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It was around mid-August of 2009, and as an invited judge, I was listening to CDs submitted by artists vying for formal showcase slots at the November Northeast Folk Alliance convention. I had nearly completed assigning points to 90-plus artists at that point (it would swell to 105). It was hard to switch away from their newest CD, The Day Everything Became Nothing, to listen to CDs by other artists to do reviews for the Acoustic Live December NERFA wrap-up issue. Demetrius was two years into his Nashville period, playing at the Broken Spoke, when Monica Rizzio wandered in with some of her friends. Throughout college, Laird continued playing in rock bands and extended his enjoyment of singing as part of an A Cappella group (hea€™d also sung in an A Cappella group in high school). After college, Laird taught junior high school for eight years -- Working in Foreign Service didna€™t pan out. Alex states flatly, a€?The band happened the night we played with Laird.a€? The day before the guitar was to arrive from Chicago, Dimitri and Alex were doing their mandolin duet at a place called the Island Merchant. Seeing Laird again, Demetrius re-introduced himself and jumped at the chance to play with him again.
Although it would be difficult to imagine the group without any one member, its history seems to be the evolution of a sound long sought and organically grown by one Demetrius Becrelis.
An ethereal blend of two voices, guided by fate to find each other, travels the wire from iTunes to earbuds and into my ear canal a€” so exquisite, ita€™s almost unbearable.
Hannah and Maggiea€™s almost unearthly harmonies evoke descriptions like a€?Simon and Garfunkel crossed with the Indigo Girls.a€? Indeed, they have been included in a number of Simon and Garfunkel tributes.
When Hannah was around 10, there was an electric guitar sitting in the living room, a leftover from one of her fathera€™s stage roles.
The drama club would host coffeehouses every first Friday and that was where Hannah first performed solo, singing her songs and accompanying herself on guitar.
Maggie was in chorus, but switched her energies to forming rock bands when she was still in middle school.
Although Hannah earned a degree in American Studies with a focus on Race and Ethnicity and Maggie in Comparative Literature with a focus on English and Spanish Literature, it would be music that defined their path going forward.
The house to which Hannah was assigned was an old, Victorian-style residence (the oldest on campus) that, at 50 coeds, was smaller than most.
At some point they harmonized on one anothera€™s songs and some friends suggested that they sing together.
Hannah graduated in 2011 and moved to New York City, with Maggie still having one year left. In January of 2012, they recorded their second album, the aforementioned Muscle & Bone, and released it in May.
Hea€™d come backstage to change costumes and she would witness the transformation of her father to an actor with a€?elaborate costumes and crazy makeup.a€? She absorbed the idea that investing onea€™s time into performance and the arts was a valuable thing. Maggiea€™s dad was happy that she was playing acoustic, and wasna€™t thrilled that her goal was to play rock. There was a broad range of types of performance, ranging from poetry and music (Hannah would sing and play guitar) to displays of visual art or even hair styling.
In 2010, Hannaha€™s junior year, they sat down to play music together working on covers and originals. Hannah graduatedA  in 2011 and moved to New York City, with Maggie still having one year left. In January of 2012, they recorded their second album, the aforementioned Muscle & Bone, andA  released it in May. On the database page, after the column on the left with the artists' names and the scoring column, was a column for adding comments to share with the other judges.
Ultimately, however, the other judges found others more worthy and Tripping Lily wound up as an alternate, barely missing a chance to play in the formals. At the tricentric showcase, I made sure to get a front-row seat in order to get photographs. Demetrius Becrelis (the serious one), his brother Alex, and Monica Rizzio, backed by Laird Boles, were weaving their singular magic. I hoped that enough people would see this blazing vortex of talent to ensure that their conference appearances (guerrilla showcases included) would bring in many new performance dates and a sizeable career boost.
When Demetrius was just an infant, his grandmother looked into his mouth and, noting the shape of its interior, said, a€?Hea€™s going to be a good singer.a€? How right she was. Never wanting to be without his guitar, he brought it to school every day and played it every chance he got. She was new in town and Demetrius offered to help her learn about clubs and songwriter circles. Demetrius and Monica became a duo during her time at Belmont and they played around Nashville.
