Shivering me timbers

Shivering me timbers

The band Shivering Timbers is truly a family affair

By Benjamin Dale

Jayson Benn, Sarah Benn and Brad Thorla of Shivering Timbers.

Mist clouded the lush hills of Cincinnati’s Price Hill district as I walked toward the blue station wagon that serves as Shivering Timbers’ tour bus.
“Sorry we’re late – we got lost in over there in Gummo land,” Sarah said as she slammed the door of the car. Her voice has a lilting quality to it, common to many singers.

She saw me staring at her shoes, which looked about three sizes too big.

“I was wearing sandals when we left Akron, but then it started raining so Jayson gave me his shoes.”

Lead singer Sarah Benn and guitarist Jayson Benn are married. They are both tall and look vaguely Nordic. Bearded drummer Brad Thorla – no relation – describes himself as “the weird Uncle Jesse.”

Jayson and Sarah met at a show in Akron – Brad was bartending and Sarah was talking to one of Jayson’s friends. “But he was … strange,” said Sarah, “so Jayson butted in.”

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m drunk,’” Jayson said.

“And now we’re married,” said Sarah. They have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences.

“Being married in a band is tough sometimes,” said Jayson, “because even if we have disagreements, at the end of the day we’re still married.”

“I like being in a band with my husband.” Sarah said. “I wouldn’t want to do this if it was just a band of friends. It means something this way. It’s one of our marriage projects.”

“Instead of her telling me to cut the grass, like a normal wife, she tells me to practice my guitar,” said Jayson. “It’s awesome.”

“Buy the amp, forget the mortgage,” added Brad.

The couple has a 3-year-old daughter named Suzi. When she gets older they hope to bring her along for shows. In the meantime, she stays with Jayson’s mother in Akron when the band travels out of town. They keep a family photo album on their merchandise table for fans to peruse. Suzi is becoming a musician herself. Not surprising, considering her gene pool.

‘The other day Suzi was just hammering away on her little piano and it sounded so cool,” said Sarah.

“We want to steal her songs, but she might sue us for it when she gets older,” said Jayson.

“We do abscond with her toy instruments though,” said Brad. “We use her bells and her piano at our shows and on our record.”

When Brad plays Suzi’s toy piano onstage it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “baby grand.”

The band recorded their first album after Sarah gave birth to Suzi. We All Started In The Same Place sounds like a Dr. Suess-ish, prayer-like meditation on the childhood of Edgar Allan Poe. The band is still working on material for a new album.

“We have enough songs for another album,” said Jayson, “but we want to let the new songs germinate first and wait for Dan (Auerbach).” Auerbach, singer and guitarist for the Black Keys, produced Shivering Timbers’ first album in 2010.

“Our new stuff is a lot darker, it has more gravitas,” said Sarah. “I like to sing murder ballads and songs about people’s day of reckoning – in the gospel tradition, not in the ‘sell your soul to the devil’ type of way. I like to take gospel songs and give them darkness, so that it shakes you, the way it’s meant to be. I’m kind of a lyrical scavenger.”

Shivering Timbers used to play all sorts of instruments when the band consisted of only Jayson and Sarah, to the point where it took a full hour to set up for a half-hour show. With the addition of Brad on drums, they started stripping down their sound for their sophomore album, which is sure to be more abrasive and adult.

When I heard them play, the sound blew me away. Shivering Timbers are what would happen if you locked Grace Slick in a room with Cranberries records and Led Zeppelin IV and forced her eyes open to read William Faulkner’s entire bibliography.

Sarah’s haunting siren-song chills to the bone. It’s obvious where the name Shivering Timbers comes from; her voice will give you goosebumps. She sings without effort, from a wise, dark place inside her soul. Jayson had confided in me earlier that her voice was one of the reasons he fell in love with her.
After two songs she acknowledged the audience.“By the way … hi.”

The crowd laughed and the band tore into the rest of their set, flirting with the blues and verging on the psychedelic. Their songs build and build until they reach an epic crescendo, and rock ‘n’ roll is born. Jayson shreds with a shape-shifting dissonance that channels the best of Jimmy Page. Brad’s drumming is sparse, yet elegant in its precision. This is the kind of music you listen to when you rock your darlin’ to sleep on a sweaty porch in New Orleans. Spooky.

Banshee-folk. Their album could provide the soundtrack for an entire episode of True Blood.

After the show I sat with the band at the bar and they invited me to a party. But I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I knew I would see them again.

As I walked out of the bar, I looked back. It was like seeing old friends again.

Shivering Timbers will play Friday, May 27 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. in Dayton. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5. Visit shiveringtimbersmusic.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@daytoncitypaper.com.

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