One of the first songs featured by Bored In Pittsburgh was “Count Your Blessings,” a track from the recently released Twin EP (Bull City Records) by the excellent North Carolina/Georgia trio Case Sensitive. The band displays incredible range on the album, mixing sludgy guitar riffs with skyscraping vocals and the odd synth slow-burner. They somehow manage to resemble Switchfoot, Lana Del Ray, and the Dead Weather within the span of 5 songs, albeit with their own unique sonic spin, spooky yet beautiful, and a rebellious lyrical bent. I love all the songs on Twin, but I stand by my opinion that the lighters-in-the-air power ballad “Count Your Blessings” is one of the best freaking songs I’ve heard in a long time. Case Sensitive’s bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Sierra Shell, drummer/vocalist Mary Koenig, and guitarist Chesley Kalnen were kind enough to do this Q+A with Bored In Pittsburgh.
What is Case Sensitive all about? A mission statement, if you will.
Sierra: Collaboration and creation in a safe, encouraging space.
Mary: Building up each other and our community.
Chesley: Undermining expertise.
Your Bandcamp page describes your sound as “music for your pet skeleton”; do any of you have a pet skeleton?
C: I have a cat skeleton named Mischief. He’s plastic and came from Target. He enjoys not having fur (or any organs) and is really good at taking naps.
M: If this counts, I’ve got a cat named Buffy, so named because she slays all the bugs in our apartment.
S: All of my pet skeletons come with flesh and fur attached. : )
Cliche question, but who are your favorite artists/musical influences/people in general who influence you?
M: I’d say I bring a strong love of pop and pop conventions to the table. I love Marina, St. Vincent, Lizzo, and HAIM, and have been really into songwriters like Carole King.
C: Sharon Van Etten, Sleater-Kinney, Marina, Neko Case, St. Vincent, and fka Twigs are all go-to artists for me. I’ve recently been bopping to Habibi, Big Thief, and PJ Harvey.
S: I’m not sure I’d list these artists as influences because our sound is really different, but I absolutely love Nina Simone, Lizzo, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Outkast, Photay, Snarky Puppy, Vulfpeck, Metric, and (I am not ashamed to say!) Coldplay.
C: Haha, Sierra and I go back and forth on Coldplay. I’m not a fan but respect them.
How do you make it work with band members being split between two states (North Carolina and Georgia)? Do you get together regularly and jam in person, or do you come up with ideas separately and share them via the magic of the internet? Or some combo of both?
C: Ha, we’re still figuring this out! When we started, we all lived in the same town. We practiced weekly and had a really in-depth, collaborative songwriting process. This past year has been super busy for all of us, so we try to cram rehearsals and songwriting into the same weekend when we have shows. We’ve been talking about having a songwriting retreat weekend, so that may be our next step in the process!
There’s a Southern Gothic vibe that runs throughout Twin; does your music draw inspiration from your southern roots?
S: What a complicated question, whew. I’m not sure I’d say I draw directly from my roots, considering that many of the things we discuss in our music are universal human experiences. But in Six Feet in particular, our lyrics recall individuals who aren’t engaged, who aren’t shocked at the state of the world, and who turn a blind eye to injustice and violence. In many ways, to live in the south is to be affected by – or to bear witness to – these issues; to bear witness to racism, anti-LGBT sentiment, religious restriction of a woman’s right to choose. So I guess it seeps in that way.
M: I also think, along with bearing witness to these issues, living in the South also means we get to witness people doing some truly amazing work to support each other. We get to see people building community and relationships amidst violence and injustice. I think we try and bring a bit of that attitude in our songwriting, relationship-building, and performance as well.
I read over your interview with Unsweetened Magazine, and it sounds like your band has a strong social/political conscience; how does that inform Case Sensitive’s music?
S: I think social justice is important to all three of us. I’m not sure we specifically write music to get a specific message out there, but with the way the world is today, one can’t help but be involved. Even as we’re just drawing from our own experiences, that’s still writing about how we and people we know have been affected by restricting stereotypes, or toxic masculinity, or even the American government more broadly.
Any weird/wacky/entertaining concert anecdotes?
M: One year for Hopscotch Music Fest we played inside a half-pipe in the hot North Carolina sun, then bopped around Raleigh to see other day parties. It was a ton of fun.
S: I once played a show in a very loud venue with a bad migraine. I don’t recommend it! But when you’ve gotta rawk, you’ve gotta rawk.
C: One of our favorite Chapel Hill venues is The Cave. It is down a set of stairs, has a low ceiling, and the walls and ceiling are sculpted with plaster in a way that it really does look like the inside of a cave. There’s also a ghost the dwells there, but he’s pretty chill. Have seen him twice (name is Bo).
What does the future hold for Case Sensitive?
C: We’re planning the rest of our 2019 shows, playing mostly in North Carolina and Georgia.
M: We’re gonna keep collaborating, playing together, and trying to get in a little new songwriting each time we’re able to.
S: We will let you know once we’ve figured it out. : )
Anything I may have forgotten that you’d want people to know about yourselves, your band, your music, or anything in general?
S: I try to say this in every interview we’ve ever given. If you’re interested in playing music, if you think you’d like to be in a band but don’t know if you’re a “music person,” just try it. I started late, I didn’t learn to play an instrument (beyond a couple of guitar chords) until AFTER I graduated from college. I never, ever expected to release an album, or hear my voice on the radio. But we just kept working together and kept pushing. It’s never too late to start, if you’re willing to put the work in.
M: Yes! Ditto to what Sierra said. You CAN play an instrument, you just gotta get out there and do it. And for me, a big part of that was getting involved with Girls Rock NC. Encouraging kids to share their ideas, put themselves out there, and treat their art as valid helped me gain the confidence to take my own creative ideas seriously (and made me realize that anyone can be a musician!). So there’s my plug–volunteer for and donate to the Girls Rock in your town!