Al Howard wasn’t exaggerating when he decreed that the singer for his newest band, The Midnight Pine, had “one of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard in my life.” The young songstress, Shelbi Bennett, has an incredible set of pipes which fill each line she sings with soulful character. To call her vocals “haunting” seems cliche and trite but it is a word that aptly sums up how one feels after they hear the musical poetry of The Midnight Pine. The rapid formation of the band offers proof that sometimes the best things come naturally and flow with ease. Less than a year since singer and percussionist crossed one another’s paths TMP will celebrate their CD release with a collection of 11 delicate tracks from Awake Now and also an EP of covers to offer. Join them Saturday, January 12 at the JETT Gallery with John Meeks and Pigeon Lord. But first, get to know Ms. Bennett a little better and in her own words with her answers to a few of my fangirl questions…
1. How did The Midnight Pine come to be?
It all started when I met Al at the record store. After some conversing it came up that I sing. He mentioned that he had “some songs that need homes” and we exchanged emails. After a couple weeks he came over to my apartment and we started recording just to see how things would sound. As soon as the first take of “Stolen Wind” was finished we both kind of knew that this was something we should probably pursue.
2. How would you describe your sound and live performances who hasn’t heard/seen you yet?
This is such a hard question to answer! Our album is pretty folky, with some ambient aspects, and also some country sprinkled somewhere in there. No matter how many times I have been asked to describe it I have never been able to quite nail it on the head.
Our live shows are definitely more of a stripped down version of the album. With only a three piece [Sean Martin on guitar, Alfred Howard and his percussion and myself singing] it really brings a raw, attention-grabbing feel to the otherwise mellow sounding songs.
3. What was the writing process like with Al Howard? Did you write together or bring your own songs and put them together?
Al wrote most of the lyrics. He is probably the most prolific poet that I have ever met. Josh Rice and others would take the poems and make songs out of them. A lot of the songs [ie: Stolen Wind, Day is Done, Best Place] had been finished well before I started singing them. A few other songs like Siren, and Time were more of a collaborative between Howard and I. I sent him some ideas for songs and he expanded and finished them . They ended up being way different than I originally thought, but they are beautiful and have grown to be my favorite songs on the album.
4. What is something you would like people to know about yourself or The Midnight Pine that they wouldn’t know just by seeing a show or hearing a song?
I guess I would want people to know how amazing everyone involved in this project is. I seriously would not be where I am if it weren’t for this beautiful musical family I happened to stumble upon. I feel honored and so incredibly luck to be surrounded with such talented musicians and genuinely good people.
5. You play as a trio but had some guests on the record- who worked with you and what was it like having outside musicians be part of the project?
Where to begin?! Josh Rice did all of the keys and wrote a good portion of the songs on the album. Fantastic piano skills, and a great guy to work with. Tim Felton did all the recording and mastering and had some really great ideas that really shaped the record into something better than I could even imagine. I am very new to the recording process and he was very patient and encouraging.
Chris Davies worked on “Siren” and “Hey There”. He created a totally different vibe that was somber and haunting and a challenge to sing over (and I always love a challenge). I love the sound that he brought
to the album.
I didn’t actually get to work with the other musicians like Jason Littlefield [double bass], Aaron Brownwood [Dobro], and Dustin Lothspeich [backing vocals and electric guitar] but I know they are talented and great people. There isn’t a note on this record that I have a problem with, and I have them to thank.
6. Your voice has such a naturally beautiful quality… do you have any formal vocal training?
My first singing lessons were when I was 13. I had been singing at church and in plays for a while before then but my lessons with Kathy Horeth really taught me a lot. She would get us little shows at Seaport Village and all her students would get to go up and perform. I never realized how much I learned from her until recently. Since then I have had a few classical vocal coaches over the years, but classical isn’t really my thing and the lessons are expensive. I have learned so much from the musicals that I was in and the performing arts tours that I went on when I was younger. I feel like I learned more from those things than I could have ever learned from just taking lessons. So much of singing is how you sing rather that what you are singing. It has taken me a long time to learn that.
7. What is it like being in your first band? How is it working with established musicians like Howard and Martin? Has the SD community been welcoming to you as the “new comer”?
I feel incredibly lucky to have this as my first band. These guys were making music back when I was in grade school. I am so stoked that I get to piggy-back on their experience and success. I absolutely love working with this community of people. They are talented and have been working together for so long that they know how to communicate with each other which makes it really easy for me convey certain ideas. They provide such a safe environment free of judgement, and egos. Its nice to have a sense of belonging with a group of awesome people.
8. I’ve heard some of the covers you are doing for a new EP… When will that be available to fans? Any apprehension to doing covers vs originals?
Yes we are doing a Cover EP! It will be available to fans at our CD release party on January 12 at Jet Gallery. John Meeks will be there too, its going to be a great night. I personally had no apprehension to doing covers. I have wanted to sing some of those songs for years.
9. Gotta ask about your makeup at shows. The dots under your eyes- what
is the origin of that?
The origin of the dots…. Well I’m sure you remember the movie Jungle To Jungle with Tim Allen? [Editor’s note: thank goodness for IMDB, I had no idea what she meant] There is this part where this girl is getting these red dots painted on her face in the same way as I do at the shows. I remember seeing that as a child and it has just always stuck with me. I did the dots for a Halloween for the first time and upon looking at the pictures later, I decided it would be a thing. It has become quite a ritual. It gets me in the proper mindset for a show.
10. What’s up next for The Midnight Pine? Any other projects you have coming up?
We are currently working on new songs and just trying to play as many shows as possible. We want to try and get a few cover EPs out to get our sound out there 🙂 Other than that just plugging away doing what
11. Last but not least, the Five S’s of Sounds in San Diego
Sound You Love: I love the sound of the ocean.
Sound You Hate: I hate the sound of construction early in the morning
Spot in San Diego You Have to See: There is this concrete tunnel that goes under 30th street in Sweitzer Canyon. My favorite place to sing ever. There is also a lot of graffiti.
San Diego Band You’re a Fan Of: Well, The Heavy Guilt of course! 😉
Song That Makes You Smile: “O’ Be Joyful” by Shovels and Rope. Both the
song, and the album