Q&A: Punk Sibling Trio, Constant Harmony
By August Edwards
The brilliance of the grunge, stoner rock band Constant Harmony comes from their ability to maneuver any hurdle - musical or otherwise. For Amy, Jenny, and Lee Sillery, there is no one way to approach a song. Self-proclaimed musical chairs punk rock, the three move around and pull from every instrument and emotion until it feels right.
Constant Harmony's new album Shut Up Karen just released on Feb. 19th, along with a music video for the title track. The album is everything you could want from a punk or alternative album. From a song about an impeached president, to a particularly enchanting track, "Tula"—about a cat from their childhood—Shut Up Karen delivers. Lyrics like "Yeah, you're a piece of scum / Fuck you" need to exist.
Talking to the Sillery siblings was a pleasure; laughing a lot and speaking over each other in a practiced way, they offered some great insight into their routine and philosophies. Check out their music video, find their album on Bandcamp and Spotify, and watch their Launchpad live stream here!
Tell me a little bit about how you guys got started as a band.
Lee: Well, these are my sisters. We grew up together. We didn’t really play music together as youth at all. It was an adult thing.
Amy: We were just like crazy ‘90s kids. So we were always outside doing stuff.
Lee: Don’t date us! Just kidding. No—and so yeah, basically at some point we were playing music together, [and then] recorded our very first album—starring my Uncle Ted who played the drums, I’ll never forget that, that was so cool—but we wrote the songs, did a bunch of cool harmonies. That was the first time we all worked together. And then we didn’t work together. We played music together off and on for a really long time, I guess. Recently, Amy moved back—she was all over the world.
Amy: I was in Colorado, then Oregon for a while. And then my husband and I moved back here six years ago. And we’ve been pretty much playing together ever since I got back.
Jenny: We always had projects going all the time, in between, too, with other people in a couple other bands. But we always came back together. We started originally as Constant Harmony, and basically was Lee and an acoustic guitar, then Amy came in, and we just came together and progressed from there.
Lee: But different bands throughout, yeah. Gusher—I played in Gusher, that was a really fun band. Did you ever get to see Gusher?
No, I haven’t!
Lee: Gusher was a really fun band, we got to tour, too. Jenny was in some cool bands, too!
Jenny: I was in Personals—was a really great band. And it originated with the drummer from Gusher. And I played in Cat Teeth, I played the drums. It always came back to Constant Harmony. We gel to well, and it’s so easy to work with siblings—
Jenny:—The dynamic is great, because everybody has such a different style. When we do come together, it’s nice because we switch instruments, everyone switches it up, and it keeps it fresh.
I would imagine—I don’t know—being a sibling band presents unique issues. How do you work through that? Or is it kind of smooth sailing?
Amy: It’s not always smooth sailing. But I think because we are a band family, when we do get pissed at each other and we do fight—we have all the same shit every other band has—I think it makes it easier to forgive each other—
Jenny: 'I quit!' It’s like, no, you can’t quit, you’re my sister, dammit!
Amy: We’re always able to work it out. And that’s what it really comes down to.
Lee: I think we all have a healthy respect for each other. I think that’s the most important thing. Obviously we have disagreements, but at the end of the day, these are my sisters. I grew up with you, I love you guys. It’s nice that way.
Jenny: We all have the understanding to love each other. That’s what really helps. Being in other bands, it’s almost kind of the same when you do run into bumps, but it’s definitely easier to smooth it out. Just knowing how we feel, how everybody feels about certain things, it’s easier to work with each other, to me.
The way we write has a lot to do with it. Sometimes we just sit down to start playing, don’t talk or anything, and all of a sudden there’s this new song coming to life, and I love that. I’ve definitely had that in other bands, but just how smooth it is—understanding each other and how we play, it’s super magical.
And you have something else unique going on, which is you each play all of the instruments—strings, kit, you all sing, too. How did that come about? An individual endeavor, a decision you all made?
Jenny: It was like, 'Hey, give me that guitar real quick, let me show you what I hear.' And, 'Okay, fine, you play it then! Okay, fine, you play the drums!'
Lee: Yeah, a lot of that happened.
Amy: A lot of it was just for fun, too. Just like, 'Oh, I wanna try that!'
Jenny: That’s nice, too, like when you have an idea, and you’re like, ‘I was playing this riff on the guitar.’ And they’re like, ‘okay, let’s hear it!’ or ‘I’ll do the drums to it.' It’s nice being open to playing something.
Is that what your creative process looks like?
Lee: Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with alone time. I know in my case, I’ll write a lot when I’m by myself, and then I’ll bring stuff to our practice, and I’ll be like, ‘hey look, I wrote this riff!’ and one of them will want to play drums or something, or will have a good beat for it, and we figure that out. That’s how it goes with Amy too, she’ll be like, ‘Oh, I made this song!’ We’ll be like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool!’
Amy: Or sometimes someone will walk in just in a whole mood, and they start playing what they’re feeling, and we just go off of that. If it sounds like something we can play to or if you have a concept to go with it, it’s just, pick your instrument! ‘What do you hear in your head when he’s playing that?’
Lee: We also actively set aside time to be creative. Cause we could play so many songs, but we need to be creative. We’ll play the songs we need to play for a show, because you have to practice, but it’s good to set aside purely creative time in your process. You have to practice that too. Getting into that flow state or mood.
