Ask the five sisters in Ashelin if either of them would ever consider going solo, and you’ll be knocked over with the resounding response they’ll all give you at once.
“No, definitely not.”
“It would never work.”
The girls, ranging in age from 15 to 22, say they’re determined to make a career out of their music — and out of being together.
The sisters — Kaliyan, Cassy, Joesie, Thea, and Shaelin Palmer — started making music together in their living room, singing and playing along to their father’s guitar, and moved on to performing in church, even while Shaelin, the youngest, was barely out of diapers. It wasn’t long before they were receiving invitations to perform at festivals.
“Shaelin didn’t always learn all the words to the songs, so she’d hold the mike, but it wouldn’t be plugged in,” explained Cassy. “We’d get her to play the shaker, and actually now she’s really good at percussion instruments. Her timing is amazing.”
Under the name The Palmer Girls, they released an album, “Sisters,” a compilation of folk songs and original tunes, in 2004.
Since then, they’ve toured the Atlantic provinces, performed at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, visited Qatar by invitation of the royal family, and played gigs at Juno Awards and East Coast Music Awards (ECMA) showcases. They changed their name to Aislin House, in an effort to sound more mature, and later to Ashelin, an Irish girl’s name.
“The Road Not Taken,” an album produced by Grammy winner George Massenburg and ECMA winner Al Strickland, was recorded over 10 days in Halifax, N.S., earlier this year, will be officially released with a show at Mickey Quinn’s in the Delta Hotel in St. John’s this evening.
Some of the songs on the CD are covers, like their version of Yes’ “Your Move,” but five are original compositions, written together by the five of them, with Celtic/soft pop influences and harmonies reminiscent of Ennis.
“One of us might write a chorus and a verse and then we’ll bring it back to the group and say, ‘Hey, listen to this,’” Cassie said. “We’ll get out our instruments and jam it out and come up with ideas and verses and it just all comes together that way.”
“Sometimes we get there and nothing happens, and it just seems to go in circles,” added Thea. “I guess that’s what’s called writer’s block, but that’s just part of being a songwriter.”
The girls say they’re never shy with each other when it comes to giving their opinions on the writing. Their feelings don’t get hurt, either.
“We’re used to it. Whatever sounds best in a song is what we’ll go with,” Cassy said.
Among the original songs are “July,” a song written by Thea about the sisters’ pet horse, which died last July, and “Song for Mariana,” started by Joesie, and turned into a love song for the ocean.
Mariana is the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, located in the western Pacific.
“Today, with the oil spills and everything, people are taking advantage and exploiting the ocean, and with this song we’re talking from the ocean’s perspective,” Cassy said. “Some things are better untouched. People don’t realize things now that they’re doing to the environment, and in the future it’s going to cause great sadness.”
Also on the album is “She La Pye Yin,” written for their paternal grandfather, who suffers from Alzheimers. That song started as a poem written by the girls’ father, Ted.
“We always had a really good relationship with our poppy, and to see him not knowing who we are is really sad,” Thea said.
The girls have partnered with the Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to help raise awareness of the disease, and will give the organization $3 from every album sold at their launch party.
Balancing music with part-time jobs and school isn’t easy. The girls have scheduled everything in their lives, from their part-time jobs to music practice (every day from 6-9 p.m.) to time with their friends.
Shaelin is in Grade 9 and hopes one day to study sound engineering, while Joesie is studying psychology at Memorial University. Kaliyan, Cassy and Thea are at MUN, too, all earning their business degrees.
Although they try hard, there have been times when their music career has interfered with their educations, the girls said. Determination got them through it.
“When we took time out for recording the CD, I fell behind with a lot of my school work and when we got back I had to do a lot of work to catch up on my own,” Thea explained.
“We all know it’s really important to stay on top of our education, so we make sure we have really good time management,” added Cassy. “Music is what we really want to do. It’s always been something that we’re committed to and we’ve worked so hard for it.”
The girls plan to continue to work just as hard, and are writing songs for a future album, as well as planning a country-wide tour.
Their love for music is something bred in them, Thea said.
“Asking us why we do this is like asking us why we breathe,” she said. “It’s what we do.”
The CD release for “The Road Not Taken” will start tonight at 7. The album is available at Fred’s Records, O’Brien’s Music Store, and online at CDBaby and www.ashelin.com.