Peace, Love and Circumstance:
Shantih Shantih’s Fated Rise is No Fluke
It’d be somewhat fallacious to call Shantih Shantih accidentally great, but not entirely. Yes, the ghostly-gorgeous psych-folk on the Atlanta quartet’s debut 7-inch is as hauntingly unforgettable as an episode of sleep paralysis but, you know, in a less frightening way. Still, there’s no denying some of their best qualities were shaped by pure happenstance.
Most of their lucky coincidences lie in singer-guitarist Anna Barattin. After several years fronting the swampy-psych act Vermillion Sands out of her native Italy, Barattin’s college education eventually landed her in Atlanta in 2011 – by chance, really.
“I moved there because of Georgia State. It was the only option available for me, to move to Atlanta,” Barattin says. “I was an exchange student at first. A friend of mine had to come with me, and she said, ‘Oh, you know there’s a good music scene in Atlanta, why don’t we go there.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s the only place I can go, so let’s go!’ Then she bailed out and she went to New Orleans. But I already applied, and I thought, This is meant to be, bye! See you, everybody! I’m going to Atlanta! And then I decided to stay.”
Within a year of her American literature studies, Barattin found herself itching to play again. She started looking around for a guitar to borrow – that’s where her now-husband, Peter Furguiele of well-known local group Gringo Star, comes benevolently in. She asked on Facebook for help; he was leaving for a three-month tour and offered up a spare.
“We met and we started hanging out. I went on tour partially with them. I didn’t really know him. I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to buy a ticket and fly to San Francisco and meet this guy.’ Then we stick together,” she laughs.
Of course, their pairing isn’t part of the multiple coincidences to be credited for Shantih Shantih’s growing success. When we spoke, the newlyweds (they tied the knot last September) were at her parents’ home near Venice, where she noted he recorded their only release thus far. That’s certainly not to be discounted, but it’s actually Barattin’s meeting Julia Furguiele through Peter – she’s now married to his brother Nicholas – that’s more crucial.
“It’s really important for me to play music, and I felt so bad, this void, and I needed to play with somebody,” Barattin recalls.
Again, she posted for help on social media. Julia responded.
“We talked a little bit about it; she had played before but never seriously. After we talked about it, she was like, ‘OK, I’m going to get a drum kit!’” she says.
Barattin still had two more members to corral. One was Valentina Tapia, who she’d met through mutual friends.
“We had a lot of interests in common,” she says. “Not just music – music was the first thing, but then we started talking about movies a lot and art. I said, ‘I like this girl, I want to play with her.’ She’s a drummer originally, and I said, ‘If you want to learn how to play bass and you want to do it, you’re in the band.’ And she was like, ‘Fuck yes, I’m going to do it!’ and she did.”
While both Tapia and Julia Furguiele contribute significantly to Shantih Shantih, the addition of longtime Atlanta fixture Anna Kramer gives their sound an extra-thick layer of Georgia pollen to supplement the already sooty Southern feel.
“We were looking for a guitar player because we wanted to have another guitar, and there were a few people we considered, but Anna is a friend and very good…and she said once that she was OK with jamming out with us. So we practiced a couple of times and she was in. She started getting excited, and we were more excited. It was awesome,” Barattin says.
Anyone with even a loose eye on the Atlanta landscape knows Kramer has her own project with the Lost Cause. She’s also joined alt-country group Ocha La Rocha of late. Incidentally, aside from last month’s show opening for Reigning Sound she’s on a break from the former, and the latter isn’t currently touring.
“It kind of worked out perfectly that I joined [Shantih Shantih],” Kramer says. “I asked them if they ever wanted to jam because Johnny [La Rocha] moved to LA, and I didn’t have anybody solid that I was getting together with…So I showed up to practice and the next thing I know I was in the band.”
