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INTERVIEW: Mark Sholtez

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SONGS OF THE SILVER SCREEN

Twilight On The Trail is the musical intersection of a childhood of Saturday morning western movies and formative years spent on the edge of the Mojave desert. For Jen Mize and Mark Sholtez, their tribute to the great cowboy songs and crooners of the 1940s is a project forged in the spirit of collaboration.

“She’d seen me play a few weeks previously and we ended up on this panel and in true Jen fashion she had learned all my songs and every time I got to a chorus all the backing vocals were there and I thought that was something I couldn’t live without anymore,” says Sholtez, recalling the first time he and Mize met at a songwriters in the round gig. “We got together and wrote a whole album of original tunes which we’ve talked about recording at some point. In the meantime I made a solo record and Jen sang some vocals on that and we just became great buddies. I’d had this idea to do a cowboy record for ages and had never put it into action. Then I saw Jen singing an old jazz standard at a gig and it was then that I realised how to make this record. We talked about it and immediately got to making it happen.”

Choosing songs for a project like this can be a daunting task, given the voluminous history of country music. The pair set about putting some goalposts up and first and foremost was the importance of this being a true collaborative record. “I didn’t want it to feel like Jen was coming in and guesting on a few songs. When we decided to do it together we cleared the slate and sat down and we built the record collaboratively,” stresses Sholtez. 

“We thought it’d be nice if everything came from an old film. That was how I discovered a lot of those songs. Jen’s story is very different, growing up in Las Vegas on the edge of the Mojave desert and her father was a cowboy. Her relationship to the music is very different. For me growing up in Australia and turning on the TV every Saturday morning, there was Roy Rogers or Gene Autry crooning by the campfire. For me it had to feel like it came out of those films,” he explains.

One of the things about the album, that sets it apart from other country tributes, is the way the pair have seamlessly blended country, and jazz into one sound. Close harmonies in an intimate and spacious setting make for a wonderfully immersive listen. 

“I think one of the real standout records over the last 15 years was the Alison Krauss and Robert Plant album Raising Sand,” says Sholtez. “What struck me about that was taking two people from very different backgrounds and bringing them together and they don’t try to even really meet in the middle, they stay authentically themselves and just meet in this new space together. That informed this project.”

“In this music in the 30s and 40s, it feels like country music and jazz and American popular music was all the same thing. The jazzers were singing about smokey barrooms and the cowboys were singing about the open plains but musically, the way the songs are engineered and the harmonies arranged, the music is the same. But from there you get what we now know as jazz and country music, so bringing different people from those worlds into the studio together and letting them be themselves and do this music authentically was a big part of the methodology of doing this,” says Sholtez.

Inevitably a successful and rewarding project like this begs for a second volume and Sholtez chuckles, before confessing that “Jen has already talked about volume two, it’s definitely something that is on the cards. It’s inevitable that we’ll go back in the studio and tackle more of the old cowboy songs. It feels really natural and was fun to do from the get-go.”

Chris Familton

tie off

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