On this stop of their digital tour, the folk duo premiere their acoustic version of the Cyndi Lauper classic “Time After Time.”
The folk Americana duo Siren Songs are Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels. Even though the two have been livestreaming their music during the pandemic, the fact that they’ve been unable to tour or play album-release shows in the traditional manner due to the pandemic left them frustrated.
To try to fill that gap, they came up with the idea for a “digital tour.” Beginning in July a series of five acoustic video performances premiered at different press outlets as “digital tour stops.”
Fans have been following along as the pair have “traveled” from outlet to outlet and premiered exclusive performances of songs from their new self-titled album.
As they’ve traveled on their “virtual tour bus” in between stops on the digital tour, the duo opened up their tour scrapbooks and shared stories, music, and photos on social media from their time on the road together over the years.
C&I is stop No. 5 on the digital tour. For the occasion, we talked with Siren Songs about their version of “Time After Time” and got their Feel Good Playlist.
Cowboys & Indians: How did this song come together?
Siren Songs, Merideth Kaye Clark: I really love playing around on the lap dulcimer. Jenn likes to joke that I “dulce so hard.” Ha ha! She made up that verb. I am a fan of early Joni Mitchell, and I learned her album Blue and now I perform it in its entirety in concert. Joni really introduced me to the instrument. I was fooling around on my dulcimer and I started playing these chords that sounded like “Time After Time.” The arrangement came from that. I was singing it, and I had this wave of emotion. I suddenly realized that the song is about unconditional love.
Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman wrote this song in the 1980s. It was one of my favorite songs growing up. You know how some songs mean one thing to you at one point in your life, and then you hear them again and they mean something entirely different? That’s this song for me. Now it’s about my kids; it’s not about some “future romantic relationship,” for example, as it was when I was younger. “I’ve looked at love from both sides now. ...”
Siren Songs, Jenn Grinels: Ha ha, to quote Joni!
C&I: Who’s playing on it, who produced it, where was it recorded?
Merideth: I’m playing lap dulcimer on it — that's the only instrument. It was recorded at the the Hallowed Halls in Portland, Oregon. Jenn and I produced it.
Jenn: With David Streit as the engineer. Bryan Daste mixed and Adam Gonsalves mastered.
C&I: What was the session like?
Merideth: The Hallowed Halls is a gorgeous studio in Portland, Oregon. It’s an old public library that they’ve converted. We recorded the album almost completely live. We set up a few mics and hired a great recording engineer, and then we chose the best performance. Our goal was to create a simple, raw, and unproduced-sounding album.
Jenn: Ha ha! Remember what happened when we recorded this, Mer? You did this perfect, beautiful performance, and when you got to the end, a truck drove by outside!
Merideth: The truck was so loud and rumbling we could hear it in the studio! We couldn’t believe we could hear it on the track. And in our hearts we knew it was the take we wanted to use.
During mixing, our engineer was trying to figure out how to troubleshoot and get the truck engine sound out of the track, and he started adjusting the EQ. We heard the dulcimer with all of the treble turned down. We were like, “Wait! That’s a great sound.” That’s how we came up with the intro! The song fades in and starts like a faraway idea and then lands right in the listener’s ear.
C&I: Any more good stories about creating, producing, performing it?
Merideth: When I performed this live, for a really long time, I would get too emotional. So when we finally went in the studio and I sang it without crying, it was a miracle.
C&I: What’s your favorite moment in the music?
Merideth: “If you’re lost you can look and you will find me …” I love the chorus! “If you fall, I will catch you ...”
Jenn: I like the chorus, too. Also I just love saying that Merideth “dulces” so hard.
Merideth: Ha ha! I love the dulcimer! It’s such a beautiful instrument. It’s a unique sound that when people hear it, they’re like, “What’s that instrument?” It almost sounds like it’s from another world. It has this drone, like something you hear during meditation or prayer, making the whole song sound very reverent.
C&I: Tell us a little about the video.
Merideth: This video was such a lucky accident. We were doing a photo shoot in this beautiful field in Oaks Bottom in Portland, Oregon, and then on a whim we decided to sing this whole song.
C&I: Where are you from? Where do you live now? And how did you get into music?
Merideth: I’m from Lee’s Summit, Missouri — outside of Kansas City — and I currently live in Portland, Oregon.
I’ve been singing my whole life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making music. I started playing piano when I was 3 years old through my preschool! A music teacher visited our school who was doing research for his PhD. He created a way of teaching music to children, and we were his research subjects. His name was Mike. He and I really bonded, and he was my piano and voice teacher until I was 18! Mike was a huge influence on me as a musician and person. At the end of lessons, he would often play music for me. He really shaped my relationship to music and, well, my life.
Jenn: I grew up in Cupertino, California, and currently live between Portland, Oregon, and Nashville. Merideth and I met and became immediate best friends in San Diego in our early 20s.
I grew up singing in choirs and theater — studying music in college and then kept right on singing. I never stopped!
C&I: What did you grow up listening to?
Merideth: My dad played a 12-string guitar when we were growing up. And my mom loved Simon and Garfunkel, so I heard a lot of them. My dad would make mix tapes of ‘60s music, so I grew up listening to those, too. And then I just always loved musical theater. We took a few family trips to New York City when I was young. When I saw my first Broadway show I was hooked! My mom had Hair and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtracks in her car, so we would listen to them over and over.
Jenn: Musical theater! My parents were pretty nerdy, so the only records I remember having were Broadway musicals. The tapes that we listened to in the car were those “Cruisin’ to the Oldies” tapes, which I believe you would get at gas stations. I had them all memorized. All 1950s music, etc.; I know every word to “Johnny B. Goode,"” among others!