And, so, Shantih Shantih was fully realized – folk like a partly melted 78 made by four Atlanta women. On that initial release is the eerie but ultra-feminine “Ruby,” and “Something Else to Drink,” which employs a female as its subject. But Barattin assures: It was never her intention to form a girl group.
“I respect girl bands, but I never really liked the idea of being labeled as a girl band. First of all, we are human beings, more than girls,” she laughs. “It just happened this way and we like it. It’s fun; it’s fun to be all girls. It has advantages and disadvantages. You’re judged because you’re a girl. Especially in Europe. I didn’t think that; people come to your show because they are curious, they want to see. But they are overly critical, staring at you, like, can you play? Can you really play? This type of attitude.”
Her complaint stems mainly from a recent string of shows in her hometown and the nearby island of Sardinia, as well as France and Switzerland. Kramer, though, didn’t quite feel the scrutiny.
“Maybe because there was a language barrier I didn’t notice as much,” she ponders. “For sure, maybe, one of the shows was kind of…I don’t know, I felt like it was a pretty warm reception overall. But maybe because she knew what they were really saying. (Laughs) That could have been the difference. I think, for me, because it was nice to be out of my own country, it was just such a nice change that I enjoyed an entirely different place to play.”
Kramer’s career of masterful finger-picking and country crooning dates back to the early ’90s – “Really just, like, the life of the Star Bar, pretty much,” she jokes. One might assume her role in Shantih Shantih would include sharing all the lessons learned during that time. That’s not exactly the case.
“I’m definitely like the big sister, for sure,” she admits. “I would say just as far as already playing and stuff. But Vermillion Sands was really popular, so Anna’s played tons of shows. And Julia, this is kind of her first band. Valentina’s been in a few bands too, but definitely Anna and I are…the ones who have already been in bands. And, just because I’m older, it’s that [way] by default.”
This is Kramer’s inaugural go at a startup band, though, much less an all-girl group.
“It’s kind of nice because it’s been interesting to be in a band that’s starting fresh…I’ve done it on my own, but I’ve never done it with a full band, you know what I mean? I’ve done it more as a solo artist but not in a band where we’re all putting out the first album out together. It’s been fun to do that, to have different roles in different bands. I feel lucky to have been able to do that.”
Another first: Kramer had never performed in Europe.
“I went over there with Gringo Star and just kind of hung out. I haven’t actually played there on my own, so this was totally the first time. Being in a band was the most ideal situation for me for my first Euro tour,” she says.
Anyway, Kramer says, even the members with the least experience have been, from the beginning, impressively capable.
“That’s what’s so awesome about them is that, especially for Julia being in her first band, she’s totally got it. She’s learning all of this, but she’s also seen the Gringos go through stuff and we’ve gone on tour with them for so long that we definitely have slept in the van for like the past 10 years, so that stuff’s not unnatural for her,” Kramer notes. “But as far as actually being in a band and being responsible for everything, this is her first time, and she’s really comfortable. I was not like that. It just took me a long time. I guess it’s different if you’re out front, but she also has three of her own songs [apart from Anna’s,] so she’s out front too, and she’s really confident. It’s been pretty awesome to watch. Valentina’s been in other bands too, but it’s…a little newer to her too. It hasn’t been taking her long at all. I feel like they just seem really comfortable with it. And definitely after this tour we’ve gotten a lot tighter…We’re past the thinking phase.”
When Barratin returns from Italy, she hopes to get their first full-length wrapped up. Peter Furguiele will do the honors again. Something that’s not a happy accident, however, is Barattin’s emphasis on thorough collaboration. They’ve been a team since the start, she says – even if she is really the one who jumpstarted their coming together.
“Everybody’s doing something in the band. We work together on songs, and that’s super cool. I like it so much,” she says. “We switch a couple of times during the set. I play bass a little bit, Julia plays guitar and Valentina goes back and forth with bass and drums. That’s important to me.”
Fate’s been on their side all the while but, if it ever begins to fail them, it likely won’t be an issue.