By Ian Krietzberg
As a culmination of independent solo music careers filled with three studio albums apiece, tours, gigs and song placements all over television and film comes The Imaginaries, a husband-wife duo that combines the talents of Maggie McClure and Shane Henry in a bluesy, dramatic debut album.
Though the pair have been writing and playing together for years, the idea of a collaborative album first came into play when they travelled to Muscle Shoals, Ala., to take part in producer John Cuniberti’s “The OneMic Series” on YouTube, which strives to capture organic, intimate, unedited sessions.
Due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances, including the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the intended 2019 release for their debut album was pushed back to March 26, 2021, where it now marks the beginning of the duo’s official musical journey.
The Signal spoke with The Imaginaries for an in-depth conversation about their music, career and songwriting process.
Why Music? What was it about music that inspired you to get into a career that’s recognized as being relatively difficult to succeed in?
McClure: I really just connected to music at an early age. I started piano when I was five, and Shane started playing guitar when he was a kid. We both have similar stories — both of our parents were very influential, playing music for us growing up. I just always loved playing piano and singing; I started writing songs when I was eight years old. And I started getting karaoke tapes, and I would sing along with them — I just got introduced to so many amazing artists like Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Norah Jones, Alycia Keys and I just ultimately got hooked. I got bit by the music bug, if you will.
It was never really a matter of ‘do I want to do music or not’ — it’s just always been a part of me. I live and breathe it; it really chose me. I can speak for Shane on that as well. Of course, when you’re young you don’t realize how difficult it actually is, even if people do tell you ‘the music business is really hard,’ you think ‘well, we’ll see about that.’ And it’s great to have that optimism, but you don’t really know until you get into it and find out, but that’s never kept us from continuing to do it. I think it actually makes us push even harder, knowing how difficult it is. Just continuing to find ways to make it work and create art that’s meaningful to us and hopefully connecting with other people as well; inspiring people and making a difference.
[With] both of us, music called us and we live and breathe it and it’s just a part of who we are.
Did the experience of opening for Sarah Bareilles help you grow as an artist?
McClure: Yes, that was an incredible opportunity and experience. It definitely made me bring my A-game. I am a huge fan of hers and was completely honored to be asked to open for her. It was one of my favorite performance experiences of my life.
Shane usually, when I was doing my solo thing, would back me up. And same thing for Shane’s shows. Most of the time, if you saw one of us, it was at least a duo, if not a trio or a full band. And so, Shane got asked to open for Grand Funk Railroad the same night. His show was with a band, so he had his band with him — my show I did by myself, I did solo. And I don’t know what came over me, but it was just the fact that I knew that I had to carry this alone. I knew I could do it and I knew it would be great, but it was just a really awesome experience to go through that and really rise to the occasion and know that I really did do it. I didn’t need anyone else.
It was a breakthrough for me as an artist and as a person. And just a really great experience to get to open for someone that I respect and am a fan of myself. It was just an awesome opportunity.
How was the writing process for The Imaginaries different than with your solo albums?
McClure: Throughout the years, we have written with each other for each other’s albums. We’ve also been asked to do a lot of music for film and television — we’ve had a lot of opportunities to create songs that maybe weren’t meant for our solo projects. So we had and still have a catalog of unrecorded material that doesn’t really belong in the Maggie McClure catalog or the Shane Henry catalog, but more duets, more songs that we both really resonate with. Over the years, we started adding to this collection, and so when The Imaginaries was born — which we had been talking about doing forever — when we went to record the album we already had a list of songs to choose from. And I want to say probably most of them had been written before we decided to do the album. We had a good stockpile of material.
When we were writing the songs, the intent was: ‘this is for both of us.’ These songs are written in a much different way than our solo songs, where we know it’s meant for one or the other. We were really intentional about letting each other be showcased in different areas, in different ways. Selecting the songs was an interesting process because we wanted to showcase Shane’s singing, his guitar playing more on some of the tracks and my voice and my piano playing on others, and then what it’s like when we harmonize — we wanted to show all those different sides and certain songs really lend themselves to those elements.
Writing for The Imaginaries definitely comes from a place of being equal. Just the thought, the vision for the project, just having that all in mind and having messages that really resonated with both of us was really important.
The debut album seems to be a combination of both of your solo work — how did you stumble into this genre of blues and Americana?
McClure: We have always felt it is really important to be authentic to what you’re doing. So, none of this was contrived from a marketing standpoint. It all just came, song by song, naturally, and ended up like it has, which is really cool. That means a lot for you to say that it is a true combination of what I do and what Shane does, ‘cause that’s what we wanted it to be, plus we wanted to incorporate this new element of the Americana folk side. It’s been really fun to dive into that. Being from Oklahoma, I’ve been influenced by a lot of folk and country artists — none of it was contrived, it all just came naturally and we couldn’t be happier.
We really weren’t trying to fit into any limitations or rules, and maybe that limited some opportunities ‘cause it’s not quite pop; it’s not quite country; it’s not quite blues, but you know what, it’s us. It’s us through and through. It’s honest, it’s authentic, it means a lot to us and we hope that it means a lot to other people as well.
Is there a song on the record that you recall being particularly difficult to write?
McClure: Well, each of them came in their own ways. We collaborated with a couple different people on songwriting for the album. Not really difficult to write, some of them just had a more intricate and lengthy process to get out. It’s interesting because “Revival” came from three separate song ideas.
