Interview by Danny Coleman
“Jenny, Katie and I had all come together, we all had solo things but Katie and I met Jenny at a musicians cooperative. We talked and hit it off and Jenny had a big show coming up as part of a large singer/songwriter event at the “Falcon Ridge Folk Festival” and Katie and I were asked to join her on backing vocals,” explained current Massachusetts resident and former Lambertville, NJ musician Stephanie Marshall as she discussed the formation and the name of the exquisite all female trio known as, “The Boxcar Lilies.” “This was a pivotal moment for us because we realized immediately that we had something here.”
Once they came to realize the potential of this newly formed triumvirate, the ladies got right down to work and the gigs seemed to come quickly thereafter. “So here we are with this new band and we have some shows coming up and no name,” laughed Marshall as she elaborated on the origin of group’s name. So we decided to meet at this cute little local bar and we decided that we were not leaving until we had a name. So we all had our list of suggestions and we had put a thing on Facebook asking for ideas and somehow during the discussion “Back-roads,” was thrown into the mix and I said yeah, we’re like the lilies that are found on those back-roads. I forget who but one of them or someone said that it sounded familiar and I said, oh never mind I was thinking of “Boxcar Willie” and we all kind of looked at each other; we combined the two and said that’s it! Although I will admit, we’ve never done a Boxcar Willie song (laughs).”
Together, Stephanie Marshall (guitar, vocals, washboard and percussion), Jenny Goodspeed (guitar, bass guitar, vocals) and now former member Katie Clarke (guitar, banjo, vocals) have produced three six song EPs. The first of which was “Heartwood,” the second being “Sugar Shack” and the third and most recent, “Knockout Rose.” The three records are well orchestrated pieces showcasing their talented individual and collective styles, best labeled (If one must do such a thing) as “Americana.” The Lilies, as they are sometimes affectionately known, are a combination of sounds and genres. Bluegrass, folk, country, blues and other attempts to define them have been bandied about but there is truly one thing that is undeniable; their vocal ability.
However, as is usually the case, just when things are going well ; turmoil seems to strike. Clarke decided to leave the unit just after “Knockout Rose” was completed, choosing to follow a different career path other than that of music. “After we made the record, we lost Katie,” said a reflective Marshall. “The career and the music created no down time for her and she chose to leave. We understood but now we were faced with a new CD and no third member.”
Enter the pride of Pluckemin, NJ and the newest Lilie; Susan Cattaneo. “I officially became a member in April of this year,” said an excited Cattaneo. “I was in the right place at the right time kind of thing. My producer, Lorne Entress is also their producer and he is just fabulous; as a matter of fact I’ve done all of my work with him. I met them at a festival and we hung out and had a really good time and then a short time later Lorne e-mailed me that he’d heard that the one girl was leaving. So the three of us started e-mailing and I remember thinking to myself that I really like them a lot and we just took it from there.”
Cattaneo, who attended Berklee College of Music and just,“Never left,” has a highly successful solo career of her own and is still at Berklee as a teacher of songwriting. Cattaneo has garnered many accolades herself over the course of her career including being selected as a finalist in multiple songwriting and music award competitions. “My solo career is going well and I’m still going forward with that. I am running a parallel life with that and the Lilies and I’m sure it’ll cross over at some point as I become more involved with the group.”
The most noticeable thing about these ladies, is the emphasis on and their ability to harmonize. Terms such as “Angelic,” “Heavenly” and “Twining” have all been used to describe their vocals and all aptly applied. Even with the loss of Clarke, the trio lost no steam as Cattaneo slid seamlessly in and brings an even more diverse sound to the group. “It is so cool for me to sing with them,” she gushed as she seemed to be searching for the exact words to describe the experience. “Even though our voices are all so different, I have the rock style, Jenny is ethereal, Steph is on the rock side too but also the softer side; together they blend so well. We try to achieve as close to perfection as possible with our harmonies and so far it has been wonderful how well we sing together; I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.”
In addition to their attractive looks and simply captivating vocals, these ladies bring a stage presence that is genuine, real, funny and so interactive that one gets the feeling they are performing solely for you, the individual, as opposed to a collective group.
A recent show at home in the state of NJ at the 1867 Sanctuary, a renovated centuries old church, really highlighted their abilities and likable personalities. Located just outside of Trenton in Ewing Township NJ, the acoustics served to enhance their overall sound but it’s their verbal interactions that put the icing on this cake. “Funny,” explains Marshall. “We support each other, especially on stage. Jenny is the funniest of us all; the more pressure out there the better she gets. It takes me a while to get going up there but then I relax and we play off of each other and with Susan; she’s great. She is the same on stage as she is back stage. She always has such good energy.”
Opening the first of two sets in Ewing with the title cut from their second disc, “Sugar Shack,” the ladies had the crowd in their collective palms from the opening note. Singing, strumming and smiling in sync like a well oiled machine; if this was a war, they’d win without firing a shot. With titles such as “Put The Top Down,” “Worth TheWhiskey” and “S-Curve Roads,” combined with mild self deprecating humor and the uncanny ability to communicate so well with their audience; one finds themselves wanting to invite them home for a family dinner. “What is great,” stated a laughing Cattaneo; “Is that the camaraderie that we have on stage came through in the first show that we ever did together. They honestly make me laugh and we have the same chemistry on stage and off. It is very natural for us and not at all forced. I feel like a newlywed at the moment with so much potential in front of us. I am very excited to see what we evolve into.”
According to Marshall, the trio will be returning to the New Jersey area near the end of April or May of 2017 and she states that they are just in the beginnings of the planning stages of the tour.
To discover more about The Boxcar Lilies, please go to www.boxcarlilies.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)