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SHEILA AND THE TSP
Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the TSP Orchestra (or "Sheila and the TSP," for short) is the metamorphosis of Sheila Kirsten Hughes and the Sheila Kirsten Hughes Band. It could be said that the group is the culmination of four Travelers Synchronistically Passing on the highway of life, though the true meaning behind the TSP acronym remains a guarded secret by the band.
The synchronistic crossing of paths began in 1994 when Chris and Sheila, the founding members of the band, literally collided while extreme skating on the streets of Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. This chance meeting of souls led to the merging of two dreams forged during childhood: Sheila's, to be a performing recording artist; Chris's, to have a control room that did something useful (a desire fueled by a visit to a full-sized nuclear power plant training facility at age 11 where Chris's stepfather worked. Chris instantly became enamored with the knobs, switches, meters, and blinking lights and wanted one of his own). The need for such a control room was fulfilled when Chris built a recording studio to produce Sheila's first album.
Sheila and Chris eventually married and would go on to form the Sheila Kirsten Hughes Band.
As the duo prepared for their 2006 Perspectives CD Release show, they expressed a desire to the universe to work with other musicians. In particular, they'd always wanted to work with a drummer, but found them hard to come by. At the time, Sheila and Chris had been regularly attending the monthly Just Plain Folks showcases in the Tampa Bay area, through which they came to know and befriend many local musicians. During one particular showcase, a band named "Horsefeathers" took to the stage, which was a pairing of several different musicians with multi-instrumental abilities. On drums was Alex Wolfe Parnes, a musician Chris and Sheila had come to know primarily as a singer/songwriter, so they were surprised to see him behind the drums. As it turned out, Alex is an excellent drummer, amongst his many other musical talents.
Later that week, Sheila shot Alex an email asking him if he'd be interested in playing drums for their Perspectives CD Release Show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. To Sheila's pleasant surprise, Alex answered, "I would be honored...do you have a drum kit?"
By the time the first practice for the show rolled around, Chris and Sheila managed to borrow a drum kit from a friend. When Alex showed up to play, Chris and Sheila's jaws dropped to the floor as he pounded out the drum riffs exactly as they sounded on the CD. How was he able to do this without having his own kit to practice on? As Alex explains it, he'd been practicing in his head.
Sheila and Chris jelled with Alex so well that after the release show, they officially adopted him into the band. Alex was everything Sheila and Chris had hoped the universe would send their way — ego-free, multi-talented, and a really cool person.
In 2007, the Sheila Kirsten Hughes Band's song "Let It Rain Down" off of Perspectives received an "Honorable Mention" in the Singer/Songwriter Awards, a London-based international songwriting competition. They were also a Semifinalist in the 2007 Independent Music World Series, a Disc Makers competition. Plus, they were one of just 25 artists selected for the 2008-2010 Florida State Touring Roster by the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs.
Despite these successes, after returning from a particularly taxing trip to the 2007 Performing Arts Exchange Conference where Chris and Sheila produced an independent showcase for their own band and 3 other bands, the pair was in need of some down time. They were exhausted after investing most of their time, money, and energy on music over the course of many years. They'd put an enormous effort into making it a career, and as a result, it just wasn't fun anymore. On top of that, a few months later, they unexpectedly lost their beloved golden retriever of 8-1/2 years to a very aggressive form of cancer. That experience was the nail in the coffin of their musical aspirations.
As the months passed, Chris and Sheila's instruments sat in their cases in a closet collecting dust. They didn't know if they'd ever pick them back up. During this time, not far away, a USF college student by the name of James Geiger was discovering the band's music. Inspired by what he heard, James messaged the band through their myspace page to express how much their music had touched him. He inquired as to whether or not the band had ever thought about making a music video. When Sheila responded wanting to know why he asked, James explained that he made movies and would love to have the opportunity to make a music video for one of the songs on Perspectives.
