The Alton, Illinois, acoustic/folk duo Audri & Aaron recently won the "Small Town Sound" female-fronted-band search sponsored by the clothing store maurices. Over 500 acts entered the contest, which culminated in the pair's original song, "Home," beating out the tunes of nine other finalists. The prize is pretty sweet: At 2 p.m. tomorrow, February 12, the group will be performing at the Alton Square Mall alongside Minneapolis rockers Sick of Sarah. Audri & Aaron are also flying out to LA to shoot a music video and record "Home," and will be performing at SXSW alongside SoS and the Bangles. (Incidentally, the latter group will be releasing a new seven-inch single, "Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)," at maurices; the b-sides will be acoustic versions of "Hazy Shade of Winter" and "Let It Go" and Matthew Sweet covering "Anna Lee.")
The pair originally found out about the contest through vocalist/guitarist/pianist Aaron Kellim's girlfriend. A physical therapist, she was handed a flyer by a patient.
"I didn't realize how big [the contest] was, and I kept kind of pushing it off," he says. "The night that [our submission] was actually due, I finally turned everything in. We barely got entered in time."
Audri & Aaron faced other obstacles as the contest progressed. At first, the duo didn't realize it needed fan support (in the form of online votes) to move on to the next round; they started promoting the contest about halfway through and had to play catch-up. Moving to the next round after that was just as tough: High-profile judges, including Chrissie Hynde and the Bangles, hand-picked Audri & Aaron to be one of ten finalists.
"It was so weird that they all sat around and listened to our stuff - and enjoyed it enough to pick it," Kellim says.
The duo now had two weeks to write a song with a "small town" theme. True to form, creating the song itself ended up being the least of its concerns.
"We were actually more worried trying to figure out how to get it recorded than anything else, because the college we go to [Lewis & Clark Community College], we use their recording system and it wasn't available at the time because the college was on break," Kellim says. "It was a rush to try to get it all figured out." "Real"
But the resulting song, "Home" - which in the end was recorded in their bathroom - resonated, perhaps because of its true-life roots. The song was inspired by vocalist/violinist Audri Lucasey's older sister, who moved to L.A, but considers Alton her "small town," says her sibling.
"That's what she considers home, even though she'll probably live in LA the rest of her life," Lucasey says. "She always says that -- and when we had to write a small-town song, that's what it reminded me of, was her."
Both Kellim and Lucasey have previous experience as performers -- Lucasey in musicals, and Kellim in local bands Bear Hug Jersey and One Lone Car. Audri & Aaron, however, came together in March 2010, after the pair met through vocal ensemble classes at Lewis and Clark.
"One day, I think me and another friend were in a piano room practicing, and [Audri] came in and said she wanted to play a song she had written," Kellim recalls. "We listened to it, and it's like, 'Man, I gotta write music with this girl, she's incredible.' That's kind of when it all started."
Lucasey is just as complimentary about her musical collaborator.
"His guitar skills are very, very impressive," she says. "If he asks me how my day was and I start talking, I'll notice he's playing something random, but it sounds so awesome. That always tends to happen, and it always amazes me every single time that he comes up with something."
Audri & Aaron is "a little over halfway done" with an album," Kellim says. The pair recorded vocals and acoustic guitars at Sawhorse Studios with Jason McEntire. (It will be going back to the studio to mix with him after recording the second half with Lewis & Clark professors.) It's clear that the pair's musical chemistry is already paying dividends.
"We realized that we both wrote music, and were looking for what each other offered - she writes a lot of lyrics and I write a lot of music, and she's kind of a perfect fit," he says. "Everything took off a lot faster than we could ever imagine."