Shiny and the Spoon principals Amber Nash and Jordan Neff have put their wedding plans on hold. Not the wedding itself, which is still slated for next June, just the preparation part of the event.
“(The plans have) been put on the back burner a little bit until we get the album out,” Neff says in response to Nash’s exasperated sigh at a picnic table next to Putz’s Creamy Whip. “I suspect the band is probably going to take a step back after the album is out. We’ve got a lot of bones of new songs we’d love to work out and have the time to arrange. And we do have to plan a wedding.”
“There’s that,” Nash says, with another growl.
Nash and Neff have overcome a good many obstacles over the past five years to remain a couple in their personal lives and bandmates in their largely acoustic Americana/Folk/Pop duo. The pair met in Cincinnati at 2008’s MidPoint Music Festival, which led to their eventual personal and professional partnership as they began a relationship, became co-members of Magnolia Mountain and formed Shiny and the Spoon, then as a duo.
The latest benchmark in the Shiny and the Spoon saga is the release of the band’s aforementioned sophomore album, Box of Bullets, the follow-up to their brilliant 2010 EP and their acclaimed full-length, 2011’s Ferris Wheel, which was nominated for Album of the Year at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Box of Bullets marks a significant shift for Nash and Neff, as they welcome the talents of upright bassist Pete Brown and drummer Matt Frazer to the fold. Both were involved around the time of Ferris Wheel’s recording but more on a peripheral basis, officially joining as band members after its release. With Box of Bullets, Shiny and the Spoon has become a full-fledged band.
“On Ferris Wheel, Jordan asked me to put some percussion stuff on songs that were already complete, so I did,” says Frazer, who was Magnolia Mountain’s drummer when Nash and Neff were also members. “This is more drum-kit kind of music and written all together, as a band.”
In addition to being a more collaborative effort, there is a definite Indie Rock/Pop buzz on Box of Bullets that nods in the direction of Neko Case and Clem Snide. Shiny and the Spoon certainly haven’t abandoned the quiet Americana elegance that has defined them from the beginning, but the volume has been nudged upward.
“Ferris Wheel hinged a lot more on that acoustic guitar and ukulele,” Neff says.
“Generally speaking, Box of Bullets has more bite and edge to it,” Nash concurs. “It’s a little louder, a little harder, just a little bit, every once in awhile. And I would say this one is generally more collaborative. It’s pretty rare that we have a song that is 100 percent that I wrote or 100 percent Jordan. Although we were talking about this the other day and I’m pretty sure I’ve written all the good things. I just wanted to make sure everybody knows that.”
“There’s a line-by-line competition as to who’s written the best,” Frazer says with a smile.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Box of Bullets and everything that has come before is the emphasis that Nash and Neff have devoted to Shiny and the Spoon over the past two years. They still have full-time jobs that divide their attention, but channeling their energies into just one band has transformed Shiny and the Spoon into a formidable musical entity.
“When we were writing Ferris Wheel, Shiny and the Spoon was one of the many things we were doing,” Neff says. “And you don’t write as many relationship songs until you actually have time for a relationship.”
“I remember on ‘Killin’ the Flower,’ I was like, ‘I want to write a Country song,’ and on ‘Thirteen Crates,’ we were like, ‘I want to write a loud song,’ ” Nash recalls. “They don’t really have a lot of personal meaning. Box of Bullets has a lot more personal meaning. There’s something personal in every song. Being able to focus on the band and on each other has helped a ton.”
“When Jordan and I jumped into our relationship, we were both in Magnolia Mountain, and I was working and he was in school and working and it was crazy,” she continues. “Then we chucked Magnolia Mountain and all of a sudden we could take our first vacation in two and a half years. With that came all of the stuff that we should have probably worked out in those two and a half years. Emotions have been more concentrated and I think that’s where we’ve gotten a lot of the meat on Box of Bullets.”
The added volume on Box of Bullets has had an impact on the presentation of the Ferris Wheel songs, as well (“ ‘Bread and Butter’ is one of our loudest songs,” Neff says), and with the expansion of Shiny and the Spoon to an actual collaborative band format, coupled with Nash and Neff’s newly acquired abilities to concentrate on the band and efficiently and democratically delegate band responsibilities, the group’s path seems clear to the horizon.
But even the smoothest highway has been paved over fairly bumpy terrain. As Nash and Neff detail the period that led Shiny and the Spoon to become their primary concern, the hard work they’ve done and the toll it’s taken become evident.
“For our sanity, it had to be one or the other. We knew that it had to be that way, but we put it off,” Nash says. “Working full time and two bands and living with the person you’re in the two bands with, that’s hard. Something had to go.”
“Give the positive reasons,” Neff says, smiling. “We had to focus on Shiny and the Spoon and all the cool stuff. We’re terrible on each other about making time for ourselves. We always overbook ourselves.”
“Sorry, this is real life,” Nash says with a laugh. “There’s lots of good stuff, but it can’t all be sunshine and fucking rainbows.”
Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like the germ of a meaty song for the third album.