Stellarondo
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Stellarondo

Missoula, Montana, United States | INDIE

Missoula, Montana, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Americana

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Apr
14
Stellarondo @ Rick Bass Stellarondo @ Get Lit! Festival

Spokane, Washington, USA

Spokane, Washington, USA

Dec
10
Stellarondo @ Rick Bass Stellarondo @ Whitefish Review Release Party

Whitefish, Montana, USA

Whitefish, Montana, USA

Nov
10
Stellarondo @ Top Hat with Martha Scanlan Jon Neufeld

Missoula, Montana, USA

Missoula, Montana, USA

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Music

Press


There has always been an element of storytelling in the music of local chamber-folk band Stellarondo (the band is, after all, named after a character in Eudora Welty’s short story, “Why I Live at the P.O.”). And there has always been a lilt of melody in the short stories of Yaak Valley-turned-Missoula author Rick Bass.

Next Wednesday, that middle ground will be mapped out when Bass and Stellarondo join together for two performances of songs and “scored stories.”

But please. If you come, don’t wear a beret.

“What appealed to me about this idea, as much as anything, was that it wasn’t anything like the sort of standard coffeehouse improv thing, where a poet reads a couple of stanzas and then the musicians produce some tone that apes or mimics what the reader had just uttered,” said Bass, choosing his words carefully in an evident effort to avoid saying what he really feels about such endeavors. “I think a more affirmative way to look at this is that we approached it like you would think about scoring music for cinema.

“I don’t think you need to snap your fingers if you like what you hear,” he added wryly.

Next week’s collaboration has roots that go back years, to a time when the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Caroline Keys, traveled with another of her bands, the Broken Valley Road Show, to perform at the Yaak Wilderness Festival. After meeting Bass and his family, the band returned to the Yaak several times on what Keys describes as “something that felt more like pilgrimages than tours.”

“Since then,” she said, “there’s just been this relationship that grew organically.”

About this time last year, Stellarondo traveled to Portland, to record the band’s first album. Along the way, Keys and guitarist Gibson Hartwell mused about the possibility of a music-and-story collaboration of some sort.

“It was a fantasy I’d had for quite some time,” Keys said. “But at the time, we didn’t really do anything to make that happen.”

A couple of months later, Keys asked Bass if he might write some text for the band’s Web site. Bass began showing up to rehearsals.

“It was in the midst of this brutal dark winter we had, where it was like everybody was wounded,” recalled Bass. “I would curl up on their couch and just listen; and week by week I would sit up a little straighter. It was like being resurrected by their music. I would avoid calling it ‘therapy,’ but it had something lovely and vital and joyful and creative to it.”

Eventually, the idea for next week’s performances was hatched. For the show, the band will perform original music while Bass reads two stories: “Eating” (from his 2003 collection, “The Hermit’s Story”) and “The Canoeists” (from 2006’s “The Lives of Rocks”).

But don’t bother reading along from your copy.

“We’ve carved out a lot of the words from the stories,” said Bass. “It’s amazing when you’re in this process how much starts to feel extraneous; the music can carry a lot of paragraphs that don’t need to be there. It’s been fascinating for me to realize that.”

Keys said she hopes that next week’s concerts mark the beginning of a larger collaboration.

“We’d like to explore some grants to maybe do bigger productions or perhaps something for radio or making an album,” she said. “For now, this is a great place to start.”

Wednesday’s performances take place at the Union Hall Theatre (upstairs from the Union Club) at 5:30 and 8 p.m., with family-friendly seating for the first show. Tickets are $6 for the early show, $10 for the later, available in advance at EarCandy Music and Rockin Rudy’s.
- The Missoulian


Stellarondo is the sound of the new Western frontier. Nevermind that the Missoula-based band at times echoes the delicate Midwestern soundscapes of Sufjan Stevens and Poi Dog Pondering, or the doleful West Coast chamber-folk of Fleet Foxes and David Bazan. The brainchild of local singer/guitarist/banjoist Caroline Keys, Stellarondo encapsulates not just the varied musical personalities of its members (who hail from past and present local acts including Broken Valley Road Show, Tom Catmull & the Clerics, Tarkio, the Fidgets, Wartime Blues, and others), but the textures of Montana's regional music scene as a whole.

It's all there, plain to the ear, on the band's self-titled CD, which will be released at the band's performance next Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Union Hall Theater, upstairs from the Union Club on East Main Street. (The show will consist of a kid-friendly set at 5:30 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. repeat performance; admission is $5 and $10 respectively. The Scribblers will open the first show; Amy Martin will open the second show.)

