It’s often that artists talk about forging ahead with their music in order to make their dreams come true. But they don’t mean it literally. Their musical pursuits are the product of their passions and ambitions converging on making art, not the strange projections of the subconscious mind. But in the case of Shannon Carey, both the figurative and literal meaning of chasing a dream are true.
Carey fronts Luray, which will celebrate the release of its debut album The Wilder Saturday at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. And it was a dream that connected her to her signature instrument, the banjo, the one that led her to form the folksy indie-rock group.
Carey had a dream that she got a guitar for some special occasion – Christmas or her birthday, she can’t remember which. But in the dream she was disappointed because she had wanted a banjo instead. She was in her mid-20s then, a social worker living in San Francisco. She played guitar when she was younger – in fact in high school, she played a number of instruments. But she’d stopped making music as an adult. She didn’t play the banjo. She wasn’t even all that familiar with banjo music, save for where it might have appeared in the folk and country music she was exposed to growing up.
“That kind of surprised me,” Carey said, “because I didn’t think I wanted to play banjo, but then I woke up and I was like ‘no, I want to play the banjo.’”
She sought out instruction and began to learn, but it was a difficult process for her. She had to think about it, she said, unlike when she was a child and the study of an instrument could easily fill her ample free time. She had to be disciplined in her study as an adult, as she was balancing the commitments of a full-time job, friends, and family.
After she began in earnest learning the instrument, she discovered an entire realm in which the banjo was king: bluegrass music.
“I never really got exposed to it until I started to learn the banjo,” Carey said. Musicians she’d met in her studies would call upon the standards of the genre, but those tunes were foreign to her.
“It’s such a big repertoire, that’s one of the things you learn when you learn bluegrass, but I just came at it kind of funny, really academic,” Carey said.
But she absorbed the music, wrapped herself up in it until her calculated study became more comfortable, until she felt she’d found and understood the core of the music.
And then she broke out of the genre and did something new.
The product is her blend of folk, bluegrass, and rock that can be found on The Wilder.
She’d just started to write the album when she and her husband relocated to Washington D.C. two years ago. He’d gotten a promotion that landed him in the nation’s capital, and she was looking for a reason to quit her job and make her music her full-time vocation.
She got some help in her first recording endeavor from brother Sean Carey of Bon Iver and the solo project S. Carey. It was her first time recording an album, and his first time producing one for another musician. They recorded over a few days at his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with local musicians (and Shannon’s husband on guitar). She returned to D.C., and from there the siblings collaborated across the miles via email, phone calls, and Skype to complete the project.
After making the album, she put together her band – “sort of a backwards process,” she admits – and the D.C.-based group will perform the album Saturday for a local audience.
A dream may have started her venture, but these days Carey’s planning is more deliberate. She’s writing songs for the next album. She’s booking dates for a tour in September. She’s thinking about her connections with musicians in the Midwest and the South. And she’s making plans to get her music out into the world.
• For more information about Luray, visit luraymusic.com.