A teacher from Shelbyville, Ind., Amber Nash — who sings and plays ukulele and guitar with Cincinnati-based Folk Pop duo Shiny and the Spoon — wears a porcupine claw and a white, tooth-shaped piece around her neck. On her left arm, a tattoo peeks out. Her hair, reddish brown curls. Nash, who got her start in musical theater and Jazz bands, speaks easily.
From the Ontario, Ohio, Nash’s SATS partner Jordan Neff (guitar, vocals) came to Cincinnati for college. He wears a button-down shirt and simple jeans, his hair, blonde and straight. No visible tattoos. Neff — who got his start as the lead singer of a sixth grade band — thinks carefully before he speaks.
Neff likes The Hiders’ Valentine, while Nash prefers the local Indie Roots band’s Penny Harvest Field. But there’s a certain respect present — while explaining how they differ, each listens closely, happily disagreeing, as if along for the ride.
A sense of Yin/Yang between the two is what makes Shiny and the Spoon’s music so clever. Like Johnny and June Carter Cash, they have a natural chemistry that makes their Folk/Pop sound an easily blended creation, with smooth harmonies, catchy melodies and a subtle style that’s their own unique merry-go-round.
In 2008, SATS started playing together as “an excuse to exchange numbers,” Nash admits. Soon dating and collaborating, numerous gigs and steady success came to Neff and Nash quickly. A “Best New Artist” nominee at the 2009 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, SATS scored a hit on YouTube with their ukulele-driven cover of ’80s hit “Take On Me” and their songs were used in a German independent film. The duo’s self-recorded, self-titled EP was spun regularly on radio outlets like WNKU and Lexington’s Red Barn Radio.
Both musicians played with Mark Utley’s local Americana ensemble Magnolia Mountain, but more recently left to concentrate on Shiny and the Spoon exclusively. The duo has also officially become a trio, adding Pete Brown on upright bass.
After steadily gigging and receiving many requests for CDs at shows, the duo realized it was time to record a full-length album. Nash says they were eager to make the LP because, as they’ve grown as musicians, so has their music.
“We kind of hit a wall,” Nash says of the lead up to the album, Ferris Wheel. “We played a lot of places in town that we wanted to play and we needed to record, because we were starting to change our sound. I feel like in general there’s more meat to (our sound) — it’s more real. We both have some experience under our belt, and we’re showing it a little.”
Formerly ukulele-centered, the group’s sound matured and changed when Nash picked up the acoustic guitar. Although there’s the same understated, artistic feel, Americana roots and ear-grabbing melodies, the addition of electric guitar, fiddle, piano and other instruments during recording gave the songs a fullness that stands in contrast to their earlier, more sparse sound. Songs set a definite mood, a feeling of closeness, bringing forth a simple, contagious vibe and an innocent intensity. Imagine the feeling of a first date at a carnival. The album’s title track and “Bread and Butter” have a lighthearted feel, but there’s a dark touch and the exposed emotion gives them a magnetic intimacy. Repeatedly, Neff and Nash have been told these two songs are “mesmerizing.”
Another change that emerged as SATS grew over the years is how much more directly collaborative the duo has become, something Neff says you can hear on Ferris Wheel.
“It’s more of a reflection of the both of us,” he says, before noting that not everything has changed in SATS’ world. “It’s still without pretense. That’s really important to us.”
Neff also says there is still a “core simplicity” to the music, but the more voluminous sound developed as performance experience taught them what did and didn’t work live. To grab and keep the crowd’s attention, the music needed to be harder to ignore.
“We started playing a lot of shows and we sort of cut our teeth a little. We learned to play a lot bigger,” Neff says.
The group is aching to tour and expand regionally. Being in a busy, hardworking band with your romantic partner has proven catastrophic for many musicians, but Neff and Nash’s bond suggests they have a good chance of being one of the noted exceptions.
“It’s definitely the most bizarre but wonderful relationship I’ve ever been in in my entire life,” Nash says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, because I think we’re both the same kind of crazy, and that helps, too. A good kind of crazy.”
Nodding and grinning, Neff says, “The feeling’s mutual.”
SHINY AND THE SPOON ( here.