Hea€™d drum on everything, thumping on a table with his bare hands if there was nothing else available. At the University of Virginia, where he attended college, he majored in International Relations and minored in teaching. Monica wanted a new violin and, after doing some research, came up with Martin Brunkalla a violin-maker in Chicago. People would ask them what type of music they were playing, so they could describe it to their friends. Alex describes the genetic edge the band enjoys: a€?When youa€™re working on original material, it can be difficult to get what you want from an accompanist, especially rhythmically.
She was new in town and DemetriusA  offered to help her learn about clubs and songwriter circles. Hannah Hickok and Maggie Kraus, a lesbian folk-pop duo, look at all the facets of living a€” loving, losing, friendship a€” as if peering through a microscope, taking the facets apart and reassembling them with delicate, faerie fingers. In a perfect world, I think their articulate expression of lives so sharply felt and lived could change a listenera€™s DNA.
Her parents were actors but her mother quit the theater when Hannah was born in favor of another career path. In addition to the exposure to Broadway musical theater tunes, folk revival classics like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell were played often. She was a member of the all-female and coed a capella groups and the chorus all four years of high school.
After learning the basics, she and a small group of other campers performed for everyone in camp. Shea€™d coax boys into being members of her bands, selecting roles for them (a€?OK, Brian, youa€™re gonna play drumsa€¦a€?), regardless of their lack of experience. She hated the results and invested in an MBox, a portable computer recording interface (with mic and instrument ports) for computers.
Hannah ran the coffeehouse events each month with few exceptions, and with even more regularity when she was house president in her junior and senior years. So Maggie visited Hannah regularly at Hannaha€™s campus residence and found the vibe relaxed and inviting, more so than her own residence. At the end of the summer they completed a two-week Northeast tour, their first extended travel on the road.
After Maggie graduated they embarked on their first national tour, jumping from Portland, Maine to Nashville to Salt Lake City.


We were thrilled to include them in our late-night guerrilla showcase at the 2013 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference and wea€™re eager to help them promote their new album. One of the very few Ia€™d written a comment for was Tripping Lily (theya€™d gotten perfect score of 10 from me).
They were a shoo-in, though, to play in one of the semi-formal, or a€?Tricentrica€? showcases.
Before the first song, I noticed that the demeanor of one of the two male lead singers was deadly serious.
The nearest comparison to anything heard before would be Nickel Creek or Chris Thilea€™s solo work. He watched Demetrius play guitar most of his life and also took in all the music that Demetrius was listening to.
She finished her 3-year stint at Belmont and, missing the East coast scene, went to back to New York. He set up his own homemade set in the living room and would beat rhythms out with pots, pans, kettles and a basting brush.
His chorus director, also an art teacher, played cello.The teacher would demonstrate the structure of music by playing cello and by having students listen to recordings. Alex was doing the singing and Demetrius could hear that he was adding something new to the music. She ordered a violin and when it arrived, ita€™s voicing was a€?differenta€? somehow and fit the groupa€™s music perfectly. Demetrius had met him long ago when he was a long-haired, 15-year-old heavy metal musician working in a restaurant kitchen where Laird was playing in a jazz duo with a pianist. Will you come and play with the group?a€? It took Laird a minute to recognize, in the close-cropped musician facing him, the long-haired youngster hea€™d met only once around 14 years ago. Monica, Alex, Demetrius and Laird moved to a private room to see what theya€™d sound like together. This sparked a surge of songs written for ukulele accompaniment in just over a montha€™s time.
Because Hannah and Maggie plunge a rapier of emotional honesty into the psyche, the listener might become a better person, more empathetic. She performed in musical plays a€” her first was when she was 5 a€” and was in chorus all through grade school and high school. He taught her how to play The Beatlesa€™ a€?Blackbird,a€? the first song she ever learned on guitar. She always liked music and, like Hannah, she was exposed to folk revivalists James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. There was supposed to be an a€?officiala€? staged performance at the end of the camp session, but it never happened. In 2001, Maggie was 11 going on 12 when, with her own allowance, she bought the Fender Stratocaster that she still occasionally plays.
In high school, tired of wrangling other students into supporting her, she returned to acoustic guitar and performed with two friends as an acoustic trio.
Using her acoustic guitar, she began making her own digital recordings of songs using Pro Tools software.
