What inspired you to make music together?
Rob: We actually wanted to just jam and play songs together. We asked a drummer and bass player to rehearse with us and we had a great time during those sessions. But, the drummer was in several different projects, and the bass player was busy with a successful business he had just started and falling in love with the woman that he eventually married. Needless to say, scheduling rehearsals around everyone’s busy schedules was quite a challenge. Rehearsals were in the studio at the home Laura and I share together so we both tended to be available at the same time, and singer Marvin Carter Jr. could always show up when the two of us were available. So, instead of jamming with a rhythm section, we started writing songs together. To this day, we always have amazing songwriting sessions and are able to creatively collaborate and write songs we all enjoy playing.
How did you pick your band name?
Laura: The idea for the name came to me right after a deep meditation — it perfectly described the music we wanted to play. When I shared the name Cosmic Soul Shakers with Rob, he loved it and thought it was a great fit with our music.
What genre do you consider your music to be?
Rob: Rock Blues Soul with a nod to the jam bands. We tend to have sections in our songs that can be extended for jamming.
Who are your major influences?
Laura: Carole King for her prolific songwriting and arranging, her recognizable piano style and her soulful, honest voice. Ever since I discovered Tapestry in my mother’s record collection, its songs have been a source of both inspiration and comfort. Aretha Franklin. The skill with which she uses her voice is incomparable. I’m inspired whenever I hear the pure, gut-wrenching soul flowing from her music. George Harrison. His songwriting, guitar playing, voice. My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love are embedded in my heart. His collaboration with Ravi Shankar produced so many gifts for the world. George’s mantra music - so reverently sincere, yet his style is so evident.
Rob: Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix. Each of these artists clearly made music for the love of music and brought themselves and listeners to beautiful, unexplored soundscapes and euphoria.
Name three people who have influenced your music and why.
Laura: My mother. She was my first music teacher, gave me my first piano and guitar lessons, and taught me music theory. I have many memories of standing next to her singing songs while she sang with me and played the piano. She imparted an appreciation of all forms of music, and exposed me to lots of live music growing up. I have fond memories of her taking me and some of her other music students to see the L.A. Philharmonic rehearse at the Hollywood Bowl.
The music professor who rejected my application into his university percussion program — twice! I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been for my first audition. But, I worked very hard to prepare for my second audition. I was young and hinged my future plans on being accepted into this particular music program. The rejection forced me to focus on other musical opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I began singing, writing and playing keys in a rock band, and playing in an African marimba band. Interestingly, the marimba band I played in was later invited by that very same professor to perform a concert at the music school.
All of the music teachers, students and musicians I’ve worked with continue to help me grow and expand as a musician, songwriter and human being.
Rob: My friend Ken Brakebill. He taught me about amps, tubes and string gauges like creating your own custom set of strings which I did with his help. He listened to me play and suggested a lighter touch which helped a lot too.
My friend Tommy Atkins. He told me to listen to my string bending 28 years ago and I realized my vibrato was too wide.
All of my teachers who through their help and wisdom I gained theory and improvisation skills enabling me to express what I hear in my head through the music I co-create.
Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
Laura: Songwriting has been a very natural form of creative self-expression for me since a young age, and it still is. In addition to being something I do instinctively, I draw inspiration to write songs from my love of the songwriting process and the joy of hearing a finished recording of a song.
Our co-writing process usually starts as an idea from one of us — it could be a lyric and melody from Marvin, or a guitar groove or riff from Rob, or even an almost complete song one of us started that needs help finishing. After the initial idea is presented to the group, the collaborative process varies from song to song.
You And Me, for instance, started as an acoustic guitar riff with verse chords and structure from Rob. It took months of Rob asking me to write accompanying melody and lyrics before I came up with the idea for the verse melody and words. Once we had the verses, we came up with the chorus melody together, and the concept of using nature to describe how often the parts can be greater than the whole — Better Together. That’s how we came up with the chorus “like the stars and nighttime sky, like the sand along the tide. We’re Better Together. . .”
How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
Rob: The songs we’re writing now are more of an alchemy of rock-soul-blues; whereas the songs we wrote for Better Together are more genre-specific. For instance, The Rain is blues-rock and Too Fast Too Deep is pop-rock. The evolution was not really a conscious decision, but has naturally evolved through our collaboration and influences.