interview + photos by Joy E. Jaynes
You are a woman who wears many different hats. From vintage peddler to vintage rentals to folk bands...Want to tell us about all of that?
Oddly enough, it’s all really interconnected. As a singer, I spent a lot of time on tour in different parts of the country. It’s an odd schedule to keep. Late nights, lots of driving…We tend to cover a lot of territory and there’s always a little roadside barn with a for sale sign or a gas station that sells taxidermy. I’m always shopping for the business or collecting a souvenir from everywhere we go. This past spring we were invited to play SXSW (South by South West) and neither one of us had ever been to Texas. So we flew into Houston, rented a car and made our way to Austin. While searching out every taco truck within the city limits we ran into a woman selling antiques from her time spent traveling in Texas. She had a collection of Taro cards, crystals and crates full of sun bleached animal bones, so we’re now the proud owners of a sun bleached box turtle shell. Our first trip out to Kansas we drove back with a huge horse skull that sat in the front seat with whichever band member was riding shotgun. The tradeoff being you weren’t encroached upon in the back seat with three smelly guys and every piece of bulky equipment we own. Oh and you get to control the radio. But we’d have to make frequent stops because the skull was so heavy it would make the persons legs fall asleep. I’ve also been really impressed by what you can bring as your carry-on, on a plane these days. One trip out of O’Hare in Chicago I had a suitcase filled entirely with early 1900s apothecary medicine bottles still filled with 100 year old liquid concoctions. And the Dallas Love Field Airport happily allows you on board with a 4ft wide Long Horn Cow Skull. Granted my bags always get pulled to the side, but the last time my bags were checked, the woman admitted to pulling me aside because she loved antiques and wanted a closer look. Every trip my husband tries to guess what will get confiscated but so far, I’ve been in the clear.
Your band, The Great American Canyon Band, includes your husband, Paul Masson. What encouraged you to start a band? Have you always loved folk music?
When I met Paul, he was performing as a singer songwriter…following in the footsteps of Van Morrison and Gram Parsons. We fell in love listening to old country records. We spent evenings singing Hank Williams Sr songs late into the night. His voice was intoxicating. I thought I was a decent enough singer but I never loved my voice more then when it was entangled in his. When we sang together, it felt like I was hearing myself for the first time and I couldn’t get enough. It seems so odd to say but this is the way we really got to know one another. Sometimes he’d spend weeks alone on the road, driving up and down the coast playing small clubs and I felt wild when he was away, like I was unraveling. After a particularly long trip, I woke up before sunrise and heard him in our kitchen, playing guitar and I just went in and sat beside him and began singing, filling in the gaps. The next day, the same thing happened until it became part of our lives.
You must draw inspiration from other musicians, past or present. Who are some of your greatest musical influences? I know Stevie Nicks comes into play somewhere.
I want nothing more than to sit down with Stevie Nicks at a campfire with a bottle of whiskey. We don’t have to talk. I just want to be in the company of a woman that ruled her genre with such beauty and raw talent. I admire her so deeply. I’m not a trained singer. I barely passed my elective guitar class in high school and my rhythm is off most of the time. She has this wild card quality about her. It resonates with me. I always joke that the music industry is a boys club. I walk into a club and someone is always taken aback that I’m in the band and that I sing and no I don’t just sing harmony or hit a tambourine on my leg (not there’s anything wrong with that, if that’s your thing). It’s just hard to carve a place for yourself at the table and to me she did that and I thank her for it.
Your vintage business, Esther & Harper, is pretty magical. I mean, your collection of goodies is so reminiscent of an old country western film or saloon. I have to imagine it's taken you years to accrue all of that stuff! When did your interest in preserving and collecting antiques begin?
My grandparents practically raised me. We watched a lot of Bonanza. Maybe I should retract that and say all of Bonanza. It left a mark. I grew up in a little town in South Baltimore. There was trash, pigeons and the occasional rolling beer can. Not much for scenery. Their house was another story. It was an old farm that’s land was never broken up and sold, so to this day they live in a 100 year old house that’s surrounded by an urban area. The house has always brimmed with old things. We lived humbly. I didn’t leave my small working class town until after high school. I always felt restless and I was forever looking for things that were foreign to me. I think it was a form of escape. I wanted more. To see more, to know more… It’s how I educated myself. I’d spend nearly everyday in our local thrift store, seeking out things that came from somewhere else. It’s funny, I felt responsible for these objects. I’d buy them and say to myself “One day I’m going to travel to where this came from and return it.” It never occurred to me that clearly someone from there didn’t want it anymore and that’s why it ended up at my little thrift store to begin with. But I always hung on to this idea that it’s what the object would have wanted. To go to its home…or at the least, to go to any home. Even though I wanted to leave my home. Youth is a funny thing.
There has to be something pretty special about owning so many pieces representing decades gone by. Do you have a favorite era?
Lately I would say the early 1900s. Life was so drastically different from today. I love picking an object that was a prominent staple in everyday life that is now so far removed from our current habits. I’ve been collecting old shaving brushes made with real animal hair lately. Granted, I don’t use them and my husband has such a great beard that I often leave them in the glove box of my truck so he’s not tempted to try one... But I like to be surrounded by things that I feel have a sense of purpose.
What do you think is the most important part of what you do? You're essentially preserving the past. That seems like a big deal to me.
I’m always asking myself, “Could this item influence someone’s choices? Would they introduce this object into their life and in turn reevaluate their needs? Would it lead them to slow down a bit? Would they place value in learning a removed pastime?" I try to sell objects that have the potential to influence lifestyle choices. I want people to remember, cherish and appreciate these objects and bring those intentions into other areas of their life. I also want them to feel pride for an act of preservation. Everyone wants to play a part in history. An act can seem small to you at first, but it always carries a certain weight, a significance.
Do you collect mostly American vintage and antiques or pieces from around the world? At first glance, I notice a strong Americana vibe. What's your favorite piece you've collected so far?
Most of my collection hails back to Americana roots. Things from old farms, small towns, and abandoned factories. I have far too many antique American Flags for one person, let alone a person so young. I tend to gravitate towards the really beaten-up, rusty stuff most folks pass over. I wake up every Saturday and Sunday around 5:30am and race to be first at the flea market fields with my flashlight. There have been too many evenings that we’ve played a show, left the club at 2 am and I’ve gone home and cooked breakfast in an effort to convince myself that I can surely just stay awake til 5am. I mean how hard can it be to stay awake 3 more hours? Never happens! But no matter the lack of sleep, as soon as I arrive that sense of wonder takes over and I’m off and running. Well, that, a breakfast taco and a gallon of coffee.
Favorite line from your favorite western song?
Hank Williams Sr once sang “Go tell your troubles to the moon.” In the summer months, no matter what the day brings my husband and I try to sit out on our roof and watch the sunset and the moonrise. We’ll reflect on the day and talk about what we hope the future may hold. Being up there shifts our perspective for some reason. I don’t know about you but I have been thrown around all month long as Mercury has retrograded. I’ve found solace in the moon. I feel like I’ve been unloading my troubles onto it. Hopefully it doesn’t mind.
Esther & Harper instagram + etsy
Great American Canyon Band instagram + bandcamp
Joy E. Jaynes is a blogger, writer, and curator of motivational media. She helms Mornings Like These, a community to celebrate and encourage mindful living.