Playing out in a snappy 26 minutes, the eight-track album sets a scene as wide as Big Sky Country, a place full of color and mystery and no small number of oddball characters.

Consider the contrasts in "Hotel Roberts," where distorted cello drones under a simple, minor-key Appalachian-style melody, all set against a knee-slapping, electro-tribal beat: High Lonesome meets subterranean post-apocalyptica. That's followed by a quick jump-cut to Keys' banjo thrumming through "Mellow Bone," a wistful instrumental interlude that evokes nothing beyond the wide-open plains.

"Icarus Stops for a Burrito" floats ever skyward on swirling arpeggios of xylophone, thumb piano, and vibraphone; "The March Brute" lays out in peaceful repose on a shimmering bed of vocal harmonies. "Three Cowgirls on Redchurch" marches along to a Tex-Mex rhythm until suddenly, the spooks arrive, playing the musical saw and erupting in an alt-rock din.

So it goes, hither and yon, held on track by Keys' distinctive voice and precisely enunciated observations of inner and outer life.

"Of all the things to miss, I bet I missed the point the most / And of all the things to say, I've said too much," she sings on the nostalgic "Strawberry Cake." The point may fit the song, but it hardly fits the album: As soon as it's over, I want to hear it all again. - The Missoulian


Banjo? Xylophone? Jumprope? Why not. Missoula, Mont. avant-bluegrass ensemble Stellarondo takes a “kitchen sink” approach to instrumentation, defining their folk music as broadly as Montana’s big sky. Stellarondo is a “supergroup” of Missoula area musicians that includes Gibson Hartwell, who was in Tarkio with Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. The collective formed when primary vocalist and songwriter Caroline Keys participated in the 2010 RPM Challenge, an online project that declared musicians to write and record a minimum of 10 songs in the month of February.

And now, one year later, they’re on the road supporting their latest, self-titled release, which was produced in Portland. Stellarondo knows exactly when to let the sweet harmonies and porch-stompin’ rhythms of bluegrass take center-stage. Keys’ voice creaks like an old rocking chair as she spins yarns about stalkers and haunted hotels. And the band accompanies her skeletal banjo playing with everything from cello to tympani, providing an atmospheric soundtrack that pushes the boundaries of what roots music can be.

Bass player Travis Yost told the Missoula Independent that Stellarondo “is the most collaborative group I’ve ever been in. If you bring a ukulele, you’re gonna play it. No rules. No one to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ What’s it gonna sound like? Who gives a shit? Try it.”

Stellarondo plays with Opal Creek at 9pm Sunday, Feb. 20, at Sam Bond’s. 21+. $3-5. — William Kennedy


Ball of Molten Lead

Despite only being February, and despite a plethora of metal bands promising new music this year (waiting on you, Pig Destroyer), it’s not too early to say that YOB’s upcoming album, the band’s sixth and their second for Profound Lore (and with bassist Aaron Rieseberg), will likely be among the best releases of the year — and not just for fans in their home town of Eugene.

Mike Scheidt, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, says in the past eight months the guys have done 10 flyouts to shows in other parts of the world, including the ATP fest in England, recent shows with Sleep and Neurosis, and the upcoming SXSW, where they will play the Nanotear Booking showcase and the Friday Night Thrasher Magazine showcase with Pentagram, surrounded by half-pipes and pro skaters. They also plan to tour the U.S. and Europe after releasing their new album, which should wrap up recording in May.

With YOB, Black Sabbath’s doom and psychedelic sides bleed together. Songs are in celestial time — their last album featured four songs in 50 minutes — and their new music continues in that vein, but a bit different, says Scheidt. “The new YOB music is really exotic and full of a different vibe for us,” he says. “Very heavy and psychedelic as usual, but our spiritual themes feel more mature to me as time goes on. This new music is very cathartic, digging deeper into the need to awaken and stay awake, to listen and actually hear, seeing with more than the eyes. But the music is also rooted in earth and dirt, growing out into the unknown rather than searching the stars to escape the mud and sweat of this earthly life. Or something like that.” Sounds good to me.

