Meet The Shelly Coats

by Christopher J. Kelter
Contributing Writer

The Shelly Coats, a quartet from Baltimore, has been together in its current incarnation since April 1999. The band takes its name from the ancient Sea God Shellicott who literally wore a coat of sea shells; Shellicott surfaces each year to bring virility to the Earth. The Shelly Coats is an appropriate name as the band is wonderful part of the fertile Baltimore music scene.

The Shelly Coats are subtle in their approach; the band's music will not immediately grab your attention, however, you will be slowly attracted to their sound in a leisurely manner. The band's music is borne of a timeless era; it is not easy to pigeon-hole the band's style - you'd be hard pressed to say The Shelly Coats "sound" like any other musical outfit in recent memory. Clearly The Shelly Coat's musical roots are in the recent explosion in female fronted musical acts, but there are many elements from the '90s guarded optimism, the '80s carefree sensibility, the '70s song-writing focus, and a healthy reverence for the future. The songs are subtle tunes that slip into your conscious that blur the distinction between what's real, what's fantasy, and what's the truth.

The Shelly Coats are fronted by Ashes who happily assumes the role of main songwriter in addition to her duties as rhythm guitarist and vocalist. Ashes' songs are reflective vignettes of her experiences. "The songs are turning points in my life when I figure things out; it usually comes down to the inspired moments of my life". Ashes also has an interesting perspective on her own lyrics; "a lot of the time I am being sarcastic with myself and people may not always know that". Her lyrics walk the fine line between entertainment and catharsis. A key factor in Ashes' development as an artist was her loss of sight two years ago; Ashes continues to draw upon this defining moment in her life as part of her creative process.

Ashes is supported by a trio of musicians who share her musical vision. Ashes freely credits the band for being an important part of the creative process and making the songs whole. Although the band has not experienced Ashes' lyrical topics first hand, they have been moved to empathy and truly feel what she has experienced. The band's collective input and expansive harmonic range give flesh and blood to Ashes' words and emotions.

Lead guitarist Greg Humphreys has a fluid style that allows him to play a broad range of melodies and lead lines that soar without cluttering the basic motif of the songs. Greg, who formerly played sideman to other's musical ideas, is happy to have a creative outlet with The Shelly Coats. "In my last band I never got to play a solo or have any creative input; it's nice that I can create things within this band - I like the challenge." The other members appreciate Humphreys' knack of creating perfect melodies on the first try.

Tony Kirschner's warm and deep bass sound is a solid foundation that complements the higher registers of Ashes and Greg. Having recently switched from guitar to bass, Tony says now "that I am heart and soul a bass player". Tony is not content to play simple bass parts; he often uses a wah-wah to color his sound and this provides strength to the band's overall musical inclinations. Tony's sense of humor keeps the band on their toes; his repartee on the stage with Humphreys is a particularly engaging aspect of the band's live set.

Drummer Eric Evitts uses an arsenal of subtle techniques to make the most of his minimalist kit. The reduction in the size of his kit was encouraged by his bandmates: "it was more like peer pressure" Eric says with a laugh. This type of practical action typifies each member's willingness to do what's best for the band. Evitts has come to appreciate the 'less is more approach'.

The Shelly Coats already have a six song self-titled demo under their belts; the demo is indicative of Ashes' embryonic writing style. The band's initial recording experience proved to be interesting, yet the band avoided an escalation of creative tension that could have been divisive.

Since the demo was completed The Shelly Coats have been working on their first full-length CD. The band hopes to take their first recording experience and expand their skills in the studio. Collectively, the band is level headed about their expectations for the full-length CD. The band has plenty of ideas to choose from - well over 20 songs have been developed in relatively short order since the original demo was committed to tape.

The Shelly Coats are gaining confidence by continuing to craft their songs and playing live in front of a variety of audiences. After going through some typical first show jitters the band's older material is now blossoming in the live setting while the new material is highlighting their collective development as a unit. The new songs exhibit an expanded repertoire of stylistic nuances indicative of their progress and potential. The band is much tighter and the drive for a higher performance level is evident. A recent show at Baltimore's Café Tattoo displayed the band's growing maturity and increasing awareness of presenting an entertaining set. The solid performances made for engaging set that revealed a band smart enough to create sonic space for each other and completely avoid the dreaded "overplaying" that can kill a band's musical presentation.

The Shelly Coats make no apologies for their collective hopes and desires to support themselves playing the music they love, to travel the world, and to be appreciated for what they've created. As The Shelly Coats they explore their collective muse in their musical journey they know it will be a fun and interesting ride. If recent experiences are any indication The Shelly Coats' evolution of growth and maturity will hallmark a band that will carve a unique niche in the crowded musical field. Success is never guaranteed, but trying to get there is more than half the fun.

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