In May, 2008, the band teamed up with James Geiger and Wesley Greene and their production company JWG Productions to create their very first MTV-style music video for "Different People," a song that shines the light on society's forgotten, misunderstood, and unwanted. Alex Wolfe Parnes played a very convincing tattooed man in the video, and it starred many local musicians and friends of the band. They premiered the video to a packed house at Sacred Grounds Coffeehouse in Tampa the following month.
In June, 2008, Liz Garvey of Willie Nelson's Peace Research Institute website (www.willienelsonpri.com) contacted Sheila through her YouTube channel to ask if the band would consider covering Willie Nelson's song "A Peaceful Solution." Sheila was honored by the request, and over the course of two months, Sheila, Chris, and Alex got together to record their unique version of the song, then teamed up once again with JWG Productions to film the video for the song. Upon reviewing the video, Willie Nelson's people were thrilled with what the band had created, calling it "incredible" and a "tour de force." In August, 2008, the video was featured on Willie Nelson's website.
Not yet feeling fully recuperated, Chris and Sheila took some much-needed time away to rejuvenate and to heal after filming "A Peaceful Solution."
In the Spring of 2009, Chris and Sheila were ready to get back in the saddle, but this time around, they had a different perspective on music. It was no longer something they wanted to pursue as a career. Doing so had exhausted them and made them miserable in the process. They simply wanted to create music because it's something they love to do.
Sheila, Chris, and Alex started getting together every other week to hammer out roughs of some new songs Sheila had been writing during their hiatus. Sheila began thinking about a theme for another album, not knowing whether or not they'd actually release one. But there was something about the idea of impermanence that struck a chord with her. Soon, the band would begin picking the tracks that best adhered to that theme.
During one of their summer recording sessions, the band was hammering out a rough of a new song called "Sweet Amorilia." Alex and Sheila must have been tuned to the same wavelength while recording the song. After they laid the track down, both commented how they could hear sax in the song. How strange that they were hearing the same thing. They started discussing it, and the more they talked about it, the deeper the desire grew to figure out a way to get sax on the song. There was only one problem — neither Sheila, Chris, nor Alex could play the sax, nor knew anyone who did. They ended up dismissing the thought, believing it to be unattainable.
Two weeks later, the threesome got together again to record a more solid version of "Sweet Amorilia." Again, playing off in the distant universe somewhere was that ever-present saxophone that Sheila and Alex could hear. They reminisced about the idea of having sax on the track, and were about to dismiss the thought once again when Sheila said, "Well, let's just put it out to the universe that we want a sax player to come our way."
The fingerprints of the universe became apparent once again in their lives when four days later, Sheila received an email, seemingly out of nowhere, from a fella named Jim Mara. He wrote:
"I was checking out Tampa musicians and found your music... simply soul touching. I have been playing saxophone for years and your music is what I've dreamed of playing... melodic and beautiful. If you would ever consider adding a sax to some of your music, please let me know."
Sheila had to pinch herself after reading the email. She thought surely she must be dreaming. When she realized she was wide awake, she became ecstatic, immediately forwarding the email to Alex, with a simple message attached that read, "OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No way!!!!!!!!!!"
The following Thursday, Jim was in their living room laying down sax on "Sweet Amorilia." It was surreal! Sometimes when the universe responds, it's like getting hit by a truck, but in a good way.
The foursome has since become great friends, and over the course of 2009 and 2010, have been laying down the final tracks for their soon-to-be released album, If These Stones Could Speak. Unable to classify their sound when asked, or even figure out what genre of music they fit into, the group decided to make up their own genre... "Soufté." It's like an avant-garde soufflé of sounds in which realms of world music, jazz, soul, funk, rock, acoustic, classical, ambient, alternative, and even Hawaiian music are all thrown together in one giant pot and allowed to simmer slowly for hours. If the sound could be described as a smell upon lifting the lid to breathe it in, it would be something like "a touch of primal plern spleeding off the windswept Sahara." That's how unique it is to the band — they have to make up words to describe it.