Yob, Norska and H.C. Minds play at 9 pm Friday, Feb. 18, at Oak Street Speakeasy. 21+. — Vanessa Salvia









- Eugene Weekly


Stellarondo came all the way from Missoula to record this year's self-titled full-length with Adam Selzer, but the record still sounds—thanks to country strumming, Western horns, sharp strings and one very mournful pedal steel—like Montana. Caroline Keys' vocals remind of Breeders frontwoman Kim Deal, were she played by Shelley Duvall in a biopic. Keys' songwriting slips between pretty, descriptive narratives ("What I Know") and more impressionistic pieces ("The March Brute," which finds Keys singing: "Backstage at a funeral/ All I can do is hiss/ My teeth don't fit together anymore/ Behind these lips"). All of it sounds lush and well-plotted, if a bit quirky—an adjective that fits Montana and Portland as well as it does Stellarondo. - The Willamette Week


Breakin' the law
Stellarondo kicks out a new album with a "no rules" attitude
by Jason McMackin
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The members of Stellarondo shun the notion of being any sort of Missoula "supergroup." Instead, the band demonstrates a legitimate lack of ego—other than bassist Travis Yost's black t-shirt, which states in bold white letters: "Rock Star." That said, there is no escaping the local band's individual resumes. Vocalist/guitarist Caroline Keys and percussionist Angie Biehl are members of the old-timey bluegrass band Broken Valley Roadshow, while Yost and guitarist Gibson Hartwell (formerly of Tarkio) play backup for Americana singer-songwriter Tom Catmull as the Clerics. Bethany Joyce of moody folk bands Wartime Blues and Butter rounds out the quintet on cello and saw. But those are only a few choice examples of the members' current bands, one-offs, puppet shows, commercial jingles and various symphonies.

It's not that they don't love their other bands, but, for the most part, the musicians say they consider themselves support to the lead singers and guitarists driving the other projects—"side-meat," as Yost likes to say. In the collaborative astral art-folk ensemble that is Stellaronodo, everyone gets to make decisions. With an upcoming CD release and a tour on the horizon, the band's testing out the freedom of a democratic regime.

Stellarondo wasn't always a collaborative effort. It began as a solo project when Keys decided to take the 2010 RPM Challenge. The online project challenges anyone to write and record a minimum of 10 songs within the month of February—a deliciously truculent form of self-inflicted torture. There's no monetary reward, just the reward of accomplishment, and Keys saw it as a chance to work with some select guest artists, dabble outside of the rules of bluegrass and, in effect, knock out some musical push-ups.
Stellarondo is a who’s who of local musicians, comprised of Gibson Hartwell, Bethany Joyce, Angie Biehl, Caroline Keys and Travis Yost. “This is the most collaborative group I’ve ever been in,” says Yost. “If you bring a ukulele you’re gonna play it. No rules. No one to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ What’s it gonna sound like? Who gives a shit? Try it.” - Photo courtesy Kate Medley

* Photo courtesy Kate Medley
* Stellarondo is a who’s who of local musicians, comprised of Gibson Hartwell, Bethany Joyce, Angie Biehl, Caroline Keys and Travis Yost. “This is the most collaborative group I’ve ever been in,” says Yost. “If you bring a ukulele you’re gonna play it. No rules. No one to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ What’s it gonna sound like? Who gives a shit? Try it.”

Two weeks in, the onerous task of writing and recording on deadline began to cow Keys. When Biehl happened to pop in to visit one day, Keys took advantage of her percussive abilities to round out the recording. Biehl's all-the-world-is-a-drum attitude helped define the group's sound, Key says, with what you might call groundbreaking techniques: playing square slate pieces on the coffee table and dropping individual bits of rice onto the floor. Hartwell also came onboard at this time and the music began to gel. Everything was going well as they neared the challenge deadline, says Keys. But something had to give.

Near the end of the month while bustling around her home/studio, Keys broke her right pinky toe, leaving it at a right angle from its normal position. Packing for the hospital, Keys' husband asked her why she was loading up her gear. In what is surely a demonstration of diluted commonsense brought on by artistic endeavors, Keys responded, "I have to write one more song. I don't have time for this." In the end, disaster was averted. The doctors took care of that little piggy and the album was completed on time.

