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Arts & Culture

Self-described 'Awkward Kid' Laven Grows Into 'Stronger Artist'

As she writes on her website, Rachel Laven is an “old soul with big dreams and wanderlust.” At age 23, she’s already had plenty of time to age the soul onstage, playing with her family band, The Lavens, as well as solo gigs and guest spots with YesBodyElse. But there’s no hint of weariness as she talks about her nouveau-bluegrass (“newgrass”) project, Sweet ‘Shine & Honey, formed in 2013.

She mentions the chemistry she and her fellow band mates, Steven Sellers, Sam Snavely, and Addison Freeman, share -- something they developed while students at the Northeast School of the Arts some ten years ago.

“I was in a school where we were all the awkward kids,” Laven jokes. “It was like all the awkward kids from all the schools came together in this one school, so we could be cool together!” 

Although the members of the group live in different cities now, Laven says it only takes a few hours of woodshedding to get back in sync. Sellers agrees. “It’s unlike any musical ensemble that we’ve been a part of,” and on a personal note, he adds, “We’ve all been through our own family and personal strife, and it’s great to have this support group.”

Of all the band members, one can be forgiven for thinking Laven would have the best case for needing therapy. She’s grown up onstage as a member of her family’s band, The Lavens, with her mom, dad, and brother. But it’s all good! She gets along well with the other members, and has no plans to retire from the group, saying "If you quit the band, you quit the family." The Lavens have a longstanding Friday night residency at The Cove, and Laven says, “There will always be an element to my musical career that has to do with the Lavens, and the family. It’s a great base to kind of leap off from.” 

Laven began writing songs at an early age, and her writing has matured.

“I think there’s certainly people that still see me as a 12-year-old, and when I’m singing songs about relationships and sex, they’re like ‘what?’ But…through the songwriting, [audiences] are able to see me as a bigger, better and stronger artist,” Laven says.

After releasing a solo album produced by Joe Reyes (Buttercup) in 2012, Laven has another release coming out this summer, “Love & Luccheses.” It’s a personal record of all love songs… “mostly true stories,” she says with a smile. The release of the album will be followed by shows in San Antonio, Kerrville, New Braunfels and Dallas, and then a U.K. tour in July.

SweetShine2016_C.jpg
Credit Nathan Cone / TPR
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TPR
Sam Snavely, double bass.

“There’s no jealousy there,” says fiddle player Addison Freeman about the group members’ solo endeavors. Freeman lives in Houston and plays with a group called The Lunar Low. Steven Sellers lives in Denton, plans to study jazz at the University of North Texas, and also plays with The Wit and the Whimsy. “Every four months there’s kind of like a rekindling,” Freeman says.

The next time that will happen will be in August, when Sweet ‘Shine & Honey heads to scenic Cloudcroft, New Mexico, to cut some sides for a full-length album. It’ll be an inspirational setting for the rootsy sound of the group.

In the TPR studios, you can see the love of music-making on the band members’ faces as they perform, and in between the songs, their camaraderie comes out through jokes and an easygoing manner. “We’re friends first,” Freeman says. “That’s really rare.”

See more videos of Sweet 'Shine & Honey in the TPR studios at this link.

Catch Rachel Laven at the Kerrville Folk Festival on Saturday, May 28 and on Thursday, June 2 at Urban Bricks Pizza in San Antonio.

Full interview with the band:

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Okay, so at one point during her in-studio session, Laven made reference to a song she wrote called "Girls Poop Too." She was reluctant to play it at first, not thinking it appropriate for the public radio audience because of a curse word in the tune. I assured her we could take it! Have a listen; I think it'll make you smile.