On the Strength of a Song: How OKC Folk Trio Judith Built a Sound from a Whim

“At that first rehearsal, I was like, ‘Peace out! This sounds terrible! I don’t want to be a part of this!’” violinist Morgan Ward said, recounting the beginnings of Judith the way one might remember a vacation gone awry.

“It was so bad that I left in tears,” said violinist Lynn Neill, and guitarist Kinsey Charles remembered thinking “What have we done? We booked a show before we’d ever played anything together!”

Coming up on their one year anniversary, Judith is a budding Americana/Folk trio from Oklahoma City who convey thought-provoking stories through intimate lyrics and vocal harmonies. Their live performances are so organic and fine-tuned that one would hardly guess that the band was initially intended to be just a one-off project to play a block party at the Plant Shoppe on Film Row.

“We were all standing around,” Charles said, “and Jen Semmler (owner of The Plant Shoppe) was like, ‘You guys should have a supergroup!”

As with many “supergroups,” strong personalities and conflicting opinions were unavoidable, and the end goal soon became to just get through the show.

Part of the difficulty came from the different backgrounds Neill, Charles, and Ward brought to the group. Both Charles and Ward are songwriters for Judith, and, while Charles was used to playing solo where she’d “write a song, 30 minutes, and it’s done,” Ward said she was “a bit of a music snob. My family drilled that stuff into us, and we grew up singing four-part harmonies and things.”

Then there was Neill, who played violin in school orchestra, but didn’t have much experience creating music of her own. While Charles and Ward worked more quickly and spontaneously, Neill started out relying on the familiar, methodical framework of sheet music. “Those first practices were like, four, five hours,” she said.

“It felt like we were all getting married,” Charles said. “I had these babies, and now they were their step-children, and we were being sensitive” about how to raise them.

One crucial element ultimately saved the band. “We had one song that was great,” Charles said, “but all the rest were terrible. We were like, ‘Okay, what do we have that’s good in this song? Why does it work? We need to mimic what we like about that to the other ones.’ That’s what we did.” That song was “Reminisce.” Ward characterizes it as their “anthem song.”

With its delicate hook and moody imagery, it plays like a tale of loss, but that’s a disguise. A closer look at the lyrics reveals a bold independence that turns that trope on its head.

“Reminisce” kept Judith from giving up on the project. “You don’t wanna stick it out forever, but if you feel there’s something in there that just needs some grit and some time and some work,” Charles explained, “there are things worth working for.”

After getting more comfortable with each other as bandmates through further practices, Judith performed at The Plant Shoppe block party. “The show went great. We were pretty blown away with the response,” Charles said. “We were like, ‘oh, maybe we should do this.’”

Judith has been steadily booking shows since that performance, but not without its challenges. Ward said that a recurring problem for the all-female band is being misunderstood and misrepresented. “The way you look gets judged a lot on whether or not you’re worth listening to, and I hate that.”

“What women deal with a lot is feeling over-simplified. Our songwriting is emotive and powerful and strong, and I get kind of upset when I play a song for someone and their response is ‘that’s sad.’ I’m like, that’s not all it is, actually,” Charles added.

Charles describes her songwriting as not just therapeutic, but also as a chance to learn from her experiences in hindsight.

“I can still tap into that emotion and remember, but it’s my way of rising above it.”

In a sense, that summarizes this first chapter of Judith’s existence—confronting their issues through art. They have subdued some potentially band-breaking struggles, and they have risen above to create a greater whole. While further challenges may lie ahead for the trio, it’s clear that they will be aided along by the two elements that underlie even the starkest of Judith songs—strength and hope. When they proclaim “Don’t you, don’t you worry about me” on their spirited chorus to “Scheherazade,” one can’t help but take their advice.

 

 

In the full, experimental interview this article was derived from–which you can read here—Judith also discusses the art of harmony in storytelling, the personal reasons they tell their stories, and one particular gig that had Lynn so upset that she had to stop talking about it for a moment. They also stumble onto the term “orc dork” and attempt to recreate “an ideal day.”

The interview uses a choose-your-own-destiny structure designed to empower the subjects interviewed as well as broaden the topics discussed. The hope is that this will take the conversation into places it wouldn’t otherwise go and bring about new angles to a familiar medium.

This article was originally written for Literati Press (literatipressok.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.

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aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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