Last September, the current line-up recorded a second eponymous album, Stellarondo, in Northeast Portland (minus Biehl who recorded her parts at Club Shmed Studio in Missoula). Although each band member has a primary instrument, all sorts of devices show up in the sometimes folky, sometimes spooky end product. Some examples: wet wood, boob gourd, xylophone, jumprope and tympani. On the album's first track, "Icarus Stops for a Burrito," xylophone notes fall like the slow, outer part of a waterfall and create a dreamy soundscape. In "The March Brute," quiet guitars balance with the ensemble's backing vocals while mariachi–esque trumpets squeeze out what feels like ultimate sadness. Vivid imagery and some slick pedal steel make "Strawberry Cake" an instant-classic—perfect for the kind of slow dances where the lady puts both her hands square atop the boy's shoulders. But unlike most songs of this ilk, it includes puppet-show di - The Missoula Independent


Sick of new bands that can’t get beyond that guitar, bass and drums rut? Looking for something a little left-of-center. Take Stellarondo for a spin. With open door instrumentation policy (pedal steel, banjo, cello, glockenspiel, musical saw, upright bass, and vibraphone) and songs that remind me of the best of The Handsome Family, Stellarondo is something of a Missoula supergroup (suck it if you don’t think Missoula has enough bands to spawn a supergroup).

In case it’s gnawing at you, the band’s name comes from a character in Eudora Welty’s short story, Why I Live at the P.O., which is pretty fitting given the candid and richly-detailed vignettes that comprise the band’s self-titled debut, which is available now. Not sure if you’d be down with Stellarondo? Try a little Strawberry Cake. - My Old Kentucky Blog


Stellarondo is the sound of the new Western frontier. Nevermind that the Missoula-based band at times echoes the delicate Midwestern soundscapes of Sufjan Stevens and Poi Dog Pondering, or the doleful West Coast chamber-folk of Fleet Foxes and David Bazan. The brainchild of local singer/guitarist/banjoist Caroline Keys, Stellarondo encapsulates not just the varied musical personalities of its members (who hail from past and present local acts including Broken Valley Road Show, Tom Catmull & the Clerics, Tarkio, the Fidgets, Wartime Blues, and others), but the textures of Montana's regional music scene as a whole.

It's all there, plain to the ear, on the band's self-titled CD, which will be released at the band's performance next Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Union Hall Theater, upstairs from the Union Club on East Main Street. (The show will consist of a kid-friendly set at 5:30 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. repeat performance; admission is $5 and $10 respectively. The Scribblers will open the first show; Amy Martin will open the second show.)

Playing out in a snappy 26 minutes, the eight-track album sets a scene as wide as Big Sky Country, a place full of color and mystery and no small number of oddball characters.

Consider the contrasts in "Hotel Roberts," where distorted cello drones under a simple, minor-key Appalachian-style melody, all set against a knee-slapping, electro-tribal beat: High Lonesome meets subterranean post-apocalyptica. That's followed by a quick jump-cut to Keys' banjo thrumming through "Mellow Bone," a wistful instrumental interlude that evokes nothing beyond the wide-open plains.

"Icarus Stops for a Burrito" floats ever skyward on swirling arpeggios of xylophone, thumb piano, and vibraphone; "The March Brute" lays out in peaceful repose on a shimmering bed of vocal harmonies. "Three Cowgirls on Redchurch" marches along to a Tex-Mex rhythm until suddenly, the spooks arrive, playing the musical saw and erupting in an alt-rock din.

So it goes, hither and yon, held on track by Keys' distinctive voice and precisely enunciated observations of inner and outer life.

"Of all the things to miss, I bet I missed the point the most / And of all the things to say, I've said too much," she sings on the nostalgic "Strawberry Cake." The point may fit the song, but it hardly fits the album: As soon as it's over, I want to hear it all again. - The Missoulian


"Artists in residence" and "Top Hat" are not two phrases one normally expects to hear in the same sentence. Though long a central hub in the Missoula music scene, the Front Street nightclub has typically centered its evening business plan around late-night shows by local rock, blues and folk acts and a sprinkling of touring bands.

This month, that familiar cocktail comes with a twist, when local chamber-folk quintet Stellarondo sets up shop for a series of early evening shows on Thursdays at the Top Hat. Billed as a residency, the series is, as much as anything, a polishing shop for the band, which will hit the road early next year in conjunction with the release of its first official album.

"So much of what this band has been about so far has been studio work," explained founder Caroline Keys, a guitarist and singer familiar to local folk-music fans from her leading role in the acoustic group Broken Valley Road Show. "So we really needed a place to work out our ‘live thing' before we go out on tour."

More importantly, the residency represents an effort to build a new tradition in Missoula of family-friendly live music shows. Keys said she has long been frustrated by the late-night gig-times offered to her band, which more or less shut out young audiences and those whose work or sleep schedule preclude staying out on the town til the early morning hours.

Keys suspected she wasn't alone in those frustrations, but it wasn't until after a recent trip to Portland, where she found a healthy scene of early-evening shows, that she resolved to make something happen in her hometown.

