Shakewell holds practice in a 6-foot-by-6-foot basement space, a blanket draped like a circus tent from the ceiling to cover the pipes, lest the band members be dripped on. There's just enough room for a drum kit and the laundry; the humidity from the dryer is so thick it curls your hair. If all the members show up to practice, some of them are forced to play standing on the rickety wooden steps. Sure, a nine-piece funk band would fit better upstairs, but the neighbors might complain.
The practice space is just one of the challenges for a big band. Having so many members—nine egos and nine schedules for nine early 20-somethings—isn't easy. As a result, the band changes bass players like they change their socks, and it's never clear who's going to show up for a gig. It's by sheer force of will that Shakewell's core members—lead guitarist Emmet Ore, drummer Jake Smith and percussionist/vocalist Colter Dykman—herd all these cats. The three of them have been playing together since they were kids, which adds some stability to an otherwise chaotic situation.
Despite being constantly in flux, Shakewell has managed to garner high praise for a band that's only been together for one-and-a-half years. Earlier this spring, Shakewell placed third at Sean Kelly's Top of the Mic and in July it celebrated winning Best New Band in the Indy's Best of Missoula contest. Yet, despite spending much of this summer in competition with other musicians, the band insists its local success has everything to do with the tight Missoula music community.
"Missoula has a cooperative scene, rather than competitive," Ore says.
The Missoula band began playing in February 2012, getting gigs with the help of Ore's older brother Sam, who is something of a staple in Missoula's music scene. In fact, many of Shakewell's members have ties to other local favorites, including Three-Eared Dog, Reverend Slanky and Kung Fu Kongress, either playing in those bands or being related to someone who does.
They also have a lot of friends—devoted friends willing to follow them to every venue, every weekend, crowding the floor to dance with arms flailing, sweating all over each other, holding beers high. That fanbase supported them this past weekend at the Shine Intergalactic Festival, traveling to Haugan to weather the long sets of electronica music in order to hear the band play.
To be fair, it's not all nepotism and crazed college kids carrying this band. Shakewell plays some covers, but the group has an album's worth of strong, original music written mostly by Ore. The songs are full of coming-of-age lyrics about the need to leave home, broken hearts and, in "Soothsayer," that heady feeling of discovering your own powers of seduction. The sound smacks of something more mature than one might expect from a young group—reminiscent of the funky surf of Donovan Frankenreiter and the hippie-soul of Allen Stone.
Even if they can't always fit everybody on a stage, Shakewell knows how to groove. You can hear it in the break in the middle of "Movin'" when the musicians flip from the "wacka wacka" guitar and lilting harmonies of the '70s to a slow, muted little Incubus riff. It's also in the jam band jaunt during "Soothsayer" that's chock full of bongos, horn and harmony, and in the Marvin-Gaye-smooth backup vocals on "Color Blind."
Shakewell's orchestration is complex, but the sound is clear-cut.
"It's so simple," Dykman says. "It's like small talk."
And he's right. You don't really have to know what you're listening to or what the lyrics mean. From the moment you lay ears on Shakewell's groove, all you want to do is get down.
Shakewell plays the Top Hat Sat., Sept. 28, at 10 PM. Free.