Sis Deville is a supergroup of undiscovered gems.
The act personifies talent as a collective and in each member’s solo career, though it isn’t currently selling out stadiums. Each show is a rare reunion–catch ’em while you can.
“Sis Deville started when I booked a gig at a women’s festival and took my gal pals to play the gig as ‘Sistah-ville’,” co-founder Shelley King explains. “On the way to the gig, we decided Sis Deville would be a better name. Sounds similar but has implications of a very fly ride!”
Bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Lisa Pankratz, most recently recognized as members of Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women, Floramay Holliday and Carolyn Wonderland eventually joined Shelley to complete the band’s sound. The excellent line-up merits the moniker, “The Cadillac of Girl Groups.”
All award-winning musicians in their own right, each is incredibly modest. They highlight each other’s accomplishments but still blush when it’s their turn to receive praise.
Different backgrounds bring a mix of sounds to the act. There’s blues from Carolyn and Sarah, veterans of Austin’s world-renowned Antone’s; country and folk from Shelley and Floramay; and a punch of rockabilly backbone from Lisa. Add to that a hint of gospel, finished off with an icing of pop influences and you get Sis DeVille. One of the band’s covers is “Enchanted” by Stevie Nicks. Originals include favorites like Floramay’s “The Things You Do,” Shelley’s “Out On The Town” and Carolyn’s “Bad Girl.”
The band’s stage presence is strong and engrossing but not intimidating. The group sings about wild women who break hearts instead of being the heartbroken. Stage clothes consist of all black, accented with signature accessories such as red feather boas and a subtle smattering of sparkles. Their fans dress similarly. All shows are “BYOB” or “bring your own boa.”
Guitar players Carolyn and Floramay sometimes play to complement each other, sometimes playfully trading licks in a “dueling” duet. On- and offstage the band members banter about boots, cars, music and everything in between.
Onstage, Sis Deville rotates between lead and harmony, sometimes creating new lines on the spot as in Carolyn’s “Swamp Song,” a stone-soup of lyrics that adds new “ingredients” along the way. Gathering feedback from the others, she gives the song a new flavor with each performance. The recipe is similar to the one Carolyn and Shelley used at their regular, mid-decade song swap at South Austin’s Artz Ribhouse.
The rhythm section even gets its turn to take the lead. Lisa delivers her old-school rendition of “Wearin’ That Loved On Look,” made famous by Elvis Presley, complete with doo-wop style “shoop shoops.” And Sarah gets the spotlight on “If I Ever Get It Right,” bringing a bluesy, brooding mood that rounds out the experience.
You walk out of a Sis Deville show humming a little bit of everything–and that feels just right.
Catch Sis Deville before the band’s eminent scattering for individual summer tours. They will be at Threadgill’s South on Sunday, June 6, as part of a breast cancer benefit “Dodge for a Day;” and on Tuesday, June 8, for its last full-length show until fall.