There was a large living room where everyone would gather together at teatime once a week on Fridays. Shea€™d roam the halls, listening for good voices singing, perhaps idly, that she might recruit for the a capella group. Toward the end of Maggiea€™s freshman year, there was an event where graduating seniors were given a send-off banquet. Later, in December, they opened for Dar Williams, an inspirational figure and thus, for them, their most notable performance to date. Less auspicious, the rooms are smaller than the formal showcase theater and compete simultaneously with two other nearby rooms also presenting artists. He was physically wiry a€” whippet-like, and his face looked like that of a soldier readying himself for battle. A heady mix of bluegrass, old-timey and pop music poured from Dimitrius on guitar and ukulele, Alex on mandolin, Monica on violin and ukulele and Laird on upright bass. He learned songs from CDs using a call and response method, singing lines back, immediately after they played. Entranced and drawn to it out of all the other sounds, he went in, took out his camera, and made a video of her performance.
He became fascinated with mandolin after hearing Chris Thile play the opening to the ethereal song a€?Sweet Afton.a€? He went to the Gibson factory and watched them build acoustic instruments, specifically mandolins, for hours and finally had to buy one. His parents finally bought him an abandoned trap set from a cousin and sent Laird and his drums to the basement. As a teenager, an uncle had interested him in this genre, playing records by artists such as Errol Garner, Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. Demetrius realized they needed more vocals and that something special might be possible so he persuaded Monica to come up from New York and join him and Alex. Typically bold, he and another band member walked out of the kitchen and asked to jam with Laird and the piano player.
A listener, prodded to respond to his own question about style, said, a€?It seems like youa€™re tripping over styles. Laird liked her a lot and although he wanted to continue with lessons, he couldna€™t find a teacher he liked afterward. As a teenager, an uncle had interested him in this genre, playing records by artists such asA  Errol Garner, Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. A case in point is the stark beauty of a€?Curfewa€? from their second album, Muscle & Bone. Initially, shea€™d crank the sound up on a little amp, playing a€?awful musica€? in her bedroom. At some point in high school, the computer crashed, taking hundreds of hours of recordings with it. When Hannah had settled in, she wanted to replicate the coffeehouses shea€™d experienced in high school, so she offered to organize a coffeehouse event at teatime one Friday per month. We recommend a visit to their website, where their blog will provide more insight into their gentle, quirky humor as well as photographic glimpses of their adventures on tour. When the first notes were struck and the harmony began rolling from the mouths of all three lead vocalists, the effect was totally opposite of that first visual impression. In mid-December, from NYC, I called up to Cape Cod where they live, for their respective stories.
Fox plays a chord on an electric guitar and gets blown off his feet by a shock wave from an exploding amplifier. When he learned guitar, he used the same method, playing the melody notes as each song played. Then, at around 17 or 18, he decided to take a different path, away from the music and bands he played rock n roll with. Pushing past Martina€™s protests that he only made violins, Demetrius persuaded him to make a mandolin using the same wood as Monicaa€™s violin to achieve a similar sound. You start in one, then change to another.a€? The band combined that definition with the lily that was inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the headstock of all their Brunkalla instruments and they had their name.


Hannah wrote the song and sings the lead vocal with a call-and-response from Maggie in a passage near the end. Her first performance was in sixth grade in a school function called a€?The Extreme Concert,a€? a faculty showcase she was allowed to enter.
Nevertheless, she continued writing and performing at a lot of fundraisers, open mics, showcases and other school events.
Hannah, visibly moved, thought, a€?Wow, this girl knows what shea€™s doing.a€? The song is on their first album and Hannah stated that it has been a fan favorite and has won two songwriting awards. They were upset but not discouraged and committed wholeheartedly to continue playing together. Hannah wrote the song andA  sings the lead vocal with a call-and-response from Maggie in a passage near the end. After a year of this -- around 9 years old -- he decided to sing along with the guitar, so it was time to learn about chords. A James Taylor Greatest Hits album provided an introduction for the changeover to acoustic music.
They talked after the show and found that they had both arrived there the same week and were both from up North, each missing family and friends. Music as a major interest didna€™t really hit until he began playing an acoustic guitar that Demetrius had left behind.
During this time she played flute and a€?a little bit of piano.a€? She got a scholarship to study music at Adelphi University in New York.
