Sometimes little white lies morph into big, dark problems. Other times, they inspire people to reach beyond their comfort zones. For local chanteuse Cait Shanahan, the latter was the case.
The daughter of a local opera singer, Shanahan has been singing since she could walk, making the choir rounds as a kid and learning guitar in high school. Guided by folky troubadours like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, she began singing her way through notebooks of poems as she strummed. Come 2003, she began performing her creations around town as a solo act, entertaining beer sippers and theatergoers as she worked on a smattering of albums.
Movers and shakers gradually took notice, and the local TV program The Urban Theater invited her to perform in 2008. Shanahan was so stoked that she signed on right away, even though she didn't meet one of the requirements.
"I really wanted to be on the show, but they said they didn't book solo artists," recalls Shanahan, who has an Adele-meets-Springsteen sort of vibe. "I didn't know what else to do, so I told them I had a band. First I was like, 'Oh man, what did I do?' But then I realized I could start one, even if it was kind of scary at first."
Knowing the group would need to sound like seasoned collaborators, Shanahan called upon the other musicians in her social circle. Within a few days, she recruited two high school buddies from local band Coloratura: guitarist Drew Lundberg, who'd recorded on one of her solo albums, and bassist Pat Naughton. Then Lundberg tapped two friends from Madison Media Institute: drummer Paul Sirianni and keys man Jeff Bobula.
"I coerced them into joining," Shanahan says with a laugh. "They must have liked it, because they're still here."
Now, exactly two years later, Cait and the Girls are releasing their first album, This House. The group will unveil the recording at a release party May 11 at the High Noon Saloon, after a tuneful warmup by Catch Kid and Nathan Kalish & the Wildfire.
The band, which plays hard-driving pop-rock, has come a long way since its early days of adapting solo tunes for a five-piece. Nowadays, each member brings riffs and other musical ideas to practice, and the group works together to flesh them out. "Or sometimes, we just jam and Cait steers us in the direction she wants to go," says Lundberg with a laugh.
For This House, they adopted an easygoing approach: a few loose ideas and a flexible timeline. But after several months had passed, they realized they needed to rethink their method.
"It's harder than you'd think to get five people in a room," Lundberg says. "It's even harder to get everyone's input at once."
Plus, gigging can make recording nearly impossible at times, even though live shows are a great place to fine-tune an album's songs and gauge fans' reactions. When it comes to concerts, Cait and the Girls have been lucky, selling out the Frequency for their very first show in 2009, then opening for a number of high-profile singer-songwriters, including Michael McDermott and Jason Reeves.
However, the group eventually decided to drop everything else on their plates for a few days -- cool gigs, other bands and favorite TV shows included -- and hunker down in the studio.
"We were like, 'Let's just push and shove and hammer this thing out.' It was a lot of work, but it paid off," Lundberg says.
After starting the recording at Dacha Studios on the near east side, Cait and the Girls tweaked their tracks in a home studio. In the process, several tunes underwent a major facelift.
"The biggest surprise for me was the title track," says Shanahan. "It was the last song we wrote, and it started out pretty simple. But every time we played it live, we added these new elements. So eventually, it became this super-powerful, gorgeous song that really represents who we've become as a band."