March 1, 2010
In accordance with the rules of their brainchild "the No Pressure Project," Lauren Shapiro and Timm Keleher wrote and recorded a new song each week for a year, and have now expanded into taking commissions. Boston music journalist Nora Matthews caught up with them recently to talk about genre crossover, instrument building, and what inspired them to undertake such a task.
Meet Lauren Shapiro and Timm Keleher. They’re not rock stars (they’d rather build instruments than burn them) and they won’t be selling out a stadium any time soon. Although they met while gigging with the Boston-based hip hop band Zullo, not even the scene-iest of scenesters has been to one of their shows; their collaborative project has never ventured outside Timm’s living room studio. The difference between them and 99.9% of the other gig-less bands out there? They’re not unemployed because they suck— they’re musical shut-ins because they like it that way.
The ironically named “No Pressure Project” started as a casual way for two friends to keep their creativity flowing in Zullo’s off-season. What it developed into was the improbable venture of writing, recording and releasing a completely new original song every week for a full calendar year. It’s hard to believe that a project so ambitious happened by accident, but Timm and Lauren are both nonchalant about the process. “We didn’t think that far ahead. After a few months it just kinda took on a life of its own and became a part of our daily life,” says Kelleher.
So with all these songs in the bank, why no gigs? The choice not to perform, they say, allows them limitless creative freedom. “[We can] explore so many different sounds. We can release a crazy metal sounding song one week, a campfire acoustic lullaby type song the next, and then a doo-wop song the next… its really hard to explore that much variety with a performing band,” says Shapiro. She’s not exaggerating. If you listen to the NPP catalog you’ll hear influences from folk to ska to metal to classical— and instruments from trumpet to banjo to Chapman Stick. Third collaborator Terry T plays said stick, as well as providing some unique electronic sounds.
All the members of NPP have a unique brand of musical genius that seems to operate apart from the traditional feedback loop of gigs, sales, merch and airtime. Timm has worked as a professional audio engineer since 1997, and has an impressive roster of clients under his belt (he’s reluctant to drop names at the risk of sounding “braggy.”) Lauren has been writing her own songs since the age of 12, and in her teen years was well known in the Pittsburgh music scene as half of the songwriting duo Velveteen. Despite all this experience, she is more at home playing to a packed living room than a full concert hall. She attributes this to her family’s folk music background. “I grew up going to hootenannies with my parents. Groups of people singing instinctive harmonies… we all knew the hook and sang along.” With all their genre-hopping and eclectic choices, that playful spirit is the thread that holds NPP together: an homage to those living-room jam sessions.
The time that Lauren and Timm spend on their music isn’t about profits or products; it’s about the freedom to play. Their songs are honest, catchy, and constantly pushing boundaries. And after a year of writing and recording, Lauren and Timm have decided to push those boundaries in some new directions. “We want to make ourselves into a kind of talent for sale…in a non-prostitute-y way,” says Lauren. Their new “songwriters for hire” project means that NPP fans and listeners can commission songs from the writing/recording duo for a reasonable fee. Lauren and Timm will craft songs that are unique to each client’s desired theme and genre. Customers can use their songs as gifts or mementos, and, for an extra charge, Timm and Lauren might even be coaxed out of the living room to play at weddings and special events.
Timm has also started to make his own drums— including the drum shells— completely by hand, and his products will soon be available for purchase on NPP’s website. Terry builds and wires his own effects pedals, and Lauren wants to start making her own instruments out of found objects. “Our idea was that we wanted to explore every idea we had,” says Lauren. “But, you know… no pressure.”
If you want to listen to what Lauren and Timm have been dreaming up lately, visit nopressureproject.com