WHEN Savannah harpist Kristin King wanted to bring new flavor to her set, she didn’t have to look far. As co-owner of New Arts Ensembles, a local live music coordination company, and an impassioned contributor to the Savannah music scene, King called upon nearby friends and colleagues to form Uncommon Collective. With vocalists Trae Gurley and J.J. Collins, guitarist Bill Smith, mandolin player Cory Chambers, and bassist Linus Enokkson, this super-group delivers top musical chops and memorable holiday favorites on Friday as a part of the UU Spotlight Music Series.
We chatted with Kristin King about blending genres, picking the perfect songs, and having a blast with a pleasantly surprising bandmates.
How did Uncommon Collective come together?
I was asked to play a solo concert for the Unitarian church series in Bluffton... when I started brainstorming ideas, I found myself being uninspired. As a booking agent with New Arts Ensembles, I know all these wonderful musicians who I book all the time—gosh, Bill Smith I’ve been booking for ten years, Cory Chambers with City Hotel since he moved here five years ago, and Trey [Gurley], as well, l’ve known since I first got here. So I started thinking about all these great musicians and started thinking about songs I wanted to do, and they all seemed to have some common theme or styling I thought was unique, and it was covers done in a unique way.
I really wanted the opportunity just to be creative with mandolin, guitar, upright bass, and male/female vocals, so that’s really how it happened. I thought it’d be more fun to do this!
How does that sound when everyone comes from such varied backgrounds? Was that part of the idea, that everyone’s involved in different styles and disciplines?
Yeah, and I also basically just came up with a repertoire I thought would be cool, and met initially with J.J. Collins...she’s big on having a theme or some type of common thread that weaves throughout the whole program.
It was supposed to be a one-off—it wasn’t supposed to be anything we were going to do again, but we had such a great response, and then word got back to the Unitarian church here in Savannah, and they added a concert to their series.
They wanted us to incorporate some holiday stuff, so I picked some tunes I felt would be really great for this instrumentation and would fit with our style, and they sound great!
What’s the repertoire like?
We added in a really cool version of ‘Carol of the Bells’ that has Bill Smith really shining on guitar—it’s more like a flamenco-style, Spanish-style guitar. It kind of has Mannerheim Steamroller feel, but obviously we don’t have the percussion.
We do a lot of mashups because it’s really fun to blend and transition songs when you’re doing all covers—so we’re doing a mashup of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘We Three Kings,’ but in this really funky, backbeat bassline, and it definitely has more of a bluegrass feel to it. We’re keeping a lot of the songs we did for the concert back in October: there’s ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ we do a mashup of Trey singing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ with harp and bass going into ‘I Will Survive,’ because it’s the exact same chord progression.
It’s stuff like that that’s fun and everybody can connect with. And a little solo harp, classical, some instrumental pieces, ‘Moon River,’ classic pieces everyone enjoys. We try to have pieces that work with each vocalist and give them opportunities to really shine.
What’s it like working with everybody?
It’s so fun! A lot of the projects I’ve been working on lately, it’s all men; it’s so great to have J.J. there and to help balance out the female power because out of all the folks, J.J. and I are the only Type As!
We practice at my house, and we played through everything, all put in our two-cents as to what feels right when we’re doing this set. These are all professionals, they’re all top notch, and this is going to be great.
What’s the future hold for Uncommon Collective?
I don’t know that we’ll ever have another show! I wasn’t planning on having a second one. It’s nice to do something for the sake of a creative project. Society tells you to have an endgame—what’s the bigger goal? That’s how I’m normally programmed, and to be involved in something and be like, ‘This is the endgame, we're doing the endgame, this is just fun.' I struggle with taking myself too seriously sometimes, and it helps to have others around me to balance that give perspective and let me relax and enjoy.
It’s just kind of a jam session, really! Just more structured, anticipated and intentional, and with some awesome musicians.
That’s kind of the feel that I want the patrons to have: to be able to feel like they’re sitting around in a living room with six musicians calling out songs, and you connect in some way with one or all of them. They might not get the opportunity to see this again! It’s a special performance, just for this.
The Unitarian church is doing a nice reception after with mulled wine and cookies. It’s a good opportunity to see musicians people might know from other groups, but see them in a completely different environment and see them performing things people would not usually see them doing.