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Musician spotlight: Lena Marie Schiffer

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‘Laney Lou’ keeps singing through the pandemic

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – It seems that most of Lena Marie Schiffer’s life has been guided by music. The frontwoman of Bozeman folk and bluegrass band Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs began singing in high school choir and expanded her guitar and vocal skills by jamming with friends until she moved out to Bozeman and put in a Craigslist ad to meet local musicians. Through that advertisement she met the Bird Dogs’ vocalist, banjo and dobro player, Matt Demarais, and alongside brother Ethan Demarais on bass, Brian Kassay on fiddle, mandolin and harmonica, and Josh Moore on vocals and guitar, the Bird Dogs took full shape in 2013.

Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs have been a Bozeman bluegrass and folk staple since 2013 when Schiffer (second from left) met Matt Demarais (third from left) through a Craigslist ad. PHOTO BY TYLER REL

Eight years later, the Bird Dogs just finished recording their fifth album, to be released in June, at the Panoramic House in Stinson Beach, California. It follows their 2019 first full-length studio album, “Sweet Little Lies,” and three live albums.

“We’re really proud of the work we’ve done on this [new] album,” Schiffer said. “It was a huge release for our band to be able to have that time to work on that album. I think it’s the best work we’ve done yet. We actually had the time to write these songs, versus when we’re full-time touring.”

Pre-pandemic, the Bird Dogs were following a hefty touring schedule that spanned the West Coast and northern Rockies. When COVID-19 limited their ability to perform, Schiffer turned her energies toward solo and duo performing with fiancé Ryan Acker in their pandemic-built home studio under the name the Canoe Dealers. The two met when the Bird Dogs opened for Acker’s band, The Last Revel, at the 2014 Red Ants Pants Music Festival, stayed in touch, and started jamming soon after Acker moved to Bozeman and the two began dating in 2019.

One show in which they tested out their newfound chemistry was for Explore Big Sky’s Friday Afternoon Club, right around the start of lockdown. The two played in their backyard and spoke candidly of the uncertainties much of the community was feeling collectively at the time. Schiffer says playing onstage with two people as opposed to five has been interesting—it allows for more of a conversation with the audience.

“It’s more of an intimate experience, I think,” she said. “With the full bands, it’s more of a spectacle. It’s more of an energy output, more of a big event, and with the duo especially in the pandemic, we’ve really enjoyed interacting with the crowds and having that back and forth relationship.”

They say of both their bands that the time off has provided each musician to breathe a little, and evolve as artists. Schiffer is optimistic live music isn’t going to be stifled for long—the world craves it after a year of quiet stages. The Bird Dogs are fully booked for the summer already and the Canoe Dealers are making a name for themselves, but the most important thing to Schiffer is that music remains in her future.

“Art has always persevered through tough times,” she said. “Artists are resilient people … We’ve all been prepping for the release, and fans are ready to hear it.”

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