Sisters at play
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 20, 2002) – There was always something playful about the rapport between Nerissa and Katryna Nields, the sister duo that was the core of the much-beloved, now-defunct folk-rock group The Nields.
But now that the two sisters are performing and recording as a duo, the opportunities for play have expanded exponentially.
“It doesn’t really feel like work – it feels like play,” said Nerissa Nields, who performs with sister Katryna at Club Helsinki (528-3394) on Thursday night, June 20, at 9, speaking in a recent phone interview from her home in the Pioneer Valley.
“We’re so close, and we have a relationship that’s just been about so many things,” said Nields, whose recent breakup with guitarist/husband and sometime singer-songwriter David Nields spelled the end of the band that got its start as an acoustic trio playing the lounge of the Williams Inn in Williamstown, where they recorded their first album, 66 Hoxsey Street, named for their summer rental address in that town.
Nerissa and Katryna already began performing extensively as a duo several years ago, when band members wanted a break from the relentless touring The Nields had pursued for most of the second-half of the 1990s.
Between 1994 and 2000, the Nields released six full-length CDs, touring across North America and playing over 200 dates a year. Along the way, the group garnered a loyal following on college campuses and on the folk circuit, and some modicum of commercial success, selling close to 100,000 albums and including a short brush with major-label stardom on Capitol Records, before settling down comfortably into a creatively profitable relationship with Rounder Records’s adventurous Zoe imprint, which recently released the sisters debut album, Love and China.
The record was produced by Dave Chalfant, who played bass with the Nields and who is married to Katryna. But for instrumentalists, the duo went outside the band, to Erin McKeown drummer Lorne Entress, steel guitarist Gordon Stone, multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry, and fiddler Alicia Jo Rabins, formerly of the Mammals. Nields drummer Dave Hower also appears on several tracks, on arrangements that are more spacious, rootsy and countrified than the sophisticated pop confections on Nields albums like Play and If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now.
While Nerissa misses the band, she clearly is thrilled to be performing with Katryna as a duo. “It’s a very different kind of show,” she said. “It feels more like performance art. It’s much less planned. There’s much more spontaneity, much more letting the audience get to know us.
“We have the luxury of getting to do requests, whereas with the band it was much more rigid. We’re a lot less self-conscious as a duo. We tend to play more relaxed, folkie shows as a duo. We feel more comfortable with the audience and less judged.”
For her personally, Nields said that being part of a folk duo, as opposed to a chick singer in a rock band, has lifted a huge burden off of her – one that will be familiar to fans of Nields songs such as “This Town Is Wrong” and “Georgia O” about the commodification of female sexuality.
“I loved playing with the band -- it was one of the happiest times of my life,” said Nields, who studied poetry at Yale University as an undergraduate and who is currently writing a novel and a young-adult chapter book. “But there was a way in which I always felt like a ‘Barbie’ doll. It was my fault -- no one put that on me.
“But I really feel like I get to be myself with Katryna. One of my motivations for having a band was I didn’t feel like I was a good enough guitar player or singer to go out there as a soloist. Artistically, emotionally and physically, there’s a huge sense of empowerment now doing this alone with Katryna.”
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 20, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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