At first glance, the Gothard Sisters of Edmonds can easily be mistaken for a trendy, pop-singing girl group: three young blondes with bright blue eyes, fair skin and perfect smiles. And then with the elegiac strum of a guitar they launch into a beautiful Irish ballad or lively Celtic folk song, completely shattering all superficial judgments.
“We get that a lot,” said 25-year-old Greta Gothard, the eldest of the three as we sat downstairs in the recently opened on Fifth Avenue North. Greta and Willow, who is 22, were sitting together on the couch, sharing a pot of Christmas tea.
Their younger sister, 16-year-old Solana, sat in a chair and punctuated her sisters’ conversation. “People often see us, and it’s like ‘Oh no, three young blonde girls, they must be divas!’” The sisters all laughed.
Despite their looks, the Gothard Sisters are anything but divas. They’ve had to work hard to get where they are in their careers, traveling across the country to festivals and fairs, recording six albums, learning various instruments and doing all their own promotion.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said Greta, “but totally worth it. Music’s always been a big part of our lives, and we always knew we wanted to do something with music.”
The Gothard girls grew up in Edmonds, the daughters of two visual artists who homeschooled their children. All three started playing classical violin while young, influenced by the music their parents played around the house every day.
“They played music all the time,” Greta said. “And we used to sing and dance and perform in the living room. Then one day my mom saw Riverdance, and she brought home a video and put it on, and we loved it so much we started taking Irish dancing.”
Greta and Willow have been Irish dancing for about 15 years, Solana for 13. And they are accomplished. All three have qualified for the world championships of Irish dancing, and in 2006 Solana was the youngest dancer from the Pacific Northwest to ever qualify. She was 11.
It was during this time that the girls began performing at festivals in order to raise money to travel to the World Championships, which were usually held in the United Kingdom.
“My mom booked this little show in Port Townsend, and we decided to do some dancing, then play some music, then do some dancing, then play some music,” Greta said. “It was really bad, but there was an agent there from Nashville.”
“She actually really liked our performance,” Willow cut in. “After the show she came up and was like, ‘Give me a call if you’re interested in getting an agent.’ We’ve worked with her since 2007.”
Armed with an agent, the girls began traveling around the country to various fairs and festivals, about 100 a year, and developing their live performance to include music and choreographed accompanying dance. They describe themselves as “three sisters performing high-energy Celtic song and dance.”
All three play the violin. Solana is the lead singer, Willow plays the Bodran (pronounced bow-ran), which is a traditional Irish drum, as well as the mandolin. Greta plays the guitar. Willow and Greta also serve as backup singers, but all three make it very clear that it is a group effort. There is no single “star” in the group.
“There are more instruments than people in the band,” Willow said with a cheery laugh.
The girls recently released their sixth album, Story Girl. (Download the CD or buy it.) It features one song, "The Sailor and the Mermaid," that was filmed at Meadowdale Beach Park.
“It’s our sixth album, but it’s our first original album,” Greta said. “The first three (albums) were violin trios and then covers or arrangements of traditional stuff. And Story Girl was the first one where we wrote more than half of the songs on there. A lot of them are traditional songs that we redid.”
“We played every instrument except the drums a little bit of bass on one song,” Willow said. “It was a little difficult to work it all out. We also wanted each song to sound different; each song has a different mood, and even if it doesn’t have lyrics it can still tell a story.”
The recording process took seven months, and the girls commuted to Sammamish for the project. All agree that it was “totally worth it.” The album, which combines upbeat Celtic renditions and beautifully thoughtful ballads, is available at several local retailers, including Baicha, Nama’s Candy Store, Sound Styles, Corner Bar and Café and Wight’s in Lynnwood. It can also be purchased through the Gothard Sisters Web site. The trio has been played on radio station Warm 106.9 and recently appeared on KOMO News.
But despite their growing notoriety, the three remain incredibly humble, constantly reminding themselves that there is still room to grow and learn.
“At fairs it’s all about grabbing people’s attention because you are never guaranteed a crowd,” Greta said.
“And you’re competing with the roller coaster!” Solana piped in. All three laughed.
“We can always learn from other performers,” Greta continued, “even if they aren’t musicians. We can learn from the hypnotists and jugglers that go before us because we can see how they draw in a crowd.”
Willow nodded and set her cup of tea back on the table.
“It’s nice and humbling to find out that the audience isn’t just there for you,” she said. “You’re there for the audience, too. We’re learned that it is more than just performing. It doesn’t matter if there are five people in the audience or 100 people in the audience, you still have to give them the same show.”
“Some of our smallest crowds have been our best crowds,” Greta said.
The holidays are usually a busy time for the Gothard Sisters, but this year they are taking things easier after the release of their album and not booking their usual amount of shows. But that doesn’t mean that their minds aren’t still in work mode.
“It was a huge gamble to write music ourselves,” Greta said, “but it’s being received very well. We definitely want to write material for our next album.” The sisters plan to be low-key this Christmas by staying home, spending time with their family and going to other people’s shows. They hope to continue on the musical path, grow their fan base and work on improving their live shows.
“These little girls come to our shows and they dance around in front and it reminds us so much of when we were little and used to go to shows,” Greta said, pausing to look at Willow and Solana. All three smiled widely, caught in the nostalgia of memory.
“We get these e-mails from parents about how much our music and shows mean to their kids,” Willow said, finishing her sister’s thought. “It’s just so great for us because we remember being those kids who went to shows, brought the CDs home and danced in our living room. Now it’s gone full circle and these girls are bringing our CD home. It’s humbling, and we just hope we can be a positive influence on those young people.”
The Gothard Sisters' next scheduled public live performance in Puget Sound is Feb. 24 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. Visit their Web site for full details, as well as for other performance dates, album information and performance clips.