Rocket Queen: Wise Beyond Their Ears

The assured songwriting of Kaylee Cole, Shenandoah Davis, and Barton Carroll belies their relative youth.

While it's not unusual to hear young musicians complaining about how difficult it can be to get their foot in the door of the local music scene, it's more common to see Seattle's small-town-within-a-big-city environment helping like-minded artists find each other.For 23-year-old Kaylee Cole and 24-year-old Shenandoah Davis, it was Seattle Weekly's all-local music festival, REVERB, that brought the two singer/songwriters together last October."It was a magical night in many ways," recalls Cole, pausing to push her blonde hair over her shoulders and sip a Bloody Caesar while brunching at Hattie's Hat in Ballard. "Our sets were at different places, but at the same time. Somehow, we met later on in the evening and exchanged hugs and records."Davis, who adds accordion, piano, and a silky soprano to the orchestral pop outfit Grand Hallway, was playing solo that night, as was Cole, a Spokane native who began making waves in Seattle in 2008 with We're Still Here Missing You, her debut album of disarmingly insightful piano ballads. Both women share a confessional approach to lyrics and a graceful, buoyant piano-playing style that miraculously avoid any hint of the "Dear Diary"–esque moments one might expect from such young voices. They also share a love of doughnuts and a rather fearless grasp on the roller coaster of life."We definitely have the same sense of humor," affirms Cole, who hit it off so well with Davis that shortly after REVERB they took a trip to Orcas Island and hatched a plan to embark upon what Cole calls their "Thelma and Louise–style" 11-date tour down the West Coast, which kicks off this Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Sunset. "We'll tour around in my Subaru with some instruments, some snacks, and some dry shampoo," says Cole, sounding both pragmatic and impulsive. "We'll be playing individual sets at all our shows, but may throw in some tasty collaborative covers here and there." Their itinerary will take them from the Sunset to venues throughout Oregon, California, Utah, and Idaho.Cole endured a painful divorce last fall and lives a nomadic existence, splitting her time between Spokane, the Skagit Valley, Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles. ("I'm currently living in a friend's garage next to a kegerator and a hot-water heater," she quips.) But she plans to settle here eventually. "I've been kind of wandering about since September," she admits. "But I keep coming back to Seattle."Provided she and Davis don't drive the Subaru off a cliff in a fit of feminist fantasy, she'll take a brief detour to Los Angles upon her return, to continue working the sophomore album she began writing last year with TV on the Radio's David Sitek.That fairy-tale partnership was also the result of Cole's brazen confidence. "They are my favorite band," she gushes. "I just found an e-mail address for him one night and decided to write him," she explains. Sitek's reps quickly wrote Cole back, informing her of his mutual interest.Their association has led to some surreal moments, such as the night actress Scarlett Johansson came to Sitek's to cook them both dinner. But Cole is most keen on the embrace of Seattle's music community."Seattle's been amazing to me, and I like it here more and more every day. When we get back, I want to move here for reals."Such colloquial statements would never trip easily off the tongue of local-by-way-of-North Carolina singer/songwriter Barton Carroll, preparing for the release of his fourth record, Together You and I (out on Skybucket Records Jan. 19). Thirteen years older than Cole, Carroll's graciously formal Southern manners are always on display, as are his gallows humor and fondness for character-driven songwriting.His new album rotates around the theme of duets, both in form—as when the ethereal-voiced Anna-Lisa Notter accompanies him—and in topical spirit, most poignantly on "Shadowman," a heartbreaking yarn about a brother mourning the death of his sibling. Lest this sounds like a concept album, its author insists such cohesiveness was unintentional."It wasn't until the two duets [with Notter] were prepared that I realized the entirety of the record could be thought of that way," says Carroll. "If you're doing your job as a writer, I think it's best not to be paying attention to themes until they emerge themselves."Carroll will showcase his creative bivalves at a record-release party this Saturday, Jan. 23 at the Sunset, with Built to Spill guitarist and longtime friend Jim Roth joining him onstage.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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