who has helped us has been Tim Williams at the Capitol Design Team. He’s invited us for events and scheduled multiple times to have us recorded in some of the most beautiful places we’ve been. He’s so connected around here, and we’re blessed he noticed us. The first time we were out here, he noticed us two days after we had been performing on the street and he stopped us and was like “I’m learning to play guitar, play a song for me?”.
Also, Bramble and Hare has helped us a lot. They gave us the okay to go in there and play any time we want. Put out a tip jar, bring any musicians we want. We’ll continue to play there as much as we can.
Do you find Boulder to be different than other places in terms of people who want to help out?
That’s a part of the reason why we’re out here. Boulder is about meeting people by chance, it cuts to the chase of people getting to know each other and play music together. Connections happen a lot quicker here. The scene is also bigger for musicians. Where we’re from, not a lot of people go out for live music. We ended up working at one particular speak-easy and only playing there. You’re just a backdrop. Where as here, every restaurant thinks music would be a good idea. The businesses are very open minded here. So if you pitch them an idea, they’re more willing to take a risk on us. There’s a confidence that we have here that we didn’t have back in Albany.