In early 2013, Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray were on a train on their way to get treatment for Miss Shevaughn’s recently diagnosed cervical cancer.
“We decided three things on that train ride,” Yuma Wray said. “We decided to set a date for our wedding, to push ahead with the already booked spring tour, and to write this album not knowing at all what the future would bring.”
Fast-forward to early March. The duo is now married and has kicked off their Honeymoon Tour. The second stop on their tour is Claremont, and they will be performing at The Press Restaurant on N. Harvard Avenue at 8 p.m. tonight, March 7. Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray will be on the road for the next three months and will officially release their album, Lean Into the Wind, on March 25.
TSL received a press preview of the roots-rock album, and it is breathtaking. It consists of 12 songs that are at once angry and hopeful.
“The joy and anticipation and doubt and fear we were experiencing all went into it,” Yuma Wray said in an interview with TSL.
There is plenty to be angry about. Miss Shevaughn’s battle with cancer underlies the music, while songs like “Election Year Blues” appear to espouse a disgruntlement with the political system and the inequality that it institutionalizes.
Yet the songs are defiant in their hope. “Drifter’s Compass,” the first song in the album, is incredibly textured, and sets the stage for the rest of the album in its soaring eulogy of travel. Wanderlust and freedom are embraced and extra charged by the music’s anger.
Miss Shevaughn’s voice, deeply powerful while alternating between mournful, fierce, and celebratory, does wonderful justice to her subject matter. It dances in and out of Yuma Wray’s riffs, creating an audible and rare chemistry between them.
“We have a broad dynamic range,” Yuma Wray said. “Some of our songs draw more heavily from folk or country, while others have a definite ’60s and ’70s classic rock feel. Throw in a little psych and a little blues, and three and four part harmonies, and you’ve got Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray.”
The album’s dynamism is striking given their last year, which was clouded by more than Miss Shevaughn’s cancer.
“It was actually a pretty tough year all the way around,” Miss Shevaughn said. “A former bandmate of mine passed away and we had all just kind of gotten to this point of thinking, ‘OK, what next?Are we doing the right thing? Can we keep up this much travel or should we just get our heads out of the clouds and settle down?’”
Thankfully, they kept their heads in the clouds.
“The Honeymoon Tour just seemed like the ideal way for us to kick off married life together,” Yuma Wray said.
Their wedding was fittingly musical.
“We played several songs through the reception that we’ll be submitting to Couch by Couch West, which is this really cool online series of live videos that takes place during SXSW [South by Southwest],” Yuma Wray said. “We also shot some footage for a music video that we’ll be putting out this spring. With that and the Honeymoon Tour, it kind of feels like we get to share our celebration with all of our friends and fans across the country.”
Although they began as a duo with a classic country focus, their first album, We’re From Here, convinced them they should add drums. Now they have Ben Tufts on drums and Derk Evry on bass, both of whom also sing harmonies.
“We went out on the road with all of these songs before recording them just because we knew that playing them live together would change them for the better,” Miss Shevaughn said. “Our sound is a lot more collaborative now.”
A recent and significant influence on their work has been the state of California.
“Our place in California has offered us a home for the first time in a while,” Miss Shevaughn said. “I think that because of that, our whole state of mind is a little different from when we wrote our first record.”
Yuma Wray also cites California artists The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt as inspirations.
Lean Into the Wind has a distinct and multifaceted message, particularly given where it comes from.
“Even though the record is so emotionally tumultuous, we started it and ended it with songs that have a hopeful and uplifting feel to them,” Miss Shevaughn said. “I think that’s part of it, that in listening to the record and in living life, there will be ups and downs. It can get really bad, but it is going to get better. Even though we live in a time that champions convenience and celebrity for nothing, a time where working hard doesn’t necessarily mean success, the thing that can help life to get better is to find what’s truly important to you and then never saying no to it even if it seems like taking a risk might be frightening.”
Yuma Wray echoed Miss Shevaughn’s points, but clarified that the record is directly about music as well.
“It has a message as far as music-making, too,” he said. “The album was made to be listened to as a whole. It’s not just a collection of singles. We wanted to put out a complete thought, like some of the great classic records we love to listen to.”
The name Lean Into the Wind came to them because it is a line from “Brushed the Dust Off,” the final song on the album.
“It seemed really appropriate,” Miss Shevaughn said. “It captured the feeling of persevering through a rough year, and it lets the album end on a hopeful note.”