"Out there, there are opportunities for parents and young kids to go out and hear music," said Keys. "I just thought there's surely a lot of people here in Missoula who would like that as well."

Toward that end, few bands would likely fit the bill better than Stellarondo. Featuring members of Broken Valley Road Show, Tom Catmull & the Clerics, and Wartime Blues, the band plays out as an amalgamation of all: a bit of folk, a bit of alt-country, and an unusual instrumental lineup that includes everything from pedal steel guitar to timpani, trumpets to musical saws.

The band came together early this year, after Keys challenged herself to write and record an album of original material

in just one month. By the end of that month, Keys realized a fertile seed had been planted, but was only beginning to

grow.

"I got to the end and realized it was really just the beginning," she said. "This was really weird and exploratory music for me - I only got out my Martin guitar

for one song out of the 10 I recorded - but I realized it was something I wanted to continue pursuing."

Soon enough, Keys had assembled Stellarondo's stellar lineup, which includes Gibson Hartwell on pedal steel, xylophone, electric guitar, and dobro; Angie Biehl on vibraphone, triangle, dumbek, shaker, and glockenspiel; Travis Yost on upright bass, electric bass, and keyboards; and Bethany Joyce on cello and saw.

The band's sound is as wide-ranging as that list of instruments would infer. On the upcoming album's opening track, "Icarus Stops for a Burrito," swirling arpeggios on xylophone, thumb piano, and vibraphone frame Keys' sweetly floating voice as she sings about metaphorical flight. But the band isn't only about lilting melodies, as evident on tunes like "Two Cowgirls on Redchurch," a Tex-Mex march that, midway through, takes a detour into spooky harmonized alt-rock.

Throughout, Keys' voice lays a sunny charm over it all. If her phrasing isn't entirely free and natural, the simple naiveté of her expression wipes away any sense of pretense created by the elaborate orchestrations.

In September, the band traveled to Portland, Ore., to record the album. Now comes the next challenge: putting it back together in a live format.

"I don't think it would be completely possible to get all those sounds, because everybody did so many jobs in the studio; but we're going to try," said Keys. "It's all kind of a big adventure at this point.

I'm not sure we know what it'll all be, but we're excited to be able to have people along for the ride."

Stellarondo will appear at the Top Hat the first three Thursdays of November, starting at 6 p.m. Admission is free, and children are welcome to attend. - The Missoulian


"Keys takes risks that makes this album utterly endearing."
Erika Fredrickson - Missoula Independent

"A completely lovable collection of strange tales."
Erika Fredrickson, Missoula Independent

"Sophisticated songwriting."
Erika Fredrickson, Missoula Independent

""What I Know," showcases a stunning country lament fortified by the exquisite yearning of Gibson Hartwell's pedal steel."
Erika Fredrickson, Missoula Independent

"Quirky, fearless..."
Erika Fredrickson - Missoula Independent - The Missoula Independent


Discography

Stellarondo - Feb 2011

The album has seen college and public radio airplay, and parts have been used as bumper music for "The Write Question" on Montana Public Radio.

Photos

Bio

Out of a sonic bloom of pedal steel, banjo, cello, glockenspiel, musical saw, upright bass, and vibraphone Stellarondo spills out songs about stalkers, roadside anomalies, love, and haunted hotels. Instrumentally and lyrically the group explores both the sweet and the sinister, sometimes finding that only a thin blurry line separates the two.

The band emerged in Missoula, Montana during winter 2010 when Caroline Keys-- a regular in the NW old time stringband community-- responded to a challenge by writing and recording an album of original music during the month of February. Keys' project quickly evolved to include a full band of stalwarts from diverse corners of Missoula's music scene.

Stellarondo's lush, dreamy alt-folk debut was recorded by Adam Selzer at Type Foundry and Scenic Burrows in Portland, OR in September 2010.

Since the band's debut CD release tour in February Stellarondo has served as Artists-in-Residence at a rural school in central Montana, scored a locally-written short play, recorded an improvisational noise jam to tape, worked with Missoula Writing Collaborative to set poems of 4th & 5th graders to music, played local shows with Asobi Seksu, Nick Jaina, Sallie Ford + The Sound Outside, Pablo Trucker, and Pufferfish, among others.

Stellarondo is currently collaborating with writer Rick Bass "scoring" pieces of his short fiction. See Rick Bass and Stellarondo EPK for audio of this project.