Although Bethesda is an Ohio-bred band whose homespun tales and sounds are grounded in the folk tradition, the members' ecletic musical backgrounds, creative energy and flair for the dramatic ensure that they're never beholden to the trappings of one particular style. Instead, the group's core of musicians – violinist Christopher Black, bassist Dan Corby, vocalist Shanna Delaney, guitarist/vocalist Eric Ling, drummer Justin Rife and guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Jesse Sloan – have cultivated a refreshingly vibrant sound that has made them a band to watch. Their music has been slated to appear in programming on Showtime, MTV, Oxygen, VH1 and E!; they've shared the stage with such noted indie acts as Azure Ray and fellow Ohio native, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and exposure on more than 200 independent and college radio stations nationwide has given them serious buzz.
Delaney hails from Circleville, Ohio, while Ling grew up in nearby Bellefontaine. Sloan originally came from Florida, Rife from Tallmadge, Ohio, Corby from Chardon, Ohio, and Black was most recently living in Connecticut. The members brought divergent tastes, with Rife coming from a background playing in punk bands and Delaney having found her voice in musical theater. Ling was a student of the lo-fi acoustic school, emulating artists such as Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst. "I had a horrible voice and so did they, so I thought that was what it was all about – singing with the crackling voice and writing really thick lyrics," says Ling. "Then I met Shanna, and she had an amazing voice, and had vocal training, and listened to a little bit of folk and bluegrass growing up, and did musical theater – so [we were at] polar opposite sides of the world. The first couple times we tried to write, it was a big fight." The name Bethesda came at the suggestion of Sloan's father – a reference to the "healing" pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.
The band's debut long player, 2010's Love in a Time of Tra La La was the sound of Bethesda trying to reconcile their genre-spanning influences. "Our first record was very much a blend of all of our influences coming together – I wouldn't say fighting, because there was a blend there, but I think now we've really learned how to write together," says Rife. Tim Gerak, who'd made a name for himself playing with group The Six Parts Seven, handled production duties for Tra La La at his Akron recording studio, and the band tapped him to oversee the 2011 follow-up EP, Dreamtiger & Other Tails. Ling still oversaw the majority of the songs, penning lyrics that were adapted and reworked with Delaney's input, but the entire band came together in the process creating an inevitably tighter dynamic. That would serve as the framework for nearly all the EP's tracks. The first album was finished in less than a month, while the EP – despite half the number of tracks – took nearly two.
Dreamtiger introduced the string support of Estee Beasley (a role now handled by violinist Christopher Black), adding to an already rounded sound. Although most the EP's tracks clock in at more than four minutes, there are enough hooks and engaging lyricism to keep the mix on a speedy course. The dreamlike imagery is echoed in the cover art (designed by Corby's wife Morgan; pictured above), which resembles a children's storybook. "Even though it's a genre of music we really couldn't put our finger on, that's great, because this is something original we are creating together," says Ling. "[Dreamtiger] marks a new direction for us – sort of a magical, folk, indie-pop thing that's happening that I think is really our sound."
Each member of the band agrees they prefer the live setting over the studio, the chance to engage with audiences and best harness the energy of their recordings. "The live experience is what I love," says Delaney. "I think that's because that's what I grew up doing – musical theater, opera – the stage, live performing."
As the band prepares to record the follow-up to Dreamtiger, they sat down with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to talk about how they came together, their influences, feeling an intimate, emotional connection with artists' lyric sheets in the Museum, and the major impact of the Women Who Rock exhibit.