Girlyman: Songs about moose and Easy Bake Ovens

Doris Miramatsu always wanted to be a singer-songwriter and sing harmony … and with her “best-friend-since-second-grade,” Tyland Greenstein, she idolized Simon and Garfunkel so much that she was sure she could grow up to be Paul Simon. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do … except I have more hair,” she offered. And when I pointed out that Simon didn’t get to sing much harmony, Nate Borofsky, the third member of the pop-folk trio, looked at Doris and blurted, “You’re Simon AND Garfunkel.”

Girlyman’s performances are like that, too – when these three artists are not laughing and finishing each other’s thoughts, they’re churning out smart, sharp, unique songs centered in water-tight harmonies backed by guitar (from all three) and seasoned with piano, percussion, mandolin and banjo.

Doris and Ty both moved through a variety of piano, voice and guitar lessons, until settling on their own harmony focused style. At a college open mike they met Nate, who was soon filling in a tenor part on their Indigo Girl covers. Vocally they were well-balanced: tenor, alto and soprano. Their personalities blended as well as their voices. They lived together in Brooklyn and it was from there that they started to tour.

Their journey has included five albums and almost constant touring, from colleges to established folk venues like Eddie’s Attic and Passim as well as festivals like Falcon Ridge.  On early tours, they performed with names well-known to folk audiences, including Catie Curtis. (“A great rite of passage,” reminisced Doris.) They toured with the Indigo Girls and with Dar Williams for about 40 shows.  “We played almost every night for nine weeks, using all these different sound systems.” When I asked if it was a little like boot camp they all laughed, Doris adding, “Yeah, it really was, we grew up a lot.”

Recently their talents also attracted the attention of comic Margaret Cho. In Atlanta for a few months (where Girlyman is now based), she was looking for co-writers. The trio added a melody to Cho’s lyrics about a male stripper … then asked about opening for them in Atlanta and Los Angeles. “It’s strange when someone you’ve seen at Carnegie Hall asks to open for you,” laughs Nate. “She was by far the most vulgar opener we’ve ever had.”

Their latest album, Everything’s Easy, was released last year and contains more of their trademark harmonies and distinctive songs. They produced it on their own label (previous releases were on Amy Ray’s Daemon Records) and it was recorded with one mike in a home studio. Not just any mike — a $10,000 Brauner paid for by their fans. Unlike their previous albums, the arrangements weren’t all done before recording. In fact, some of the songs weren’t even all written but with no clock to watch, it wasn’t a problem.

There was a fear that they wouldn’t know when to stop adding to the arrangements. Nate laughs and says, “The cannons! The boys’ choir! The drum loops! The horn section!” — but in the end they felt like production was appropriate for each song.  It helped that they hired Ben Wisch (who’s worked with Marc Cohn and Catie Curtis) to mix it. “He’d chase us out of the room and we’d come back and it’d be completely stripped down, then we’d all be crying,” they added with a giggle.

Songs range from “Easy Bake Ovens,” a postcard of varied nostalgic images that changes key every three or four lines (each of them taking turns singing lead as it goes higher), to “Somewhere Different Now,” a song about change and uncertainty, penned by Ty. Doris’ “Nothing Called Home” features one of the more complex arrangements on the album, including some piano from Nate and a cello from a friend that came together at the last minute.

Their performances feel like you’ve come upon a living room jam session with three talented musicians. They’re always open to requests — Ty says she loves every song – and you never know when they’ll make up a song on the spot. Some of those songs remain a part of their shows like the popular “Moose in the Road” written in their van after seeing a moose crossing sign. The intros are funny too. At the show I attended, Ty introduced her “Hey Rose” by saying “This is for all the straight girls who don’t get it” and Nate started his Tin Pan Alley inspired “My Eyes Get Misty” by quipping, “I wrote this because I always wanted to be one of the Andrews Sisters and this was as close as I could get.” The world doesn’t need another “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” anyway. More songs about moose? Definitely!

******************

This is an article I wrote for Sing Out! It was published in Spring 2010 (Vol 53 #3). Reprinted with permission.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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