Abby King grew up in what she described as a “musically gifted family” and started to sing at a young age, performing in choirs and singing on her own for fun. The hobby would stay with her and, as she grew into her craft as an adult, she purchased a ukulele in order to work on songwriting. Taking the leap into performing before a crowd at an open mic led her to meeting Kevin Joiner, with the two forming South Bend’s The Ember Jar in 2011.
She had grown up in South Bend and moved back to the area after the end of a long relationship. She had only written one song and had purchased the ukulele only days earlier when she first attended that open mic. Kevin, who had been dealing with his own setbacks both in relationships and his music career, was working at the cafe, Quincy’s, and ran the event.
“She just blows everybody away,” Kevin said, describing the power of her singing voice. “And the song itself was fantastic.”
“I had never even been to an open mic before and I didn’t know what to expect,” Abby said. “I only came with that one song and I got done and everyone was like ‘that’s it?’ That’s why I wrote my next songs. I figured I better get some more.”
Abby’s instrumentation started on the smaller soprano ukulele, with her efforts focusing mostly on lyrics. She described the instrument as one she was not very serious about, needing it mostly as a tool to help her along with her songwriting. She chose the ukulele for the simple technique it required to play the chords necessary to help her do the work of lyricism. In the early days of The Ember Jar, she would concentrate on lyrics, with Kevin to translating the music to guitar.
“I’m really a singer, a songwriter at heart,” she said, describing her attitude at the time. “I’m not an instrumentalist.”
She described the change that occurred when Kevin purchased for her the larger, baritone ukulele as a gift. The purchase was made because the instrument, more similar to guitar, made it easier to take new music out the writing phase into the transition for the full band. The substitution quickly became a more integral piece of the band, allowing Abby to take over parts of the rhythm, giving Kevin more freedom to expand his role on the guitar.
“I played around with it for a while,” Abby said. “Once I wrote my first song on it, I was totally in love with it. Now I’m excited to play out more.”
Kevin too came from a musical family, with his mother and sisters all singers and his father a singer-guitarist. His father had him playing on stage as a young child, leading Kevin to a career in songwriting and performance, as well as a variety of other creative pursuits. He points his influences to the wide variety of music he listened to growing up, from the records his parents played to the music he heard when sneaking into his sister’s bedroom to listen to her albums.
The addition of drummer Vincenzo Carrasco has given the band a larger sound, one which their fans are responding to positively during live shows. Carrasco himself came from a musical household, with his mother a professional oboist and his father an enthusiastic dancer. He took up the drums at age 19 and played in multiple bands. He would receive instruction and guidance from local Motown legend Billy “Stix” Nicks and West African percussion master Mamady Kieta.
Together, the band is showcasing their expanding sound around the local area, as well throughout the Midwest and into the South. They are working on new music that is growing out of the larger line-up of the band and their continued maturation as musicians. You can find more information on upcoming live shows and more from The Ember Jar by visiting facebook.com/TheEmberJar.
These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.