Humble Tripe: From the Beginning
BY SUE BARRETT
Some eight years ago, North Carolina provided the starting place for acoustic orchestral folk band, Humble Tripe.
And a cabin, in the mountains of North Carolina, provided the starting place for Humble Tripe’s third album, The Beginning.
Humble Tripe is currently Shawn Luby (guitar) and Stud Green (violin), both classically trained musicians. Now Shawn and Stud tell us, from the beginning, about Humble Tripe, the duo’s organic, heartfelt music (with its intertwining words, vocals and instrumentation) and their new album, The Beginning.
Tell us about your childhood and your first memories of music
Shawn: My mom is a music educator and musician. I started out early, running through the house smashing up her guitar. By the time I was five, she got me a ¾ size classical guitar and started teaching me Beatles songs. About a year later, I began classical guitar. My first actual memory of performing was playing for Pepe Romero in a master class when I was seven.
Stud: I was in a class when I was about four and every week the teacher would bring in a different instrument for us to look at. When she brought in a violin, I was hooked. I remember my first grade elementary school talent show where I played ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’. I wasn’t nervous at all until after I played!
Coming from a background that included formal music education, what do you see as the pros and cons of such an education?
Shawn: I trained in classical guitar from about the age of five years and to about twenty years. It was, and still is, incredible to perform that style of music and the influence on my writing style is immeasurable. I wouldn’t change it for anything. But it is a bit more challenging for me to jump up and jam with folks. In fact I never really do that, so I have to find ways to push my comfortability with spontaneity.
Stud: I trained in classical violin from five to eighteen and then again in my 20s when I went back to college. I love classical music and it still stretches my brain to listen to orchestras and quartets. However, when Shawn first brought me his music and told me to play along, I was totally lost! It was a new experience for me to not have written music and to have to find my own way in the songs.
For parents wanting to introduce their children to music, how might they go about this?
Shawn: I always tell parents to just engage musically with their children. If they enjoy it and are expressing interest in playing an instrument, grab a cheap ukulele and give it a go!
Stud: I was lucky as a child in that my parents never forced me to play an instrument. It was expected that I would practice, but the decision was mine whether I wanted to continue or not. I think too much pressure can make it harder for a child to stay interested.
Tell us about the formation of Humble Tripe
Shawn: Humble Tripe began as my quarter-life crisis, or as some would call it, my Saturn return. I had all but abandoned my music career when I landed in North Carolina, pursuing other lines of work. Stud and I were both in a similar music spot in terms of our classical training, working at bars and doing odd jobs for the lawyers that patronized the bars…we were roommates and workmates and never ever played music together. Out of the blue (to me), Stud made a big move and went off to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I caught the song writing bug a little while later during a bad break up and wrote an album’s worth of material in about a month. This was my first time writing, or singing, and after about six songs were complete, I called Stud in a panic and demanded that we be in a band, flew up to Boston a few weeks later and we recorded those six songs in Stud’s living room with some cheap equipment (mics taped to stacks of cardboard boxes!).
Why is the third Humble Tripe album titled, The Beginning?
Shawn: We spent the first five years trying to manage being in a long-distance band together and enlisted the help of many friends along the way (including drumming wonder Melissa York, of The Butchies and Amy Ray) to keep the music going as Stud and I live in separate cities. The first two albums were an attempt to bring everyone to the studio and make glorious orchestrated records. But that’s not how we tour, or perform, and we really wanted to have a record that captured who we truly are as a working band. Thus we went back to the original living room set up and “the beginning” seemed like the perfect way to describe it! Not only a nod to our start, but a jumping off point, re-introducing ourselves as the acoustic orchestral folk duo that we share with our audiences on the road!
What has The Beginning, as an unplugged duo album, enabled you to do that you couldn’t have done with an electric album or a big band?
Shawn: In the past, with three horn parts, piano, drums, three electric guitars and melodicas, it was awesome, but our individuality and movement in our performances was sometimes lost in the hoopla. We can’t hide on this album and so you hear us balancing every note, every breathe and every random chair squeak. It’s not as glossy as a traditional studio album, but it gives us the chance to center the strength of our collaboration for the first time.
Stud: For me, I love the feel of playing live. Being able to breathe and move together while we play really helps me lose myself in the music and the performance. Since it’s recorded live without tracking, I am excited about that feeling coming through.
The Beginning includes four songs from each of Humble Tripe’s first two albums. How did you go about selecting the songs?
Shawn: Magically, we ended up with four songs from each previous album and two new tracks. Primarily, we wanted to present songs that we felt somehow still had something to say. In the end, we had some surprises that got cut from the record, but we wanted to showcase the pieces that really moved us in a live format, similar to our classical performance experiences of our youth. The songs you hear were recorded in my partner’s 100 year old home, live, with no overdubs, no tracking, just Stud and me finding our balance in the room.
Tell us about the new songs on The Beginning
Shawn: ‘The Architect’ is such a special song for us. Lyrically, and musically, we keep falling in love with it. On a basic level, it’s a love song, but it’s also about determination and resilience in an era of increased hate and deception. The second half, with Stud’s violin solo, makes me cry every time we perform it. It’s really an exercise for me in keeping it together on stage, and not just openly sobbing at the end of the song.
‘Little Song’ came about the week of recording…Stud learned it over a voice text and it serves as our offering of hope for this incredibly difficult and challenging political time.
The Beginning began in a small cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. In what ways did that setting influence the album?
Shawn: Stud and I received an artist in residency grant from the Wild Acres Retreat Center in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. They brought us in, housed and fed us for a week, and encouraged us to relax, reflect and enjoy. We brought a carload of gear, hiking boots and a whole lot of questions about what the future of the band would be. Importantly, it was our first time together, off of the road, alone, since Stud’s living room in 2009. It was this retreat that inspired us to make The Beginning and really commit to putting ourselves out there as a duo.
Stud: Being able to spend that time together was really awesome for me. Without the distractions of phones, TV, other people, touring…It felt like we got to reconnect as both musicians and friends.
You’ve been performing together for some years, what do each of you see the other as bringing to Humble Tripe’s music?
Shawn: Stud’s ability to find the pulse and emotion in the song, and move it through with her violin and vocals, is unbeatable. I literally call her all the time and say something like “Um, how do you do that thing in ‘Oh, Lord’, where it feels like your violin is moving me through the air and water all at once – I’m crying, I love it.”
Stud: I so appreciate Shawn’s ability and willingness to be so open and vulnerable in his song writing. I love the delicacy of his guitar playing and the lyrics hit me in the heart every time.
What’s coming up for each of you this year?
Shawn: We’ve got plans to tour throughout the fall, announcing the dates as they come! Back in Durham, I’m in the middle of a musical residency at Duke University Medical Center, where I play classical guitar (and a bit of folk) at the bedside for patients in critical care at the hospital. It’s easily the most emotional and rewarding sharing of music that I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in.
Stud: I’m excited about our travels together this year – introducing the new album and getting to play for folks! Up here in Boston, I am on the Board of Directors for the Girls Rock Campaign Boston, where I am so lucky to get to help and encourage young people to find empowerment through music and performance.
SUE BARRETT is a music writer from Australia. Humble Tripe’s first album, Counting Stars, was one of her top ten albums of 2010. And Humble Tripe’s second album, The Giving, was in her top ten albums of 2013.