The Boxcar Lilies hit a lot of people’s sweet spot. It’s those harmonies. Those sweet, sweet intermingling voices warm the hearts of many of their fans and are simply irresistible. As you’ll read below, The Boxcar Lilies have gone through changes in the past and will continue to through some in the future but let’s rejoice in what we’ve been treated to and can expect when they play the me&thee coffeehouse on Friday, February 2.
For additional information about The Boxcar Lilies, visit their website.
Here’s a video that highlights the aforementioned harmonies.
Tell us about the origins of The Boxcar Lilies: how the band began and changed over the years.
The original Lily line-up was me (Jenny Goodspeed), Stephanie Marshall, and Katie Clarke. We had all been writing and playing music on our own when we met through the Franklin County Musician’s Cooperative and discovered that we shared a serious obsession with three-part harmony.
We started getting together weekly to learn each other’s songs and arrange songs by some of our favorite artists. Our blend from the get-go was kind of magical and in 2009 we started booking our first gigs. We didn’t really set out to perform outside of Massachusetts, but ended up touring up and down the east coast and as far west as Ohio with Katie.
In 2016, Katie, our alto-Lily retired from the group. We put out notice that we were looking for a replacement and Susan Cattaneo expressed interest. Stephanie and I had met Susan before because we shared a producer (Lorne Entress) so we already knew we loved her voice and songwriting. The three of us got together to sing through some songs and it was immediately apparent that this new blend was also kind of magical in a different way and Susan became our new alto-Lily.
Your harmony arrangements are delightful. Harmony singing is harder than it appears to be, I’m sure. Do your harmonies come naturally or do you have to work on the perfect blend?
Thank you! Every now and then, the harmonies fall into place for a song easily, but the rest of the time we put a lot of hours into developing a song – searching for that arrangement that gives us the most goosebumps. Sometimes I’ll arrange songs ahead of time and we’ll use that as a starting point. Sometimes we switch up the parts to see if we can get a more sublime blend. We’re really relentless when it comes to hunting down the best sound.
Was Stephanie a washboard player before joining The Boxcar Lilies? It’s not an instrument that is seen in great frequency, but it adds a cool sound to the type of music that you play.
She was not! Soon after we met, I recognized that Steph had a very solid sense of tempo – which is kind of rare. Katie had played a lot in the bluegrass and old-time music world and she suggested adding the washboard. So Katie and I went on e-bay, bid on, and won a “lingerie-sized” or small washboard and surprised Stephanie with it. She took to it immediately, thank goodness.
(And to this day, Steph says she is still grateful!)
Are any of your songs co-writes or do they come from each musician who then takes them to the group to work out?
We have just a few co-writes, but hope to have more. Stephanie and I wrote the song “Good Fortune” (from our record Sugar Shack) and this past year Susan, Stephanie and I wrote a song called “Endless Heart.” We haven’t recorded it, but we do perform it live.
How do you choose which cover songs to perform?
Usually someone brings a song to the group and we play around with it. We know pretty quickly if we’re going to be able to bring something special to it. We don’t want to cover a song unless we can do something different than the original.
Someday we hope to put the finishing touches on that Judas Priest song….just kidding!
Susan Cattaneo is moving on to work on her solo career, do you have any plans to reform the group with another Lily?
For now, we’re not actively searching for a replacement, but instead are taking a little break from the road to write and create more. In the spring, we’ll do some co-bills with the wonderful Jim Henry that we are excited for. He’s a fantastic singer and songwriter in addition to being a brilliant side musician. We’ll swap songs and sing harmonies and laugh a lot, I imagine.
Even though Jim is not officially a Lily (although we joke and call him the “honorary Lily”) he fits right in with his harmonious vocal skill and great blend.