I knocked on a pale door tucked under the skirt of a Cambridge triple and waited. The label on the mailbox next to the door was decorated with floaty pen(wo)manship, and hinted to the Ladle fairies residing inside.
We sat sipping fennel mint tea and pecking at an open carton of fresh strawberries. Tapestries graced the walls of the apartment, illuminated by string lights and garnished with art, post cards, and Ansel Adams’ clouds. “Welcome to our Hobbit hole,” they said.
Katie Martucci, Caroline Kuhn, and Lucia Purpura-Pontoniere met at the New England Conservatory through the Contemporary Improvisation program, whose makeup was “a lot of dudes.” As the only three undergraduate women in the program, the trio sought female companionship through music.
College dorm life lent itself well to floor-mates Katie and Caroline who started jamming together. Although the songwriters’ playing complimented each other well, Caroline confessed that the addition of Lucia’s fiddle inspired the trio’s formation. Their songs feature a combination of rich harmony, traditional acoustic instrumentation, and distinctive arrangements. Most of the arranging happens ahead of time– Katie and Caroline write songs individually and then bring them to group, so the foundation is pretty much there when each tune is brought to the table. “And then,” Katie said, “Cia’s like, ‘I want a fiddle solo.’”
When the group was set to play their first house show, they encountered the minor hiccup of finding a name. The Ladles were proud to tell me the story: At NEC there are three floors of practice rooms, and on the third floor the women’s restroom sign reads The Ladles Restroom.
“Some guys don’t like to walk all the way down to the end of the floor to the men’s room,” Katie explained. “And the women’s bathroom is much closer, and it’s a single. So one guy changed the sign to say Ladles. And anyone’s a ladle, so anyone can go in there.”
“Lazy men,” Lucia chimed in.
The sign still remains. The three women liked the sound of “The Ladles” – so the name remains as well.
The Ladles are proud to be a trio of powerful women. Lucia noted the advantages of an all-women’s group in the male-dominated, improvisational music genre. As peers, they can give each other direction, have a unique and tight blend, and avoid conflict with each other. This makes for pretty calm music-playing conditions and living quarters. “The all-girls thing is really important to us,” Caroline said.
The Ladles are making massive musical strides this month by launching their first EP. The recording process itself seemed to excite the group as much as the EP’s prospects. Katie explained the order of their tracks and set lists: “The ebb and flow is really important to us- how the energy flows,” especially in regards to performance. Typically, Ladle sets include songs from three categories: the neo-soul-folk love songs, the traditional folk songs, and then the downer love songs. “People get fidgety when we put too many of those in a row,” Lucia said. Since they don’t want their sets to get too monotonous, they work together to craft and build each set’s energy.
The women placed great importance on the concert-goers’ experience and their influence. “Everyone is involved,” they explained. “We take part with sparkles and glitter,” (fairy dust is imperative), “music, and little swigs of whisky. And the audience responds. They are with us. It is a collective experience.”
As a result, they recorded the songs that people responded to the most– or as Lucia noted, “all the hits.” They expect to release the EP by the end of March. “It’s in the world of mixing and mastering at the moment,” explained Caroline. “We’ll fill the meantime with some deep thinking and painful pocket digging.”
The friends are also preparing for a summer tour– the first for all three members. Caroline imagined “wearing one pair of shorts and a dress, and living out of a car with a whole bunch of a peanut butter.” Katie concurred: “Peanut butter is going to be crucial.”
Although they’re excited to travel, Katie, Caroline, and Lucia are glad to reside in the Bay Area. The Ladles cited Boston as a major influence on their music, personal growth, and performance quality. “Our nervous stage tittering used to be so bad,” Katie said. Now they’re taking ownership of their music, and putting it into the context of playing Boston events. And even though they don’t entirely fit into the folk category, the city’s folk scene is so well-established that the group has had no trouble finding people interested in hearing their music.
When asked to describe their music without using traditional genre names, Lucia didn’t hesitate. The way she described their music fit the fairy bill, a long string of elegant adjectives; “dreamy and evocative ways of expressing life creatively,” she said smoothly, as though she practiced it. Katie and Caroline chimed in with their own reflections on the sound, and ended up talking mostly about how they really value performances and their audience. After some mutual musing, Caroline softly summed it up by saying that their sound is “specific to the moment.”
After we turned the mic off, the trio told me “How To Be A Ladlehead.” If I want the title, I’ll have to attend more than ten shows, cross state lines to see a performance, and know the words to at least one song and sing along during performances. That last one I’ve got in the bag; “You Make Me Sing” is rather catchy.
You can catch the Ladle fairies on March 28 at Thunder Road Music Club in Somerville for a stripped-down Monday night acoustic residency in collaboration with the folks here at Sound of Boston.
Until then, The Ladles can be spotted playing at Hampshire College, rehearsing away at NEC and Berklee, and in the peanut butter section of the condiments aisle– suiting up for their upcoming gigs the best way they know how.