When Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland, and Mali Obomsawin first played music together while attending Maine Fiddle Camp in Montville over a dozen years ago, they had no intention of to form a group.
They didn’t have it either when they became closer friends in high school – Burke in South Berwick, and Buckland and Obomsawin in Farmington. Or when all three got together at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Or even when they started giving concerts all over town and found their harmonies well mixed, as did their broad views on what folk music can be.
But at one point, Buckland says now, they were like, “Wait, are we in a band?”
They indeed were and, about seven years later, still are. As the Lula Wiles folk trio, they released two albums on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Smithsonian Institution’s non-profit label in Washington, DC Their latest album, “Shame and Sedition”, was released last month and attracted national attention. . Rolling Stone included the band’s song “Oh My God” – a musical hit against billionaire CEOs – in their “Song You Need to Know” series, calling it “a powerful blend of sign of the times analysis, songwriting. of moving songs and instant pop melodism.
“We started by playing around the campfire at the violin camp, we ended up in Berklee, and then we just played concerts together. It was all sort of organic, ”said Buckland, 28. “It all kind of developed over time. “
The distinctive name of the group has also evolved over time. At first they were the tricks, sort of referring to female tricks as a joke. But they found out that another group was already using it. So they decided to use part of a 1920s Carter family song “Lulu Walls” about a mystifying beautiful woman. In their Appalachian accents, the Carters pronounce the first name Lula. The new name of the group therefore became Lula Wiles.
Buckland currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Burke is in Portland, and Obomsawin has spent time in Lubec. They lived in various places outside Maine before the pandemic, including Nashville and New York.
When COVID-19 started shutting everything down, the three band members worked remotely, sharing songs they wrote on phone calls. Eventually, they decided to form a quarantine band, all returning to Maine in early summer and working together on the new album for several weeks. They recorded “Shame and Sedition” at the Great North Sound Society, a studio on a farm in Parsonsfield, near the New Hampshire border.
Some of the songs were written before the pandemic, but several were influenced by it and other events of the past summer, including movements calling for an end to racial injustice and income disparities. Obomsawin is a citizen of the Abenaki First Nation in Odanak, so it was important for her to make an album on themes of social justice in Maine, part of the Abenaki homeland, her band mates said.
They finished writing “Oh My God” while they were in the studio. Burke, 27, said she started writing the song “about economic exploitation” by large corporations at large, specifically companies like Amazon and CEOs like Jeff Bezos.
The lyrics are essentially a warning to the rich and powerful, that being the few controlling the economic interests of the many cannot last: “Maybe you believe you will rule forever / You may think that the world is a complacent fool / But hunger is a motor and anger is fuel / And everyone is hungry because of you. “
The song “Television,” written by the three members with Buckland on vocals, also deals with corporate control of the media. Buckland said he was partially inspired by last year’s Democratic primary debates and that the network’s anchors only ask questions about certain topics and appear to ignore others, controlling the debate.
“It’s a tighter and tighter choke on what you see / Who’s pointing the camera, who’s pointing the gun? / If the evidence is pointing backwards, then why would you filter it?” Are part of the lyrics.
“The political media and the news media are deliberately hiding things from us. And as the discussions went on, it got more and more frustrating, ”Burke said of the song’s inspiration.
Both songs have a relatively slow tempo, sometimes with sharp percussion and some electric guitar riffs. All three members sing on the album and play guitar. Obomsawin plays double bass and electric bass, while Buckland and Burke play violin.
All three members of Lula Wiles have at least one parent who works as a professional musician. They were all exposed to many types of music growing up and saw how difficult it can be to make a living from music. They also saw what it was like to pursue your passion as a job.
Obomsawin’s father, Tom Obomsawin, is a guitarist who has sung and performed throughout the state and beyond. Father and daughter play together for fun and in front of crowds at concerts in Maine.
Burke’s parents, Susie Burke and David Surette of South Berwick, have been performing together for the past 30 years and have also been instructors at Maine Fiddle Camp. They exposed their daughter to music at home, took her to concerts, and sometimes asked her younger sister to play with them. But they said they tried to strike a balance between exposing her to a musical life and not pushing her into one. They knew firsthand that it was hard work, to make a living, and you had to be passionate to really pursue it.
With lots of natural abilities and an interest in singing and playing instruments since she was little, Isa Burke didn’t need a lot of pressure, her parents said.
“I think growing up in our home, she didn’t go into (the music business) with stars in her eyes. She saw what it was like to try to get out of it, ”Surette said.
Buckland’s father, Andy Buckland of Farmington, is a multi-instrumentalist and double bass player who has been part of several groups over the years. He is currently part of an electric blues group called the Juke Joint Devils which performs in the region. He says his daughter took violin lessons when she was around 5 years old, and during those years he talked to her about what it takes to make a living in music.
“We’re talking reservation, practice, all kinds of things. I was hoping to help him avoid the mistakes I made along the way, ”he said.
After a few years of playing together in Boston and at folk festivals across the country, Lula Wiles recorded an album on her own and bought it. They brought their songs to the Folk Alliance International music conference in Kansas City in 2018 and started receiving offers from record labels. They signed with Smithsonian Folkways and released the album “What Will We Do” in 2019.
Due to the pandemic, they didn’t perform much to promote the new album, although in May they were interviewed by Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s “All Things Considered”. They talked about making a protest album in the middle of a pandemic, in quarantine.
But they hope to start playing again soon. They are expected to play a “micro” version of the Ossipee Valley Music Festival in Hiram on July 23-24. For up-to-date details on this festival and when Lula Wiles will perform, visit ossipeevalley.com.
The album “Shame and Sedition” was a bit of a change for the band, musically, in that it has more of an independent rock sound – with electric guitars and piano – as opposed to the more traditional folk sound of the previous recordings. . But it still features many of the same instruments, including violin, acoustic guitar, and double bass.
“We have a broad view of what folk music is, and that it’s really diverse and is about the heritage and preservation of a culture,” Buckland said. “Folk music is a living tradition.