Hailing from Northern California, Misner & Smith’s music is a combination of soaring vocal harmonies, extremely tight instrumental arrangements, and story-filled, poetic songwriting, adding up to some of the most electrifying music on the scene today. The band’s sound harkens back to the bedrock of american rock & folk, but the diversity of styles and genres are one of the things that set M&S apart. They can shake the walls like a freight train and then quiet the room to a whisper in a single song. With two singers who could easily lead a band independently, Sam and Megan sing with one voice, with music that captures longing and belonging in the same moment. Close your eyes and you’ll be swept up in a sound that you’ll swear is a full band.
Misner & Smith’s combination of vocal blend, lyrical potency, and diverse songwriting make this duo one of the most unique and loved bands around. The award-winning original songs range from folk to rock to Americana to country, but essentially are something all their own, defined by the stories that each song tells. Misner & Smith create an extraordinarily full sound for only two people, and tour extensively both in the U.S. and overseas. Headlining regularly at venues such as the Freight & Salvage, and the Palms Playhouse, they have also appeared at The Kate Wolf Music Festival, San Francisco Folk Festival, and can be heard on radio dials all over the world. They recently celebrated over a decade of making music together; a decade that has produced five albums, including their most recent release, headwaters.
Recently, the duo’s sound has expanded with the addition of two stellar musicians, Josh Yenne (pedal steel and electric guitar), and Joe Shotwell (drums). The music takes on an even more lush and impressive depth, stretching at times into the realm of experimentation and improvisation, highlighting the group’s impressive musical talents. The combination of musical dexterity and vocal prowess packs a punch that will linger with you for a long time to come.
A little history....
With the recent release of their fifth album, headwaters (2017), Sam & Megan have compiled a collection of songs from some of the songwriters and bands who have and continue to influence and inspire their musical journey. Stripping their sound back down to where it began, this selection of songs was recorded live in the studio and features the duo doing what they do best: creating an incredibly textured and rich sound, full of tight arrangements that cut to the quick of each song's heart, and the lush vocal harmonies that have become their trademark.
On their fourth release, Seven Hour Storm (2013), Misner & Smith created an album of vivid, poetic songwriting, filled with some of the finest harmony singing around. Working with producer Jeff Kazor (The Crooked Jades, Richard Buckner) and engineer Bruce Kaphan (David Byrne, REM, The Black Crowes) they have penned an album with lush, yet subtle arrangements, filling out an already rich sound that the duo is known for producing live.
Seven Hour Storm has the same timeless quality as some of the classic albums in folk and rock, and while there are certainly stand out songs on the record, this is an album that begs to be listened to from start to finish. Each song is a story, a journey, a place, a time, an experience. There is nothing general in the songwriting, nothing vague. The imagery is sharp, and the lyrics plumb the depths of emotions with an ease and honesty that is personal and at the same time universal. But this isn’t an album of words only—it is filled with melodies and harmonies that at once sound familiar and new, matching the lyrics every step of the way. The voices lock in together, and without disappearing into each other, they soar with power.
With more fleshed out arrangements, and added instrumentation, the record was a logical progression for Misner & Smith. Their music has never been easy to classify or pigeonhole into one genre or another. They’ve lived in between the lines for years. In many ways, this is continuing what they have done from the beginning, and listening to Seven Hour Storm will only make the listener want to hear what came before. This path leads back to their previous releases Misner & Smith Live at the Freight & Salvage (2010), Poor Player (2008) and the duo’s debut album, Halfway Home (2004). All three of these albums are a testament to the strength of their partnership, and draw from the same well as their newest offering, with a pared down feel of the duo at its core: two voices, and two instruments—which is where it all began.
It was an entirely different art form that brought these two together in the first place. Having separately studied and worked for years as actors in theaters around the country, they met for the first time at a Shakespeare festival in California in 2002. Though the seeds for their future collaboration may have been planted then—in an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by the poetry and prose of Shakespeare and Chekhov—it took two more years for the musical bond to be forged, when the two were cast in another show together in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.
This time it wasn’t the spoken verse of the Bard that was at the center, but the verses penned by legendary American folksinger and songwriter, Woody Guthrie. Through several weeks of rehearsals, and an extended run of the play Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Sam and Megan discovered a mutual love of roots music, and in particular, harmony singing. With intricate, often 5-part vocal arrangements of Guthrie’s songs as the backbone of the show, the special blend that Misner & Smith have become known for became evident right away. Since then, the two have acted in the play over a hundred times around the country, including runs at venues such as Marin Theatre Company, The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, The Colorado Shakespeare Festival, among others, and they are featured on the official cast album, recorded live in 2012.
Balancing their lives as musicians and actors is no easy task—and often more like a juggling act. Yet storytelling is at the heart of both, and may well be the common thread running through all art. Inspired by both music and theater, their influences contain equal parts playwrights, songwriters, actors, and musicians.
Kate Wolf Music Festival Laytonville, California
Freight & Salvage Berkeley, California
American River Music Festival Coloma, California
Great American Music Hall San Francisco, California
Sweetwater Music Hall Mill Valley, California
Dusty Strings Seattle, Washington
The Palms Playhouse Winters, California
Don Quixote's Felton, California
Swallow Hill Music Denver, Colorado
Biddulf Arms Staffordshire, UK
San Francisco Old Time & Bluegrass Festival San Francisco, California
Artichoke Music Portland, Oregon
Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show Ashland, Oregon
Mystic Theatre Petaluma, California
142 Throckmorton Mill Valley, California
Hopmonk Sebastopol, California
The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, California
Genghis Cohen Los Angeles, California
Coffee Gallery Backstage Altadena, California
Laurelthirst Pub Portland, Oregon
Egan's Ballard Jam House Seattle, Washington
Empty Sea Studios Seattle, Washington
The Bugle Boy La Grange, Texas
Flipnotics Austin, Texas
Starry Plough Berkeley, California
The Lost Church San Francisco, CA
SF Live Arts at Saint Cyprian's San Francisco, CA
Davis Music Fest Davis, California
San Francisco Free Folk Festival San Francisco, California