From the very first performance together, Stephanie Marshall, Jenny Goodspeed and Katie Clarke—who now perform and record as The Boxcar Lilies—knew it was kismet.
They met a few years back through the Franklin County musicians' cooperative, at a time when each was more focused on solo work. The trio did some impromptu harmonizing, discovered a shared passion for three-part harmony, and began singing together, albeit informally.
In 2009, Goodspeed was slated to perform at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival's Emerging Artist Showcase and invited Clarke and Marshall along to sing backup. Goodspeed says the three left the stage that afternoon smiling and looking knowingly at each other, realizing they had something special going on. Shortly thereafter they decided to make it official and The Boxcar Lilies was born.
The band is inspired by great lyrics and vocal harmonies, and its stated goal is to bring all that to the fore in a style that's part folk, part country, part blues, and part '70s singer/songwriter.
Goodspeed, who sings and plays guitar and concert ukulele, says the trio grew up listening to a decidedly different music than the kind it plays now.
"I grew up listening to and singing a lot of musical theater," she says. "[Singer, guitarist and percussionist] Stephanie was a hard rocker and heavy metal fan. And Katie [who also sings and plays guitar and clawhammer banjo] was a fan of hardcore punk and lived in the D.C. area when that whole scene was taking off.
"I don't think anyone would guess that, listening to us now."
But she hastens to add that the group isn't afraid to pull a Black Flag cover out of its collective hat from time to time.
The three musicians are primarily writing songs individually these days, though there are times when one of them will bring an unfinished song to the table when "she's feeling creatively stuck or needs some ideas on how to give it some sparkle." There are plans to write more collectively in the coming year.
Goodspeed says some of the band's best harmonies come out of sessions in which it is just improvising parts and not thinking too hard about it.
"That's when we're most likely to discover something really sublime that gives us all goose bumps," she says. "We love those moments."
The Boxcar Lilies set aside most of January and February "to do a little woodshedding" and work up some new material to add to the repertoire of songs featured on the debut CD Heartwood, an album recorded with esteemed producer and engineer Dave Chalfant [Erin McKeown, The Nields].
The band recently received an invitation to do an official showcase at this winter's International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis.
"It's an incredible honor, but a tad intimidating, because some of our songwriting heroes are also showcasing—people like Jonatha Brooke, Jonathan Edwards, and James McMurtry," says Goodspeed.
The Boxcar Lilies join Eilen Jewell, Salvation Alley String Band, Rusty Belle and others for Honky Tonk Girl: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn at Northampton's Iron Horse Jan. 15 at 7 p.m.
For more information and upcoming shows, visit www.boxcarlilies.com.