Fiddler in the greens.I hadn't exactly heard The Sweet Harlots when I arrived at a classically cozy house near Harmon Park. I'd heard of the duo, and I'd heard music by each of the members of the group, but it isn't until Laurel Brauns begins strumming her guitar and Julie Southwell commences massaging melodies out of her violin in the living room of the aforementioned house that I fully taste the Sweet Harlots.
The two names of this duo should be familiar to anyone with an ear on the local music scene. Brauns is a singer-songwriter who toured through Bend over the past few years before moving here last fall and releasing her indie-rock influenced folk record Closed for the Season. Southwell, of course, is the seasoned and classically trained violinist who has played with a range of local acts including Moon Mountain Ramblers, Blackstrap and David Bowers. The two met while cross-country skiing this past winter and their friendship soon descended from the mountains to Southwell's home for the practice sessions out of which the somewhat peculiarly named Sweet Harlots were born.
"It was always a dream of mine to have an all-girl band and call it The Sweet Harlots. People don't use the word 'harlot,' in everyday conversation...there's definitely some irony to it," says Brauns.
The Sweet Harlots is a collaboration of two of Bend's finest female musicians, hence I'm not all that shocked when the concert-for-one in Southwell's living room, a variation of the title track from Braun's album, is remarkably rich for a duo. Braun's slightly DiFranco-esque voice leads the way while Southwell's violin laces the song together with its melodic stitching. Southwell, strictly a fiddler when she played in other acts, also pitches in with some complimentary vocal harmonies. Perhaps most refreshingly, this one-song performance makes clear that The Sweet Harlots are not the soft-strumming, whispering team that some might expect from a female collaboration.
While Brauns' originals make up a sizeable chunk of the Harlots' set list, the two have also immersed themselves in traditional Irish music in the hopes of adding another dimension to the act. I ask if they'd consider striving toward a reputation as a primarily Irish act. Southwell shrugs.
"We could probably get away with that," Southwell says. Brauns laughs.
"I wouldn't want to label us as that," Brauns interjects, still laughing, "But I wouldn't mind if McMenamins could hire us to play St. Patrick's Day."
Southwell is soft spoken, constantly friendly, and slightly serious. Brauns, in contrast, is bubbly, outspoken and funny. The differences continue beyond personality as I realize when eyeing Southwell's CD collection, which includes the likes of David Grisman and a host of Indian artists, while Brauns tells me about her love for bands like Iron and Wine and Modest Mouse. But both are unequivocally complimentary of each other's abilities. It's almost like the two are fans of each other first and band mates second.
"She has these beautiful chord changes and rhythm changes that take you on a journey. That's one of my favorite things, is to play with a great singer-songwriter that really stretches me," Southwell says.
While at its heart, the band is a duo, the two have been toying with the idea of adding a bass player (preferably of the female persuasion) and will also have Shireen Amini joining in on percussion duties for upcoming shows. Ideally, Brauns wants to keep it an all-female act, which is admirable in a town that has hardly any (if any) such bands.
"I think it's a powerful kind of image to have a bunch of women onstage," she says.
There will be "a bunch" of women, well at least two, on stage in the coming weeks as the Harlots play a string of shows including Tuesday night appearances at the Summit's ladies night, a Silver Moon on Saturday and an appearance and highlighted by a show at McMenamins next Wednesday.
Those are some busy Harlots.
The Sweet Harlots
8:30pm Saturday, August 2. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. (Opening for Extra Stout). $5. 7pm Wednesday, August 6. McMenamins Old St. Francis School. 700 NW Greenwood Ave. Free.