He suggested that Laird take over at bass.Believing that his experience as a bass singer was good preparation, Laird agreed to do it.
Laird states that, thanks to the collaborating jazz musicians, he spent 11 years a€?learning the American Songbook.a€? At another point, while at a jazz gig in a restaurant accompanying a pianist, he met Dimitri (more on this shortly). I thought it was worth trying to stack their vocals.a€? The three started performing material from Demetrius a€?s and Monicaa€™s co-writing in Nashville.
Afterward, Demetrius wished that he could play with Laird, but knew we wasna€™t ready at that point.
One in particular, The Mid Atlantic Ukulele Festival, asked them to come down as headliners.
It might simply be an unrequited love song, but it could easily describe a heartbreaking failed connection between two people, one who is gay and one who is straight or who is latently gay but not ready to accept a same-sex relationship.
She took lessons in her first year of high school and then learned more on her own by figuring out how to play covers. Maggie quickly seized the opportunity to organize her own a€?unpluggeda€? coffeehouse events.
This past summer, I attended the 2013 CT Folk Festival and saw them perform and introduce new contestants for the songwriting competition. He moved around Nashville, expanding his circle of contacts and influences and catching Mindya€™s shows often. He played steadily all through high school, having by then become a huge fan of country music.
She studied there for two years and then decided that she needed something a bit different than what was offered at Adelphi. Monica stopped playing guitar at that point and focussed more on writing parts for the violin that shea€™d play. When all the instruments and voices kicked in, Demetrius was so thrilled to hear the sound hea€™d been imagining for so long become a reality, that he was swept up in it, carried along to the end. They quickly recorded a CD in their own living room and called it UkuLily.a€? As of today, it has completely sold out and is only available as a download. Wea€™re not related to Laird or Monica, but we have the same connection to them musically that we have to each other.
Hours were spent learning chords for songs she wanted to sing by researching guitar tabs on the Internet, figuring out how to play them. This past year also saw them begin recording their third album, In the Company of Strangers, their first with Purebred.
This past year also saw them begin recording their third album,A  In the Company of Strangers, their first with Purebred. Figuring out that a note two positions lower than the melody note was in harmony, he formed chords. He suddenly viewed reverb pedals, overdrive pedals, amplifiers, volume knobs and anything else digital as superfluous and wanted things to be completely analog. She moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University (2000-2003) and completed her studies for graduation there.
When it was over, Monica said, a€? Demetriusa€¦ you sang!a€? A mental block had somehow lifted.
Never looking at a chord diagram, he built chords until they were three and four notes in structure. He dug out the acoustic guitar and began listening to things more deeply, both for lyrics and the craft of singing. When Demetrius came back from Nashville for a visit, and brought a mandolin, Alex was 16-17 years old. Having gotten acquainted with Hannah in the Smiffenpoofs, Maggie had watched YouTube videos of her playing acoustic guitar and singing, so she invited Hannah to perform at her coffeehouse.
Having gotten acquainted with Hannah in the Smiffenpoofs, Maggie had watched YouTube videos of her playing acoustic guitar and singing, so she invited HannahA  to perform at her coffeehouse. An ensuing interest in vocal excellence and a wholesome-ness of content led to an immersion in pop-tinged country. Demetrius, perceiving that his guitar was now the only instrument out of sync, then boldly persuaded Martin to make a guitar for him using similar woods as the other two instruments, looking, sonically, for another perfect fit. Hannaha€™s performance at Maggiea€™s residence would be the first time either witnessed the other playing live.
Demetrius got gigs in restaurants singing covers by artists like Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and Randy Travis.
By the time Demetrius moved back for good, Alex was ready for some serious collaborating with his brother.
California and has ordered her own Tenor Freedom Top Brunkalla Ukulele that should arrive sometime this year. Not only did Laird then grasp the nature of bluegrass; he also joined the band as its bass player.
After a couple of years, feeling isolated in his musical choices, heA  decided to relocate. Like a smack addict, I play the track again and again, nodding off over and over in rushes of aching, sweet melancholy.
A big turning point came when he heard Alison Kraussa€™s award-winning first album with Union Station. He read the list of Nashville musicians in the liner notes and it pointed the way to Tennessee.



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