Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell have both enjoyed lengthy, prolific, and acclaimed careers in the singer/songwriter world. Even as solo artists, though, they shared an artistic kinship that neither could deny… nor could their fans. So, when the two finally realized their long-time dream of collaborating as a duo, the Pine Hill Project was born. Gathering up some Kickstarter funds and Larry Campbell as producer, the two were off to the races. The result? ‘Tomorrow You’re Going,’ their new album of cover tunes that will be released on March 17 via Signature Sounds.
How did it feel to raise more than twice your Kickstarter goal? That must have signaled that you were on to something.
LK: Based on the turnouts when we perform together, and emails from fans asking when we were going to record together, we knew there was interest from our audiences in us working together, but we didn’t have a clear idea how MUCH interest there was. I mean, it’s not an easy thing to measure. And, honestly, we were nervous that we wouldn’t meet our Kickstarter goal at all. After we launched the campaign, we sat by our computers for the next 24 hours and watched the numbers come in (pretty exciting and very addictive). When we met our goal after 27 hours, we felt a combination of amazed, relieved, and very grateful to our fans for supporting us.
When the numbers continued to climb over the next 30 days, it told us a few important things: it meant we had enough money to make exactly the album we wanted to make and to promote it and not have to skimp on anything; it confirmed for us that there really was a sizable audience for a duo project from us; and it told us that the landscape of our musical world had truly changed since we both started out more than 20 years ago. That is, in a world of streaming services where fewer and fewer people are buying CDs and where record companies have little money to offer for recording budgets, people who do what we do can still make the records we want to and get them out to the world. It’s really a new paradigm.
You guys have thought and talked about doing a project for over 20 years. Was it always going to be covers? Or was that just where you landed at this juncture in time and space?
RS: Yes, it was always going to be covers. We love wallowing in other people’s songs! Always have.
LK: And we’ve always loved the same kinds of songs. It’s kind of uncanny. Over the years, when one of us brought a cover song to the other, like when we’ve done occasional shows together, almost invariably the other one would like it just as much. Not always, but mostly. So making an album of songs we love was always the project we wanted to do.
The statement that your “voices have always understood each other” is such a thoughtful appreciation of your shared artistry. Let’s get into that a bit more… is it an emotional understanding or a more technical, tone thing? Or, maybe, a bit of both?
RS: The voices naturally try to accommodate each other. Technically speaking, it’s a really complex phenomenon. But it mostly comes down to note choice, phrasing, vocal weight, and timbre. With two-part harmony (as opposed to, say, three), the question of note choice is fairly open. There’s lots of room for the second part to jump around in the intervals. Our harmonic choices each make sense to the other — even if sometimes there are surprises… especially when there are surprises.
As for timbre, I can’t explain how that happens (when it does happen). But it’s something we’re both looking for: a certain kind of unity in the blend. The only thing I can compare it to is the effect that vacuum tubes will have on the sound of an electric guitar. I think the word is saturation. That happens with voices, too. Adjusting vocal weight is also something that happens naturally. In our case, the person singing the harmony will adjust in order to not overwhelm the melody voice. As for phrasing… well, that’s the tough part. We’re both used to singing lead vocal, where one can phrase away with impunity. Not so if there’s a second voice. A consensus has to be reached! We’re working on it. My people are talking to her people. In general, we just come from a very similar place in terms of the kind of music we grew up on. What sounds good to one generally sounds good to the other.
LK: I heard Emmylou Harris, one of the great singers and harmony singers, say something once: that the harmony is really another melody. That’s so true and is part of how I think about singing harmony with Richard — the harmony part is not just adding to the main vocal; it’s a whole other, central musical element in and of itself. That’s part of why singing harmony with Richard is so fun and so creative — the sky’s the limit in terms of what I can choose to sing. I’ve had plenty of experiences being hired to sing harmony with other people when they told me the specific notes to sing. That was no fun at all.
When you’re doing cover songs, how do you decide which way to lean it… which elements to stir up in a particular tune and how to make it your own?
RS: It happens naturally. We have our own way of doing things. I’ll play a song over and over again — usually beginning with an approximation of the original (or another version). At the start, I’m usually uncomfortable with the song. I know I like it, but can’t find a way in. So I play it over and over, trying different approaches (tempo, key, meter signature, instrumentation, etc). Little by little, I move away from the original. Without evening knowing it, I’m moving toward something that makes sense to me — how I might have played it had I written it. Not only is this the only way I can go about covering a song, it’s also more interesting than simply copying someone else’s version. What’s the point of that?
LK: I started singing songs I thought were great when I was a kid, at the piano after school, songs from that book Great Songs of the Sixties. Singing songs I love has always been one of my very favorite things to do. From the start, I’ve never given much thought to how to sing it or play a song. I just did it. If I eventually recorded the song, that’s when I started to think about how to do it differently from the original. And often that’s where my producer and my band came in with arrangement ideas. And, also, I’ve tended to cover songs written and recorded by men. It hasn’t been planned; it’s just sort of happened. So, immediately, my version will sound different than the original by default.
Now that you’ve realized this dream collaboration, where do you set your sights next? Will there be more PHP to come?
RS: Right now we have no specific plans for any other projects together. We’ll see what happens with this album and take it from there. Whether or not there’s another Pine Hill Project album, I’m sure we will keep singing together.
‘Tomorrow You’re Going,’ will be released on March 17 on Signature Sounds. You can stream the album in its entirety in the player below until then.
Click HERE to pre-order the album at Amazon.