I had the chorus in a voice memo, and then I also had dreamt up the intro. So those were two separate ideas that I had, and then Shane came up with the guitar lick for the beginning. The song just came to be. It took a whole day to write, but that’s kind of a complicated recipe right there, but it came together perfectly.
Most [songs] I would say were written start to finish in a few days’ time. They all just have their own stories. But I don’t think any of them were difficult to write. I think that maybe the hardest one to get out emotionally was “One Life,” because that song was inspired by our friend Connor Hicks who was a very talented young musician who passed away suddenly a couple years ago, and Shane just really wanted to write a song for Connor and his family. So maybe that one was a little harder to write because of the situation, but each one really has its own story of how it came to be.
Is there an overwhelming theme or message that you wanted the album to convey?
McClure: I think it’s really important for people to know that the theme of this album was really to encourage and inspire people to keep moving forward. That no matter the hardships, no matter the hurdles, we all have a choice to pick ourselves back up and try again and keep going. I think that theme resonated throughout the album. And another important piece of that is our faith and clinging onto that, and hopefully inspiring people with that as well.
Did the fact that you are a husband-wife duo help with the writing of the album?
McClure: Yes. There are a lot of duos, there are a lot of bands where the lead singers are not a couple, and of course we have collaborators that aren’t love interests but there is something about being married to the other lead person in the band — it definitely does create a deeper connection. Because we live together, everything we do together, and all of the valleys and all of the peaks, we’re doing it all together.
And it means more being able to share it with each other, too. I definitely think that us being a couple, we’ve been together forever it seems, and we’ve been married for almost 10 years, which is crazy. And so I definitely do think, without a doubt, that has a lot to do with the authenticity, the chemistry, the connection, the songwriting, the performance — we’ve played over 1,000 shows together by this point, so nothing replaces that. But yes, being a couple definitely makes a difference.
What does your songwriting process look like?
McClure: I used to always, only, write at the piano. And I still do that a lot. But more recently, I’ve been trying to make myself more uncomfortable and keep it fresh, to inspire new kinds of ideas. I wrote “You Remind Me” on Shane’s acoustic guitar — which, I don’t play guitar, but there’s three chords in the song, and that song would’ve never happened if I was at the piano. It just has a different vibe. I really do try to let myself have options when writing. Recently, I’ve been writing with no instrument and maybe just clapping because starting with a groove or a beat can inspire a completely different type of song.
Every song definitely does come differently, of course, when inspiration hits, you go with it. I get inspired a lot in the middle of the night. I’ll dream up songs; I have dreams all the time, and so sometimes, I’ll be able to wake up and remember certain things. And as tired as I may be, I always try to get a voice memo down and it’s so funny listening to it the next day. A lot of the time, I’ll find something in those voice memos that’s definitely a keeper. The whole entire intro to “Revival” I dreamed up, so thankfully I remembered that.
Inspiration comes from many different ways. The process is always different.
There are elements throughout the album, but especially in “Revival,” that seem to have a religious vibe to them — are you influenced by religion in some way?
McClure: Yeah, I grew up in the Church and so did Shane. Our faith has always been a root of who we are and the music that we make. Now, we’re not Christian artists, but our music is definitely influenced by our faith. It is evident in a couple of the songs, like “Revival,” and also “You Remind Me,” is simply a prayer. So, yeah, our music and everything about who we are is definitely influenced by our faith.
You both have been involved with the ‘Cowgirls and Angels’ films, with both you and Shane set to co-produce the upcoming film in the collection; can you describe and elaborate on that experience?
McClure: Back in 2011, my song “Good Morning and Good Night” was chosen to be featured in the opening credits of the film “Cowgirls and Angels.” And I connected with the director Timothy Armstrong, and fast forward not too long after that, Shane and I moved to Los Angeles and we became really good friends with [Tim] and his family.
[In] 2016, he asked if we would like to be a part of “A Cowgirl’s Story,” by being in a scene performing a song, and asked if I wanted to write the song with him. And also, he featured five of my solo songs in the movie as well. And so that was a really awesome opportunity.
2016 is also when I got my first acting role on ABC on “The Middle” — I got bit by the acting bug — and I’ve been auditioning and appearing in things off and on for the past few years. A few years ago, Timothy approached me about this new movie called “A Cowgirl’s Song,” and it was about 6 months ago, we had a call and we were talking about this movie and talking about the idea of doing it. It was December or January when we decided we were going to make this happen. Ever since then, he asked Shane and I both to be co-producers on the movie and to do the music for it. We’ve been writing and recording songs for the film and right now we are casting. This is my first time to be producing for a movie and it’s crazy and I love it. Before our interview, we were working on one of the songs for the movie. It’s been really fun and we are moving forward. We start production on May 17.
It’s going to be really fun. We’ll be shooting for three weeks. Shane and I have co-star roles in the movie as well. We’re very excited to be a part of this in such a big way.
What does the future of The Imaginaries look like to you?
McClure: Well, we have a lot of music written and even recorded, and we probably will be releasing some singles in the next six months or so and maybe even an EP, we haven’t decided yet. But we definitely plan to keep the momentum going and keep releasing content.
There is lots coming up, especially with this movie and other movies that we haven’t announced yet. It’s going to be a really exciting next year. And there will be much more music and videos coming soon, and gosh we really can’t wait to get on the road again.
You can listen to The Imaginaries’ debut album here.