The name is Greek and invokes light and lions, which seems to suit the kind of fierce and folky music made by the duo Lenore. Thirty-somethings Rebecca Marie Miller and Joy Pearson bring their effervescent personalities and a dogged determination to create tender, gut-wrenching music that is simultaneously sweet and gripping. Pair them up with guitarist Edward Cameron and cellist Jessie Dettwiler and buckle up for the next best folk outfit to lay down roots in this town.
As many musical stories go, Miller and Pearson met through a mutual friend in the business, roots singer Pokey LaFarge.
“We were in a similar place: we both were passionate about music and storytelling, but we were done doing it alone,” says Pearson of that first meeting. Both artists had been singing for over 20 years in different iterations: Pearson worked as a musical pastor in her church, and sang with the High Water Jazz Band, and Miller spent time performing solo before and after touring with the Mynabirds.
The two immediately hit it off and ended up talking until almost 3 a.m. in the morning, before Pearson dropped Miller home. “She gets out of the car and I say to my partner, ‘I want to have a music project with that woman.’ And he was like, ‘You don’t even know what she sounds like’, and I said ‘I don’t care’,” says Pearson. “I knew it, deeply, that was a connection that was special.”
If theirs is a love story, the honeymoon phase has yet to end. Their first show saw them open a Doug Fir lineup to a small but attentive audience. “It was really special because the handful of friends who came to see us were all people who knew us well and are musicians and got it,” says Miller.
Since, they have performed at a slew of Portland’s finest locales—Mississippi Studios, the Aladdin—and even a few in Seattle: Sunset Tavern, Triple Door, and Tractor Tavern. They’ve opened for Eric Bachmann, Esme Patterson, the Mynabirds, and Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee of the Decembrists. Now they’re ready to headline, with a show at Mississippi Studios on Wednesday, July 19.
Sure, they’ve got their hands full. Pearson is a mother of three who also works part-time at a children’s consignment store and Miller works as a server at a North Portland restaurant—but music has always been home and hearth, and now they’re ready to give it another shot. “It’s impossible to not go for it, given how everything has fallen into place,” says Miller.
Things really have fallen into place: not only has the duo reached their Kickstarter campaign goal of $20,000, which allowed them to fund their forthcoming self-titled album, but they’ve also faced down some musical challenges. Miller, who was the front woman for a previous band, got polyps and had to train her voice to recover. Working with Pearson, she says she’s been able to rediscover her voice: “And I don’t know if I ever would have figured that out if it weren’t for us singing together.”
Adds Pearson: "In a lot of ways, I feel like Lenore is just Rebecca at her very best and me at my very best and us just somehow supporting each other in this way that works to both of our advantage.” Their close harmonies seem to serve as a metaphor for the kind of musical relationship they’ve found, their voices complementing each other to become a sound that’s more than the sum of its parts. “Some of these songs have been a part of us for years. But nothing could have happened like this without each other,” Pearson says.
With a growing local fan base and a first album due at the end of the summer, Lenore is ready to reverberate with larger crowds—they’ve even got their eye on the Schnitz. And while making music is not only about making money, they hope to one day be earning enough to devote themselves to it full time. Says Pearson: “It’s our heartbeat. It’s our passion. We feel like it makes a difference and we feel like it’s an important contribution and I think we would just like to see that really be our way of life.”
They aren’t just in it for themselves: they’re in it for all local female artists who have funded themselves and who are devoting their lives to the production of their art. “We really want to be intentional about working with and supporting as many women as we can," says Miller. "Our dream would be to get to a point in our career where we were influential enough to really have a voice that we could share.”
9 p.m. Wed. July 19, Mississippi Studios, FREE