Jenny: Fun fact—for “Shut Up Karen,” I actually wrote that on the patio at the Launchpad during a show. I was hanging out with my best friend Fred, and man, there was a Karen at the bar. We were like, ‘That’s a fucking Karen! Who is that?!’ We were sitting at the patio, laughing so hard, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna write a song about that shit.’ It just came to life. Next time we practiced, I was like, 'Guys, we’re gonna play this song and it’s gonna be great.' It was so fun, so lighthearted and fun. So really, it could come any time.
Lee: You have to keep doing it. Music is so hard, you have to play it and play it and play it and play it and play it and play it and play it and play it and play it and play it. Pretty soon you’re always playing music, and you’re like, ‘how did that happen?’
Jenny: We go through phases too, [like] writer’s block. But that’s what’s nice, too—allowing everyone to bring something to the table, it almost is constant to where we never have it, because there’s always one of us that’s like, ‘Hey, check this out!’ Sometimes you hit walls, but in Constant Harmony, it’s very rare.
Lee: If there’s something we can’t figure out, we’ll figure it out. That’s an interesting take on it, Jenny.
Speaking of "Shut Up Karen," yeah, I believe everything is political, especially art, and that is a particularly politically-charged song—such is punk rock, I guess—do you guys believe that there’s a moral responsibility that comes with rocking the fuck out?
Lee: Yeah, there is. You can just go haywire and, you know, sometimes that’s a good thing to do because how often do you get to go haywire? Or how often do you get to be super fuckin’ pissed off? You know, whatever—that’s what music is for. The ultimate expression. But, yeah, there could be consequences for what you’re doing.
Jenny: That’s definitely something that we do discuss.
Lee: It could be hated, or it could be loved. But really, like, what even is that at the end?
Jenny: If it brings a special emotion that a lot of people have that are either afraid to express or its just in there and they don’t express it, that’s what we go for. When you do let it out, it feels so good. It is something that we do discuss, you know, ‘okay, this might be a little too much.’ But at the end of the day, sometimes it’s not too much. Sometimes it’s what people need, is that outlet. Hearing that music, it makes you feel good—I don’t want anyone getting that crazy road rage or anything like that, but people need that. They need that.
Lee: As far as morally, we try to have good morals going into stuff.
Jenny: We love everybody, really. But it is definitely political. There’s a lot of emotion in that right now with people, and we try to keep it to where it’s not too much, because that is a lot for people right now. It’s crazy. There’s a lot of touchy things.
Amy: I think a lot of it too is even though some of our music is pretty political or politically charged, we’re always trying to send a pretty positive message. Within that, there’s always a message of unity and not letting the man tear us apart, and how we do have to come together because we are stronger together. There is a message in it, and it’s not just ‘let’s go eff shit up.’ There is some type of responsibility.
What’s your favorite part about playing music in Albuquerque and Albuquerque musicians?
Amy: Vibes. For me it’s the vibes.
Lee: I’ll tell you what. I’ve toured all over the place, and Albuquerque has some of the best bands, dude. Like, anywhere. Albuquerque bands are always different, they always have their own unique style—all of them. I rarely see cookie cutter bands here. By that, I mean just playing generic pop punk or something like that. I rarely see that. There’s always some kind of interesting art stuff that the musicians in Albuquerque are doing. Whatever it is here, it makes everybody super unique, and that’s what makes the music so special. And I love the bands here. All of them. They’re all good, they’re all great!
Jenny: And everybody’s so supportive in the music scene and art scene. Going around and touring, you don’t see that a lot. You really don’t. If you play shows in other states, you get off stage and its like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, blah blah blah, ok bye.’ It’s very impersonal. I like the fact that people are so friendly here. It makes it tight. All the bands here are amazing. It’s a pleasure always playing with them.
Lee: It’s not even limited to Albuquerque bands, either. It’s all Nuevo Mexico bands that are all great. In every city there’s an awesome band, in every town.
Jenny: We have a really special scene here, we really do. People come down from Santa Fe, they’re amazing. Cruces, Roswell—every time it’s a good experience. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience. That’s what’s special here. I've never seen it anywhere else.
What’s the most rewarding part of creating music for you?
Amy: For us, it’s kind of a release of our own emotions and things that we’re carrying along and that we carry when we’re in our creative process. What we’re going through in our lives at the time is definitely always influencing our music. If you go back to the very beginning of when we first started recording music to now and just listen to every lyric, it’s probably just a giant story of our entire lives, really. A lot of it is emotion-based. You can tell when we were having real sad moments in our life, we probably have some sad songs in there. When we were having some heartfelt moments we had some heartfelt songs in there. When we were having some pissed off moments, like “Karen,” there are some pissed off songs in there.
Lee: I agree with that. I think the most rewarding aspect for me is just the creative process itself. I really enjoy just making stuff. For me, I definitely love hanging and all that too, but I get a lot out of being like, ‘I made that.’ It feels good inside knowing that I made that. That’s what I really like. That and connecting with people. I know so many people now it’s crazy.
Amy: I miss playing shows. A lot of it is just being on stage and seeing how everyone takes it.
Jenny: If you can make somebody smile, or cry, if you can make somebody feel something when they hear your song or when you’re playing it—that hits me. I’m like, yes! You don’t even have to talk to me. If you felt it inside? That’s what I want. I want all the emotions. Our songs are so different so you can get that. But when you get that, that’s—it’s so special.
That’s all I have for today, is there anything you want to add or plug?
Lee: If you haven’t checked out our split with SHREWD, there’s tapes for that available still, and it sounds awesome. There are some great songs on there from both bands.