What happens when an uncompromising band built primarily on a couple of angelic voices, the stubborn quest for perfection and the blind ambition of youth suddenly grows up and decides to switch gears while trying to firmly hold onto its family values?
The band of two rhythm-nation brothers (Bruno and Taylor Jones) and two string instrument-playing sisters (Callie and Phoebe Cryar), all born and raised in Nashville, has developed a modest but loyal following since their 2009 arrival on the Americana scene. But the desire to remain fiercely independent while seeking a bigger audience has been a constant -- and sometimes frustrating -- struggle.
"As much as you want to play a bigger venue, you really want to make sure your venues are full of people," Callie Cryar said with a laugh during a phone interview last week.
To help achieve that goal wherever they go, the Vespers not only went with a different album producer (Paul Moak) but also hired a new booking agent and publicist while working for the first time with a management team -- Dave Steunebrink and Jordan Mattison of Showdown Management -- after years of Bruno Jones handling those duties in addition to his stand-up bass playing.
Each of their personal lives has changed dramatically, too, with four weddings since 2013, and a baby on the way in May for Phoebe, who at 22 is less than two years younger than her "big" sis.
Domestic bliss seemingly can make all things right with the world, but that wasn't necessarily the case with the Vespers. In fact, the Sisters and Brothers song "Not Enough," with its video that premieres here, deals with the endless search for fulfillment.
Cowritten with Aaron Raitiere, Phoebe Cryar wanted to address the "deep spiritual longing for something more" even when "everything can be great and perfect in your life, that you can so happy and so in love and have everything you need," Callie explained. "And so I guess she was trying to capture that emotion in that song. Of how you can have everything you want but sometimes it feels like it's not enough because we all have kind of a place deep down where we long for a deeper relationship with God, ultimately."
Watch Callie and Phoebe Cryar sing their hearts out during the video premiere of "Not Enough," shot at producer Paul Moak's Smoakstack studio in Nashville:
Starting out, Callie cleverly described the Vespers (a word defined as "evening prayer") in one sentence during our 2012 interview: "We're not a Christian band, but we're a band of Christians."
Their faith and patience were certainly tested as they prepared in 2014 for the follow-up to The Fourth Wall, one of my favorite albums of 2012 that was critically acclaimed elsewhere and led to additional dates on the tour schedule that became more grueling than financially rewarding, according to Callie.
The Vespers recorded and successfully crowd-funded Sisters and Brothers on Kickstarter in January 2014, exceeding their $30,000 goal by more than $12,000. But, as everyone knows thanks to Tom Petty, waiting is the hardest part.
"I think leading up to the release of this record we were a little frustrated because we recorded it a year ago," Callie said. "And that we were all excited; we loved the songs, we loved the record, we loved the producer, we loved the whole experience. And as soon as the record was done, we're like, 'OK, we want to show this to the whole world.' But just a lot of business things weren't in place at that time.
"So waiting for (the release) to happen was really annoying for us. We wanted people to hear it, we wanted to sell it at our shows, we'd talked about it, we'd heard it. ... For a while we didn't know when we would release it. I think that was the main thing; it's just the waiting and not knowing."
The record was provided to Kickstarter backers when it was promised, while the rest of the whole world was put on hold.
"Obviously, everyone knew we had it and it still wasn't out," Callie said. "I guess we were like, 'Oh, man, this is kind of embarrassing.' But once we set the release date in place a few months ago, I was like totally relieved and just like, 'OK, cool. This is gonna be fine.' But for a good six months, we were all feeling a little frustrated."
So what can fans of the Vespers expect with the new album?
For one thing, Callie pointed out, the whole recording processing "felt less contrived" than in the past. And allowing more freedom to experiment where "the sky's the limit," Callie added, "I think, overall, what we were going for was something that sounded real and something that portrayed who we are as people as real, as real as we could be. And I think with our last record, we just maybe hadn't matured enough to realize how important that is quite yet."
The Vespers (from left): Taylor Jones, Phoebe Cryar, Callie Cryar and Bruno Jones.
Their rough-around-the edges vocals might be the most noticeable difference as the Cryars prefer to rely on a pure show of raw emotion over studio-manufactured excellence.
"I want (listeners) to feel something, and so when I'm singing, that's kind of what I'm going for now," Callie said, noting that she previously worried more about fixing a note that was out of tune rather than how a song might touch someone's heart.
"Just my approach was less concerned with perfection and more concerned with I want people to believe that I believe what I'm singing," she added. "And I need to make sure what I'm singing is absolutely coming from all I have to give in this moment of singing it, you know." (Callie, right, with Phoebe performing at the Basement in Nashville during AmericanaFest 2014.)
Callie, who married musician Reed Pittman in Franklin, Tennessee, in April 2013, a week before Phoebe and Danny Deffenbaugh tied the knot, might be more emotionally invested in the material she's writing and singing now, too.
Of the four Sisters and Brothers numbers she contributed, Callie called "The Curtain" her personal favorite.
"It kind of became really real to me after I wrote it because you know it's all about missing your loved one while you're on the road," she said. "And I didn't realize how that would become my life because I wrote it literally just a few weeks before I met my husband. And now we hardly see each other because he's on the road and I'm on the road separately."
Those aren't the only challenges that await the Vespers when touring officially resumes. How audiences accept their musical shift and how much they're willing to grow with the quartet remains to be seen, beginning with the Vespers' CD release shows February 20-21 at the High Watt in their hometown.
No matter what happens in the future and however they're branded, Callie Cryar, now 24, believes the Vespers will keep a tight grasp on the ideals that got them this far.
"We didn't really have to compromise artistically at all on this record," said Callie, who in 2012 stressed the importance of wanting to avoid selling out while maintaining creative control. "We got to do exactly what we wanted with it. ... I think ... we just want our freedom to make the music that we want to make.
"And I think I know I have personally lightened up a little bit about what people want to label us as. I don't really care what people want to call us. Like, if they say we're a country band or they say we're anything, I don't care. I'm just like, 'As long as they like it, they can call me whatever they want.' " (laughs)
After all, while the Vespers might be the real deal, only they know for sure what their true calling is.
Publicity photo courtesy of the artist. Concert photo by Michael Bialas.