Alone, Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels are well-regarded as rising powerhouses of their respective musical worlds. With a decade of original music under her belt, Grinels has become a respected name on the indie touring circuit, whereas multi-instrumentalist and composer Clark has been seen as an accomplished leading lady in theater (Wicked, Evita) and television (Portlandia). Together, they’re Siren Songs, a brand new collaboration between the two long-time friends with an eponymous LP set to drop on 29 May. The album is a roots celebration that uplifts with their stunning harmonies and individualistic instrumental takes, featuring several new renditions of beloved folk and Americana tunes, as well as a few original numbers penned by Grinels.
“Goodnight Sun, Hello Moon” is one such original, featuring as Siren Songs’ introductory number. A gorgeous folk tune that sets its musical focus on the duo’s harmonies, the lilting opener recalls the likes of established acts as Indigo Girls and the Secret Sisters through their effortless chemistry. This same palpable connection can be felt throughout, offering a new dusting to covers of songs often seen as well-worn as “Time After Time” and “Angel From Montgomery” through heart alone. Musical ingenuity doesn’t hurt either, though. Each cover tune present on Siren Songs is an opportunity for the duo to rework it in captivating new ways. Kicking in with a banjo-led spark, for instance, their “Jolene” holds just the sort of fire that had Dolly Parton select it as her favorite rendition during the #JoleneChallenge.
In anticipation of their titular album’s release, Siren Songs spoke with PopMatters.
Photo: Chelsea Donoho
Tell us about how you decided to put together Siren Songs the duo. What made you decide to work together in this way?
Merideth: We’ve been best friends and singing together for our entire professional careers, but we haven’t lived in the same city for a while. Recently, Jenn moved to Portland and the stars aligned! We were asked to sing together at a private event and looked at each other and said, “Let’s make a band!”
Jenn: It’s all been so organic and easy—it just seems meant to be.
How did the album song selections come together? Did you each bring song suggestions to the table? How did you choose the original songs as well as the covers?
Merideth: We made a list of songs we love, especially songs we love singing together. Some were covers, and some were Jenn’s. The list was so long we have more albums up our sleeve!
Jenn: All the songs were folk-Americana or singer-songwriter. And they were all songs that sound great with two voices, and a guitar, maybe a banjo or viola. We immediately had a very clear vision in terms of what this project was, musically and aesthetically.
Merideth: Yes! It was really simple and raw music that two people could make together. And so, with that lens — music that the two of us could make — we chose the songs that we were going to record. We each brought suggestions to the table, and we really leaned toward songs that stood the test of live performance, that we knew well, and that worked.
All of the covers were re-arranged for this project. Did you work on the new arrangements together or separately before you went into the studio? Merideth, you play a number of stringed instruments—how did you choose what to play when?
Jenn: There are a few arrangements we did on our own and a few that we worked on together.
Merideth: I think each song kind of lends itself to either the twang of the banjo or drone of a dulcimer or the melancholy of the viola – and the song kind of tells us what it needs. I knew the quiver of stringed instruments in my closet would pay off someday!
Jenn: Which means that one day we’re gonna whip that harp out!
You have performed together a lot over the years. But how was it going into the studio together to record the album? Was it a quick process? Do you feel your longtime friendship helped you to work well together in the studio setting?
Merideth: It was a quick process; we recorded the album over a weekend. The whole album, including recording and mixing. We ended up only having four hours to do six songs on the first day, and we did it!
Jenn: We performed it live like we would on stage and then took our best performances.
Merideth: Because of our longtime friendship, we knew when something was good. We were just able to tell. And also if something wasn’t as good, we could easily just agree to do another take. Just being honest with each other without being worried about hurting each other’s feelings.
What do you think defines the Siren Songs sound? How do you feel about the finished album?
Merideth: Harmonies, acoustic, strings and grounded in folk/Americana history.
Jenn: The two voices, the harmony. I think we were able to capture the chemistry we have, singing together and being best friends! And I think the album is absolutely representative of who we are and what we do.