When Jamey Rogers, the owner of Collective Recording Studio in West Ashley, first heard of the Shaniqua Brown, he had trouble wrapping his head around the name. He half expected a solo gospel act. “But when I saw them, it just made sense,” he says.
While the name is based on an old inside joke, it’s come to mean much more: a sort of synonym for the full effect of their volcanic sound, or as Rogers puts it, “Something big and huge and soulful.”
In fact, their in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll appealed to him so much that he decided he had to be a part of it. A few months ago, he joined the band. His second guitar adds a punch to the Shaniqua Brown’s fierce kick.
Fronted by the romping and roaring Rachel Kate Gillon, with Thomas Concannon on guitar, Denis Blyth on bass, and David Bair on drums, the band came roaring to Collective earlier this year to record a song for a benefit CD. “They came in to do one song,” recalls Rogers. “And I was like, ‘Let’s do another.’ I remember thinking, I wanted to be a part of that, so I called Thomas, and he came back with second guitar parts, and I kind of browbeat them into letting me join the band.”
Concannon has a slightly different take. “We tried adding a second guitarist for a while, but it never clicked, so we just gave up for a year,” he says. “And then when we worked with, him it just made sense.”
The chemistry between Rogers and Concannon’s fiery guitar style clicked so well that everyone spent much of the summer recording the band’s first full-length collection, The Shaniqua Brown, due on Aug. 19.
Recorded at Collective with the help of new manager Alan Price, the album is split between brand new songs and new versions of older songs. “Adding a guitar, we had to retool a lot of the songs,” says Rogers. “Thomas and I really worked on it to make that full sound. Now we’re about as loud as two Telecasters in standard tuning can be.”
On stage, the band oozes power and excitement, but also contagious fun. Hanging out with all five of them, it was easy to see where that sense of play comes from. Their ease with each other is the ease of old friends, poking fun and laughing.
When asked about their earliest influences, three of the band members mentioned semi-regulars like Prince, the Beach Boys, and Pink Floyd. But Concannon and Gillon’s were surprises, for entirely different reasons.
Straight-faced, with no pause, Concannon replies, “George Michael.” He absorbs the chuckling, adding in the same unblinking tone, “I was on a trip to my grandparents’ house in Florida when I was really young, and George Michael came on the radio and I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ Every time his songs came on I was into it. I’m pretty sure my parents thought I was gay for a few years.”
Gillon, the only member not from the Lowcountry, spent her childhood running around the music studios of Nashville, “pretending she worked there.” Her mother was the vice president of production for MCA Records. She remembers meeting stars like Vince Gill and Dolly Parton, and she was even cast in Sammy Kershaw’s hilarious 1994 music video for “National Workin’ Woman’s Holiday,” where, playing the younger of two girls in Army fatigues, she and 10 other little girls in costumes dance around Kershaw for no discernible reason.
This early exposure to costumed performance may or may not be the inspiration for Gillon’s preference for wearing ornate tutus and bloomers on stage. The attire matches her boisterous singing style. Gillon is an avid tutu collector, so much so that Rogers had to tell her there wasn’t enough room in their touring van for all of them.
Gillon’s father played honky-tonk and bluegrass with several bands in the ’70s, even touring with Willie Nelson. Which begs the question: How did she become this tutu-wearing soulful screamer fronting a hard rock band? She had a very simple, and oddly satisfying, answer: “We’re a country band at heart,” she says. “There’s a little Johnny Cash in all of us.”
But for the band, the music is much more important than the genre. “I want people to feel about our music the way I feel about the music I listen to,” says Bair. “When I put on a Faith No More record, there’s a euphoria I get. That’s what I want people to have.”
On the new album, the Shaniqua Brown hoped to create an atmosphere as communal and electric as their live shows.
“We want our shows to be as interactive as possible,” says Gillon of a recent gig. “We played at the Tin Roof, and I was being a diva and having a bad voice day. We were all wearing plaid shirts, and I looked out and pretty much everyone out there was wearing plaid. I said, ‘Everyone in a plaid shirt, get up on stage and help me sing this song.’ So, you know, there were 30 people on stage. That was awesome.”
The band has gotten a fantastic reception across the Southeast, inspiring them to be “lifers” who tour, as Rogers says, “until our backs wear out.”
“We’ve played in cities where people don’t really know us, and they’re always so good to us,” says Blythe. “We pour our hearts into this, and I think people can see that, and they give their heart right back. It’s like we’re right back at home again.”