Houston Music

Say Girl Say Celebrates Its Labor of Love

“Say, girl, …say!”

It’s not just the name of yet another exciting young band from Houston, it’s also a salutation traded between the band and its loyal followers. Say Girl Say hopes to see many of those followers tonight at Walters for the release of its eponymous album, its first professionally recorded and mastered full-length. According to the trio, listeners will be able to “hear the baby steps of our evolution from being mostly a ukulele folk sound to a more world [music] and soulful sound.”

Some of us are fortunate to have watched that evolution occur. The first time I recall seeing the band, it was a duo with Brigette Yawn and Suzan Zaghmouth performing original uke and vocal tunes for adventurous music lovers at places like Jenner House and East Side Social Center. Later, they added percussionist Luke Odom.

“Brigette and I met while working for an environmental non-profit group in Houston. It wasn't long before we discovered our mutual love for music,” Zaghmouth recalls. “We started performing at local parks, backyard hangouts and eventually open mikes around the fall of 2011. That's where we met Luke. After we performed an open-mike set at AvantGarden, he approached us with his drum in hand.”

“I walked into AvantGarden and I saw these two girls singing into one microphone," says Odom. "I was immediately captivated by what I heard coming from the stage. Later on that night, I heard them singing again on the back patio. I approached them with my drum and started playing along with them.”

“I immediately said to Luke after jamming through a couple of songs, ‘Hey you should be in our band!’” Yawn remembers. “Initially he rejected my request and said, ‘Oh, I don't do the whole music thing, I've been in bands before and now I mostly do film work, but I will help you guys record and produce your music.’”

Fans of the band know why Odom was hooked from the first moment: Yawn and Zaghmouth are quite arresting when they’re in the groove. Their harmonies can stop a listener in his or her tracks, all the more impressive when they reveal neither has ever taken a vocal lesson. Between them, the ladies and gentleman of Say Girl Say have only Yawn’s classical violin background as formal training. All three native Houstonians are self-taught instrumentalists.

“We recorded five songs at his home studio and hand-made a hundred or so burned copies of our demo and passed them out as we went busking at SXSW in 2012. On the ride home Luke had some sort of ‘revelation’ and finally agreed to officially be in the band, completing the triangle,” Yawn says.

The band allayed my personal fears that some of the Say Girl Say standards might not have made the album. “Coca Cola Kisses,” “What’s That Sound?”, “Naked” and “Hallelujah” are all among its ten tracks in all. They said, “it was really important for us to share quality recordings before moving forward with new material.” Harp, guitar, violin and an assortment of percussion instruments will bring new life to those songs, the band said. Odom produced, engineered and mixed the record at his home studio, The Sound Kingdom, and it was mastered by Christopher Longwood at Sugar Hill Studios.

The result has been two years in the making, a series of on-and-off again attempts that were set aside by life things like day jobs and gigs. The band even spent a couple of weeks living in The Sound Kingdom together, sleeping in bunk beds and doing daily yoga, to get the tracks down. Utlimately, the biggest challenge they faced was separating themselves from what  had by then become a very conjoined act.

“We had to track our voices individually most of the time, which was something we were not at all familiar with," the band says jointly. "What we do is very natural, free flowing and in the moment, when writing or performing together. Recording was like looking at it with a magnifying glass. This record is a labor of love, though it was tedious and very draining at times, the whole experience has made us tighter as a band and enhanced our creative process."

There’s a communal feel to a live Say Girl Say performance. The music, which has been described as “urban indigenous” or “soul folk,” has a tribal feel about it, thanks to Odom’s drumming and the band’s penchant for tribal wardrobe. Its influences include musicians like Nahid Akhtar and Yma Sumac along with stalwarts like The Beatles and Bjork.  So, how did not having the pulse of a live audience affect recording? 

“The audience is a huge part of what we do and how we started," the band says. "If it weren't for the people that encompass the Houston community, Say Girl Say wouldn't be a band. It has always been pretty shocking from the beginning how much love and support Houston has expressed to us. So, reflecting that strong communal sense you get at live performance was a concern for us. But I think the songs themselves are relative for most people, some of which have a positive message, or are literally about community and our current society. I think that helps a lot. Without an audience there's no feedback of energy around us. But with a little bit of positivity and imagination, we were able to achieve the sound we were looking for.”

Fret not, if you can’t attend tonight. The album releases to iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby and Bandcamp on June 1. There will certainly be copies available when Say Girl Say plays Black Barbie with Hestina on June 12; The Summit with Two Star Symphony on June 20; or at Fitzgeralds on July 11, when the band plays Hank Schyma’s album release. But anyone who’s seen Say Girl Say even once knows to expect something memorable on such a memorable occasion.

Really, why would you want to miss that?

“We will be taking the stage with Hayden Jones and the Roosevelt House Band, Crashing Colors, Joy of Djembe Drumming and Josiah Gabriel and Friends,” Yawn says. “We will be accompanied by muscle dancer, Ms Yet, along with a few other surprise collaborations in store that night. Special guests of MDSO will also be there to help set the tone of our magical realm with their performances throughout the night, and Sandy Ewen Projects will be shining her most beautiful colorful light on us.

“There will be some performance art interaction happening as guests arrive to properly welcome and accommodate humans into our world. It's going to be a very monumental event for us with it being our first ever record release, so don't miss out! It's only going to happen once!”

Say Girl Say’s record release is tonight at Walters Downtown (1120 Naylor) with the aforementioned special guests . Doors open at 8 p.m.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.