Courtesy of Shortleaf
By Jonas Weir
“I asked Michael if he would give me some fiddle lessons, and he said no,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Tenley Hansen while laughing.
When Tenley met fiddler Michael Fraser in Kansas City ten years ago, he was obstinate at first. However, the two began to talk and bond over shared musical interests, and he eventually agreed to teach her the fiddle. From then on, their relationship grew. Today, they are a couple and the core duo behind Shortleaf, now based in Rogersville.
Before Tenley met Michael, the only music she had performed was musical theater. She majored in theater at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and had even toured Europe performing in Godspell. However, when she began listening to female folk singers like Ricki Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell, her interests began to lean away from theater and towards Americana.
Michael, on the other hand, has almost always been a bluegrass and country enthusiast. While his youth was filled with Southern rock like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and the Marshall Tucker Band, Michael converted to the gospel of traditional American folk music back in his college years when he saw the Ozark Mountain Daredevils perform at Truman State University in Kirksville.
“It just made a connection for me to put this rock ’n’ roll music together with this hillbilly music, this traditional music,” Michael says. “It just really spoke to me.”
After that, he was fascinated with rural American music. When he moved to the Ozarks, Texas County to be specific, he completely fell in love with the culture and was even further enamored by fiddle music. During his years in the Ozarks, he served as an apprentice to legendary fiddler Bob Holt and became a fiddle expert in his own right before forming Shortleaf, named after the shortleaf pine, and eventually moving to Kansas City.
As one half of a band that plays both traditional and original music, Michael operates as more of the left-brained, mechanical side of the band. He studies different techniques, especially focusing on different styles found throughout Missouri. A new fiddling style is more likely to inspire him to write a song than anything else.
“Music for me has always been about learning,” he says. “I just really enjoy learning about music; that’s what really drives me.”
On the other hand, Tenley operates as the more right-brained, emotion-driven side of the band. When she learned the story of the 1863 Lawrence Massacre, she immediately wrote the song “Who Will Avenge” on the band’s album Missouri Roads.
“A lot of times, I think songs that come to me come from a place of deep hurt or deep sadness or deep empathy for someone else,” she says. “It comes from the heart. It’s kind of like when someone needs a good cry.”
The two balance each other out. Michael provides intricate, melodious fiddle in the Ozarks tradition, while Tenley adds a sweet-voiced softness to the tunes. The band’s latest album, Standing on the Rock, provides a little bit of both but places an emphasis on the driving square dance music of the Ozarks. Although the album is a point of pride, touring and playing shows for people is more important to both Tenley and Michael.
“We most enjoy concerts where there’s a captivated audience,” Michael says. “Those concerts are our favorites because we do a lot of storytelling.”
Visit shortleafband.com for more information.