Musical Pair: Kasey Rausch And Mikal Shapiro | KCUR

Musical Pair: Kasey Rausch And Mikal Shapiro

Dec 19, 2014

Kasey Rausch (left) and Mikal Shapiro (right) have been friends for 21 years, and collaborators for almost as long.
Credit Paul Andrews

It might be tempting to call Mikal Shapiro and Kasey Rausch two peas in a pod.

They've been best friends for twenty-one years, they play folk music together and host a house concert series, and now they have a radio show together: River Trade Radio on KKFI. Although they feature musicians coming in and out of town on the folk music circuit, their chemistry is at the heart of the show.

But the way in which they don't do things alike is part of what makes their friendship strong, and their creative partnership so dynamic.

Rausch is at least a fourth-generation Americana musician, and it's quite possible the lineage goes back even further.

"I remember very clearly putting myself in the middle of the pickin' circle in my grandparents' living room and just surrounding myself with that and just falling asleep," she says. "I have memories of being three and four years old falling asleep with my family surrounding me, making music."

She got a two-string guitar when she was eight, and started learning to play music in earnest when she was 12. Her education didn't come from a music teacher and sheet music. It was a sink-or-swim-style adventure.

"I started sittin' in with my family and trying to keep up. They would launch into a song, and I would do my best to watch their fingers and imitate them. And after the song was done, Uncle would lean over and say, here's what you were missin' and show me that chord."

For Rausch, a life in music was the most natural path to take.

Shapiro came to it a little less directly. She got married the day after her high school graduation. In her time as a young housewife, she watched a lot of television, enjoyed grunge music and stagnated creatively. She opened a bookstore with her sister, but it was a short-lived experiment. When she got a divorce and was given a guitar by Rausch, things changed.

But not so fast.

"When Kasey came along and started playing folk music around me, I was like, WHAT is THAT?" Shapiro recalls with a laugh.

Upon receiving a guitar, she didn't immediately launch into a round of I've Been Workin' On The Railroad. Instead, she wondered how she could make this instrument rock out. She sees her relationship with folk music as a slow maturation process.

But you can still hear distinctly non-folksy influences in her music. Songs like The Masquerade are sort of noir, with an eerie circus vibe. 

Meanwhile, Rausch's recent album Guitar In Hand evokes a simpler, more wholesome spirit of creeks and hillsides and times gone by.

It's not just OK that they're different. It's crucial, says Shapiro.

"I think it's crucial, if you're going to collaborate with someone, that you bring yourself to the table," she explains. "It's the diversity of elements that make the creations so much more unique."

"Kasey and I definitely express ourselves differently," she continues. "But in the core of our being, we both have that light and shadow."

Rausch concurs.

"Some of the darker places can be a little bit more scary for me to share because I generally like to think of myself as a positive person and I try to look at the bright side, but you know, you gotta get those feelings out somehow, so if I can release those emotions in a compassionate way, then that's the release I needed."

Collaboration is key to their many projects, including the new radio show, which pairs musicians who have never met in live, on-air duos. 

"It's a small example of what is possible in the world," says Rausch. "We can't hope to have great relations in the world if we can't create them in our own homes and our own community and our own friendships and with people in our town, whether we know them personally or not."

Portrait Sessions are intimate conversations with the compelling personalities who populate our area. Each conversational portrait is paired with a photographic portrait by Paul Andrews