FROM THE JP HILL COUNTRY The haunting harmonies of Gracious Calamity (Kit Wallach and Kate Lee) recall the Carter Family without the Appalachian gothic.
The Whitehaus has a way of feeling warm, even when the rest of Jamaica Plain is cold enough to see your breath. Maybe the artsy detritus on the walls of the artist collective/performance space acts as insulation, or maybe it's the dreamy folk sounds of Gracious Calamity's songs drifting down the stairs. I follow the music to Kate Lee's room to catch Lee and Kit Wallach working on the album they recorded this past summer — listening through freshly mixed tracks, thinking about sequencing, seeing how everything fits together.
Lee and Wallach met as members of the Popsicles — a five-piece girl group born out of the regularly occurring Whitehaus Hootenannies. "It was fun, it was summertime, we [the Popsicles] were taking walks and playing songs," remembers Wallach. "We could play in an ice-cream parlor or play on the street. . . . We were very portable."
The two formed Gracious Calamity as a country side project after Wallach wrote "Apple Tree" — a melancholy song that didn't quite fit with the soul vibe of the Popsicles. When the Popsicles parted ways after their doo-wop summer, Lee switched from drums to guitar, Wallach took up the ukulele, and the duo continued recording together.
The old-time magic of Carefree Since '83, released last March, transports you to the floor of the small room by the sea in Weymouth where it was recorded. Part of its intimacy was the result of recording to two-inch tape — an approach that preserved natural reverb and organic imperfections without sounding jarringly lo-fi. Birds chirp, wind chimes clink, and Gracious Calamity's haunting harmonies recall the Carter Family without the Appalachian gothic.
"Sometimes I wish we just made really harsh noise music," jokes Lee. Instead, they strive to stay honest with themselves and support other female musicians — they recently played a Ladyfest showcase, and Lee volunteers at the Girls Who Rock after-school program in Somerville public schools to empower girls to get their voices heard. "It can be hard to learn that it's okay to demand attention, to present something that isn't perfect," says Wallach. "To be a little cavalier with yourself and your art and let it happen organically." In addition, Lee acts as the webmaster of the Boston Hassle and the Boston Counter Cultural Compass.
On the new album, due out this winter, Lee and Wallach stayed true to their folk roots, even laying down a version of "Apple Tree," but also recorded all tracks digitally and added a more rock-and-roll sound. "Shoes With Laces," which debuted in November on the Whitehaus compilation Are You in Paradise?, is as fluttery as its accompanying stop-motion video — full of twitchy leaves and tinkling xylophones. Lyrics like "I'd run all your races/you'd make all my wishes/we'd be friends for ages" hit on a theme of both the album's creation and the DIY scene in general — doing-it-yourself can be tricky, not to mention lonely. It takes a village.