Little did Jenny Mason know that when she walked into a session she booked for herself at San Francisco’s legendary analog recording studio Tiny Telephone a few years ago that it would change her musical life forever. But that’s exactly what happened.
Mason was an introverted Sarah McLachlan-influenced solo singer-songwriter until she met sound engineer Rob Shelton, who worked at the studio and was randomly assigned to her session that day.
“I told him I was bored with myself and bored with my songs,” Mason says. “And he immediately responded by showing me the incredible possibilities of synths and other electronics. I was so inspired I went home and wrote a whole bunch of new stuff.”
The collaboration raged on, ultimately including Shelton’s multi-instrumentalist wife Carly Bond, who along with electric guitars also brought dulcimer, quattro, piano, vibraslap, cuica, bass clarinet, flutes, and percussion into the fold. Adding in Mason and Shelton’s Yamaha DX-7, Fender Rhodes and other keyboard options created a veritable arsenal, and the sonic possibilities seemed endless.
Together the Berkeley-based trio became known as Sis, and their experimental pop-soul-trance brims with undulating seas of electronica merged with decidedly human elements of vocals and conventional instrumentation as well.
“Our first album, Euphorbia, was actually born out of that very first studio session with Rob, and it’s become a truly wonderful musical chemistry between the three of us,” Mason points out.
Starting a band was not at all in Mason’s plans that day. But she was carried away by the sound. And Mason doesn’t miss her days as an introspective solo folk act, finding Sis artistically and personally fulfilling.
“Putting our music down is like a patchwork quilt of loops, riffs, effects and motifs,” she says. “It’s totally collaborative, and it’s great building out each song with my bandmates. It’s liberating that it’s not only my thing.”
The trio’s second effort, Gas Station Roses, drops on Sept. 6, making their appearance here this weekend a pre-release album party of sorts. The album itself was therapeutic for the group.
“We were trying to understand and cope with all that has been going on lately politically,” Mason says, “and in the face of that, somehow choosing to smile and be awake to the beauty that surrounds us.”
Alt-pop folksinger Suzanne Vallie opens.
SIS 7pm Friday, Aug. 30. The Lab, 3728 The Barnyard, Suite G-23, Carmel. $8. thelabarts.com