Interview A
Eva Holbrook
by Daryle Dickens

I must admit that I have never given the mandolin much thought. For some reason it brings images of renaissance fairs and court jesters to my mind. This my friend is what is called ignorance. For you see the mandolin has had an impressive career as a musical instrument since its creation in the seventeenth century. The mandolin is a well respected instrument that has been picked up by some modern day heavy weights. Don Felder of the Eagles, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Peter Buck of REM, and David Bowie just to name a few. Even Green Day's Billie-Joe Armstrong played it on their album Warning. And just like them Eva Holbrook from the band SHEL picked up a mandolin offered to her by her father in a Fort Collins music store. She has since spent many years of her young life developing her skill. And now that she is releasing her first solo CD I thought it would be a good time to sit down and talk with her.

ZAF622: Are excited that your releasing your own CD?

I am very excited.  I get to edit it and mix it and my dad comes in and helps me. It's a whole different world than just playing it. On one hand I can do a lot more when I'm recording because I can record several tracks over and over and do more than ever could with just the live performance. And on the other hand it's hard to get the heart and soul of my music and I have to work so hard at getting it recorded perfectly, but it is very exciting and I feel good about it.  And I am excited to have it come out.

ZAF: What is the name of the CD?

The Very Last Dream.

ZAF: How many tracks are on it?

Ten. It's not a real big CD.

ZAF: Tell the story of how you ended up playing mandolin.

Well, you know Mountain Music? When I was about 10. My folks and my sisters and I were walking around Old Town. We stopped in there because we know Jeff Hoffman the guy who owns the place and there was a little black Kentucky mandolin on the wall. So my dad asked if he bought it would anyone play it?  I said, I'll play it. He then asked my little sister Liza will you play it? And she said no. I will play it I said again. So he said okay, we'll get it.  We got a great deal on the little thing. When I first got it I didn't like it and it hurt my fingers to play, the strings are really sharp and I didn't have any calluses.  I wanted to quit right away, what stopped me from quitting was my teacher Ellen Audley who is local here. She gave me a song to learn I think it was Found Harmonium, something like that. And once I was actually able to play something I was so excited because I had never played anything before and I couldn't believe I could do that. After that, I just loved learning music. I learned a couple fiddle tunes, went and competed in some fiddle contests and did very poorly. I think out of 10 mandolinist I was the last one. But the next year I got Leading Off a Chris Thile book for my 11th birthday. I was so inspired listening to this kid who was about my age who could play so well. So I learned one of his pieces off of that and went to the competition again and placed third. The next year on my 12th birthday, my dad got me Stealing Second a second Chris Thile book and I learned a piece off of that and went to a local fair and placed first.

ZAF: Do you prefer playing with your band SHEL or solo?

I still prefer playing with the band more, because I love the unity and the power that all of us have when we play together. And that is really lacking when I play by myself. I just love playing with my sisters because they are so different than me. They are all just so talented and have different ideas about music. So when we all come together and make it work, it is amazing. Which is probably why I prefer playing with the band. And my dad, who is also in the band, has such a heart for people and is a great songwriter. And a great leader, we probably would all fight it wasn't for him.

ZAF: I noticed the songs you have on MySpace have been played a lot. Has MySpace been good for you?

It has been amazing. I get a lot of exposure. It is really easy to market myself as a solo performer on MySpace. People relate to me as a solo artist, way more than the band. MySpace has been great because I've met people all over the world. I met an electric guitarist from France, who is laying down a couple speed metal tracks on my CD. His name is David Soltany, it was very cool to meet him because I'm into the electric and I don't really have a teacher for that. And he offered to record on my CD in exchange for me recording on his. MySpace is also how I found Katie Herzig. I think that is part of the coolest thing off of MySpace is meeting other musicians from around the world.

ZAF: How much time you spend practicing?

I practice every day, I can't go a day without practicing. I try to put in a minimum of an hour and a half playing solo everyday, but I also have band practice and mixing and editing too. Which takes time. On a really good day when I'm home alone I'll get in five hours of practice.

ZAF: Do you have a favorite mandolin player?

I'd have to say Chris Thile

ZAF: Do you play a traditional eight string?

Yes I do.

ZAF: How does your song writing process work?

It's really different every time. It's the most amazing thing. Usually I'm all upset about something and I go in my room and lock the door and try and write about it. Nothing. And usually it's because if I'm angry or upset about something I haven't taken the time to think about why I'm upset. I try and write a song about it and I get nowhere because I don't know why I'm upset. Usually the songwriting process for me is I pick up my mandolin and come up with a riff or a melody and I love it. I'll let my mind be open and just start to spit out lyrics that are catchy. And I feel God has a big hand in it because I'll write songs that I won't know what they're about. And I'll play them for people who will be like oh it's about this and they'll tell me what the song is about. And I love that openness. To allow God to say something through me. Then you have to go out and ask people for feedback, and that hurts. If you get good really honest feedback it hurts, because you hear something that you're passionate about doesn't work, and it hurts. But in the end, the feedback is the most important part.

ZAF: Do you use your family for that feedback?

Definitely. Because number one they love me and number two, they are honest, all of my family is in the music business so they know what it takes and what works,  I feel I get really honest good feedback.

ZAF: Anything else you like to mention?

I'd like to mention that Annie Brooks is recording on the CD. She is one of my really good buddies who is also a singer-songwriter. We wrote a song together that we both just love and it's called Niccolo.  And it will be on both of our albums. I would also like to mention that my acoustic mandolin, a Bear Tooth, is made by Weber. And my electric was made by Kevin Schwab.


You can hear some of Evas music on her MySpace page here.

All photos of Eva courtesy of Sarah Boyd/photo de novo.

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