Cindy Laundrie Marshall's played in rock bands for some time, including her high-energy two-piece Vera.
So the country, folk and light psychedelia of her new band The Shiveries required stepping far out of her comfort zone – she's unplugged on acoustic guitar, with up to seven other people playing along.
That lush sound – featuring keyboards, cello, fiddle, harmony vocals and more – was born of an ingenious idea.
Marshall, who sings lead as well, doesn't consider herself a musician's musician.
She keeps her songwriting process as simple as possible: Sing a melody, set it to words, accompany it with chords.
"For me, it's just a form of expression. It's basically a musical journal, just taking your journal at night and singing it out," she said.
The order of that process – starting with the melody – probably accounts for why the 13-some new songs are memorable and hummable rather than look-at-what-I-can-play workouts.
It's a method so straight-forward she's taught it to her kids and students at summer music camp.
"This summer, I watched 7-year-olds write great songs," she said. "Honestly, I feel like the only thing that gets in the way of people expressing themselves in this way is inhibition and lack of confidence."
To step further out her comfort zone, she recruited even more musicians for The Shiveries than she's ever played with before.
Marshall wanted to take songs, written in her own style, and augment them with players who could add their own layers of complexity.
She ended up with a core group: Matt Olson, the former bassist from Vera who joined the project from its earliest stages a year ago. On keyboards and harmony vocals is Sasha Bell, who was a member of the Merge Records band the Essex Green. Providing colorful and complex drumming is Joe Nickell, the former Missoulian arts reporter and a current member of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra.
She and Olson recruited regular guests who could play when they were able, depending on other commitments: Jessica Catron, also an MSO member, on cello; Caroline Keys on banjo and vocals; Grace Decker on fiddle; and Gibson Hartwell on pedal steel.
Not everyone plays on every song, in order to keep the songs dynamic.
"We pay a lot of attention," Olson said. "If someone is going to have a solo part we step back and let them come forward."
"Nobody has to be a flourishing frontman," he said. That attitude shows in the arrangements, which never crowd out Marshall's words or the vocals.
Those guests joined late last December for the group's debut performance. But Marshall and Olson had been working on the songs for a year prior to that, accumulating a full set's worth of material.
That lengthy preparation time accounts for an unusual amount of polish for a band that's played only two shows live.
Their next set is Saturday at the Ole Beck VFW Post 209. (See box for details.) In the near future, the band hopes to play about once a month around Missoula, with an eye toward wine bars and early show times.