Analogue Music | SHEL


By Matt Conner

Eva Holbrook takes the blame.

It's easy to blame the "music industry" as the big, bad corporate beast. It's an easy target. A faceless enemy. And ultimately, artists are responsible for the decision to partner with it or not. In recent years, the sisters known as SHEL have been trying shed their industry skin and get back to the very reasons they wanted to make in the first place.

Eva says the issue came down to their values, or rather forgetting them. For years, Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza Holbrook made music on their own terms, crafting their infectious folk/rock blend for an ever-growing audience in love with their authentic lyrics, personable nature, and killer harmonies. In recent years, however, the sisters have marched to the industry's drum, a cadence that led to burnout and confusion, depression and addiction.

If it wasn't for a season of reflection and ultimate course-correction, Eva says she likely wouldn't be here now. Fortunately, the reconnection with each other and their values gave way to a brand new song, "Rainbow," which became a cornerstone track for a new flow of inspiration, one rooted in their trust in each other and their musical goals. "I wanna show the world what could be when you hold your hand up to what you thought what was an enemy," she sings on "Rainbow", a musical mission statement and beautiful return to form.

We recently sat down with Eva to hear all about the band's recent journey to India, the lessons learned in the last couple years, and taking matters into their own hands.

"We're definitely intuitive, do-it-yourself women, but we gave up a lot of authority to people we thought knew better."

Analogue: Before we discuss the music, I've read about the band taking some time away from it all to regroup. Was that break a proactive or reactive measure?

Eva Holbrook: It was fairly reactive. We were going through a two-year-long writer's block, largely due to an excessive amount of feedback from our team at the time regarding how we should create and run our business. That was really unhealthy for us. We're definitely intuitive, do-it-yourself women, but we gave up a lot of authority to people we thought knew better. They drove us really hard and we hit a severe burn out phase.

And I would add it’s not their fault. It’s always up to the artist to say 'We'd rather not burn the candle at both ends year after year, it's more important to us to be healthy—emotionally, physically, mentally, creatively.' Unfortunately they weren't excited when we took that stance, and after talking it through, we decided it was time to take the helm and start fresh.' Which was frightening.

When we first started talking about it, we looked at each other and asked, 'Are we even capable of doing this? Are there crucial aspects of running a business that aren't on our radar?' It was amazing, though. That decision to trust ourselves and one another brought us closer than we’ve ever been. There was a sort of natural creative realignment that took place in our family.

Most of it had to do with getting to a place where we didn't feel the fear of not meeting a quota or someone else's idea of what we should be creating. There was so much scrutiny in the last environment that it didn’t feel safe to be vulnerable with each other, that kind of emotional isolation makes collaboration impossible, it’s so unhealthy, but it began to break down and we were finally able to be honest with one another about our fears and dreams.

That's what united us. We wanted to create honest music that brought people hope, or to be an understanding companion in their sorrow. That was a pivotal moment, and a lot of doors started opening when we took responsibility for our values. We were able to find a great team to work alongside us and we feel very grateful. It’s hard. We’re running our own label and managing ourselves at the moment, but our current team makes that possible until we find a good co-pilot.

Credit: Taylor Ballantyne
Credit: Taylor Ballantyne

Analogue: Were you surprised by the music starting to flow again or did you know this would work?

Eva: Oddly enough, even though I couldn’t finish a song for two years, I was writing like crazy, but I was receiving and channeling so much negative feedback, I killed everything I started before it had a chance. The surprising thing was going back to listen to the little snippets I was writing in that time, I absolutely loved them. Half of the full length album we’re recording now is made up of these rejects. I learned a lot about accepting myself in spite of people’s opinions during that transition, and I think it helped me accept and complete those songs.

Analogue: Was there a specific moment that gathered enough courage to make the change?

Eva: I think we realized that none of us would survive. We were struggling with addiction and depression, and this was directly connected to feeling like we couldn’t express ourselves honestly without sacrificing our career. What we were creating didn't feel like our music anymore. We knew that meant either we quit, or we take responsibility for what was happening and change the direction.

Collaboration is such a delicate thing. If you let somebody into that space, it has to be someone who understands the point is not to tell you what you should think or feel. That completely defeats the purpose of self expression. Collaboration is about understanding yourself and others better, not altering yourself to fit expectations.

Analogue: You described "Rainbow" as a cornerstone track. Where did that song in particular come from?

Eva: After we decided we were going to put our sisterhood first, I took two weeks off and came home to Colorado—we were all living in Nashville at the time—and just sat in the quiet and listened. I was really wrestling with the reason I was making music, and if I had anything to offer. During that time, I started to write "Rainbow," and as the lyrics unfolded, I had this vision of women in India dressed very colorfully. I hadn't had something like that happen before while writing, but I let it be. It was ever-present while I worked on the song.

I finished "Rainbow" with Hannah and our friend Joey [Verskotzi] in L.A. and couple months later Liza's girlfriend, Chelsea [Sobolik], was working on a documentary called Beyond Karma and we ended up at the premiere. Watching the women in the documentary was like reliving the vision I had while writing the song, but there was an incredible significance. The documentary takes you through the journey of Indian widows from exile to Hope Springz, a craft center where women are empowered with life skills, support and community. This is also where they don color again.

In India, white is the color of death and when a women’s husband dies she’s expected to wear white for the rest of her life because she’s considered a bad omen. It’s like she died with him. Watching these women receive love and support after being cast out of society and abandoned by their own families, watching them wrap themselves in color again, and celebrate Holi—The Festival of Colors—I knew "Rainbow" was written for them.

After the premiere I went up to Kyle [Rasmussen], the filmmaker and was like, 'This might sound crazy but I wrote this song called "Rainbow" and I think I wrote it for these women.' So we grabbed coffee and he asked to hear the song. I played him a rough mix and he actually cried. We started talking about making a music video so we could share the story of Hope Springz with more people.

"This EP is very colorful, all of the songs are upbeat. It's a celebration that we've reunited and are closer than we've ever been"

I was really excited to meet the women. In the documentary, so much happens to them. It's crazy. Many of them are married off around the ages of 12 or 14 and often their husbands die while they’re still very young, so they end up living on the streets. Some of the women at Hope Springz are in their eighties, they've been living on the streets for nearly 60 years. There are no words for that kind of pain. When you see this glowing hope about them, their eagerness to love and be held, it’s stunning. And a lot of that has to do with James and Asha Joy, the people who run the craft center, they created a safe and beautiful environment where the women can have community with one another and share their sorrows and joys while creating together.

Analogue: For longtime fans, is there an obvious before and after here given all the changes and the break we've discussed?

Eva: The people who are closest to us will say yes. Our longtime fans are one of the biggest reasons we’re in this fight. But an obvious tell is the black and white cover of the last album. I think a lot of people love those songs and I don't want to ruin them, but that was a painful time. This EP is very colorful, all of the songs are upbeat. It's a celebration that we've reunited and are closer than we've ever been. I’m grateful we were able to capture that reality in Wild Child. We want to continue to share from this place— sisterhood first.