BY AUDREY NEUBAUER
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
September 10, 2014
“I want to string a metric fence / around a pure experience / and catch the trauma of my times / in broken phrases, dissonant rhymes / and images that split the sun”
— Judson Jerome, “Muse & I” (1958)
It can be argued that an integral part of music is the history and stories that exist behind it. Good music must be shaped by life, and life must go on beneath the music. This is certainly the case for the local folk duo, The Muse and eye.
Russell Clepper and Sarah Dial Primrose, the talented members of the band, have been blessing Whidbey Island with their music for almost four years. Their music, described by Clepper as “vague country or flatland folk,” and by Primrose as “poetry with a soundtrack,” is lively and easy to listen to. Their upbeat rhythms and complementary harmonies easily fill a room and inspire smiles in the audience.
Even though the band was officially created somewhat recently, both Clepper and Primrose have been playing music—together and separately—much longer than that.
Clepper, the product of a talented family of singers, has been playing the guitar and writing his own songs for over forty years. He didn’t start playing the guitar, however, until high school when a girl at a house party asked him if he played, to which he answered “no.” “Something inside me said that was not the right answer,” Clepper said. “And five or six months later I got a guitar for Christmas and began practicing compulsively, about 8 or 10 hours a day.”
And hard work certainly does pay off, at least in Clepper’s case. Clepper’s long journey as a performing musician, interrputed for a couple of decades to begin a family and a career as a teacher, included stints with multiple bands, especially the Trebelmakers in San Antonio and the Clepper George Duo in Austin. His music certainly tells a tale of where he’s been and his talent pays tribute to the hard work and time he has dedicated to his music.
Primrose, too, grew up in a musical family. She was inspired by traditional folk music, the Beatles and Bob Dylan and received her first guitar when she was sixteen. Seven years later, her father gave her a mandolin. While she enjoyed the string instruments she learned to play, Primrose feels that her strength is in her singing.
While attending college in NYC, Primrose started going to open mic performances at Folk City—where Bob Dylan made his first appearance—and Speakeasy in Greenwich Village.
Primrose spent a lot of time making music with her siblings when she was younger. “My younger brother and I learned to harmonize well,” Primrose said. “We were often accompanied by my sister, who played fiddle and added a third part harmony.” This explains the ease with which she accompanies Clepper, adding an essential tone to the music.
It wasn’t always that way, though, and it actually took Clepper two years to convince Primrose to perform with him.
“It is an intimate thing to sing onstage with someone,” Primrose said. “It involves a lot of trust, and I am grateful that Russell trusts me enough to sing with him.”
Once the two realized their voices blended well together, Primrose claims that she just began “singing her heart out” and allowing herself to summon the performer she had been years before. “She still lives inside me,” she said.
The name of the band tells another story—a story of Clepper and Primrose and their mutual interest in the talented, yet obscure poet, Judson Jerome. “It was one of the many parallels that our lives seem to have shared over the years,” Primrose said.
“I think Sarah is the only other person I ever met who had heard of him,” Clepper said. In fact, Primrose was the one who ultimately came up with the name “The Muse and eye.”
The inspiration for the name came from Jerome’s poem “Muse & I” about an aspiring writer and advice he receives about his optimistic dreams. “We changed “I” to “Eye” because of my strabism, or lazy eye,” Clepper said. “It’s something about me that some people don’t notice, although children always do.”
Don’t miss The Muse and eye’s upcoming performances:
• Sept. 12 at Ott & Murphy’s in Langley
• Sept. 24 and Oct. 8 at Mo’s Pub in Langley
Image at top: Russell Clepper and Sarah Dial Primrose—The Muse and eye (photo courtesy of the artists)
Audrey Neubauer has just begun her senior year in high school; she spent the summer trying her hand at journalism.
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