C&I: What were your big break and some career high points?
Jenn: My parents got really excited the first time I performed at a concert that was big enough to have jumbo-trons on each side of the stage.
Merideth: I was there! When you opened for Christopher Cross! It was at Villa Montalvo, this gorgeous outdoor venue in California, and it was the most perfect night. Jenn was on this huge stage with this packed amphitheater audience with incredible sound, and the stars were shining, and it was so special. Afterwards, I helped Jenn sell hundreds of CDs!
Jenn: It was the first time I realized you can actually sell hundreds of CDs at a concert!
Merideth: People were actually lining up and missing the beginning of the main act to be able to buy a CD from you and get your autograph.
Jenn: That was exciting! Opening for 10,000 Maniacs, Marc Broussard, and Edwin McCain have all been thrilling and wonderful experiences. Those three acts in particular I’ve felt fortunate to tour with regularly.
Merideth: Getting to perform in the National Tour of Wicked as Elphaba was a defining moment. A real career highlight was when Stephen Schwartz played the piano for me while I sang “I’m Not that Girl” from Wicked at a concert at Symphony Space in New York City. It was sort of an out-of-body experience; I felt so lucky. I remember in rehearsal he said, “I’m a little nervous.” And I thought, If he’s nervous, it’s OK to be nervous. I guess we’re both human. He was so kind and generous and put me at ease immediately.
Jenn: As far as career highlights for Siren Songs, definitely when Dolly Parton selected our version of “Jolene” as one of her favorites for the #jolenechallenge.
Merideth: For sure! Dolly Parton Parton is my hero. Also, recently Sofia von Trapp — she's the granddaughter of Georg and Maria von Trapp, who the musical The Sound of Music is based on — heard our version of “Edelweiss” and said it was beautiful and really peaceful. It'’s really encouraging, getting those kinds of stamps of approval!
C&I: Who are some of your musical influences?
Merideth and Jenn: First Aid Kit, Simon & Garfunkel, Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Carole King, Fiona Apple, John Prine, Indigo Girls, Brandi Carlile, Secret Sisters, Eva Cassidy, Be Good Tanyas.
C&I: What’s your process like?
Jenn: Hang out and have fun! It’s very easy, very organic — I’m sure because we’ve been friends for so long and have such mutual respect for one another.
Merideth: Who wants to play an instrument? Who wants the high harmony? Our process is simple: Hang out, make good music, and be good friends.
C&I: Something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Jenn: I’m a tap dancer! I have competitive tap-dancing medals.
Merideth: People might be surprised that I have two little kids and that I have a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology. I love processing food from our garden — pickles and jams. My husband has a very green thumb, and I get to reap the benefits by making wonderful food right here at our home.
C&I: What have you been doing during lockdown?
Jenn: Eating and drinking everything!
Merideth: I bought a new banjo and have been really enjoying getting to know it.
Jenn: Making music, making videos, connecting with our fans online.
Merideth: We also had a successful Kickstarter campaign, which launched and was funded all during the quarantine.
Jenn: We were nervous about it. It was a difficult time to ask people to support music. But ultimately, it was so successful we jumped in the Willamette River — clothes on, cold, raining — at the end in celebration.
Merideth: We had to do something monumental. I mean, we made like 200 percent of our initial goal. It was frigid and so exhilarating!
C&I: What should we do when we’re in your town?
Merideth: Enjoy the incredible nature that’s here and near Portland. It’s the only place I’ve lived where the ocean and the mountains are only an hour away. It’s green year-round. And there are beautiful rivers and parks and just so many wonderful places to be outside.
Jenn: In the fall, Merideth and I just drive around yelling about how the trees are beautiful, and Merideth cries.
Merideth: Ha ha! You cry too! And in the spring all of the flowering trees! I can’t believe what a beautiful place this is. Not to mention the arts and culture is incredible too — amazing music venues, bars, and restaurants, world-class cuisine, groundbreaking theater, and so much more.
Jenn: I love the foliage, the flowers — and the coffee!!!
For Nashville: I always suggest experiencing Broadway for the amount of music and happenings going on. Taking a drive down Music Row is great — it's like the modern-day Tin Pan Alley. Every building has people writing songs. The Grand Ole Opry is like taking a trip in a time machine — such a unique, fun experience. See a show at The Ryman, a fantastic venue; it's an old church. Have the Milk Punch cocktail at a restaurant called Adele’s — it's the only cocktail I think is worth flying for. It’s so good!
C&I: What’s next for you?
Merideth: For one, rescheduling all of our canceled tour dates. Coming out of quarantine and finding out what the new landscape of our industry looks like. Dreaming about what our next album will be. And really enjoying a beautiful summer in the meantime.
Jenn: And trying not to go crazy.
Siren Songs’ Feel Good Playlist
“Girl From Ipanema” — Astrud Gilberto
“For Once in My Life” — Stevie Wonder
“Man in the Mirror” — Michael Jackson
“Walking on Sunshine” — Katrina and the Waves
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — Rolling Stones
“You Get What You Give” — New Radicals
“Shame” — Avett Brothers
“Goodnight Sun, Hello Moon” — Siren Songs
“Beautiful” — Carole King
“You’ve Got a Friend” — James Taylor
“Build Me Up Buttercup” — The Foundations
“Evidence” — Jenn Grinels
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — Whitney Houston
“Jump” — The Pointer Sisters
“Happy Days Are Here Again” — Barbra Streisand
Photography: Images courtesy Chelsea Donoho