It's a balmy Tuesday evening, and Bethesda vocalist Shanna Delaney is out of cell phone range and without access to the Internet. She's in a remote expanse of Ohio country, miles outside Columbus, and her only means of immediate communication is a landline. It seems fitting for the voice of an Ohio-bred band whose homespun narratives are grounded in the folk tradition, a shared faith and a curiosity that enriches the typical trappings of such musical – and Biblical –convictions.
The group's core of musicians – bassist Dan Corby, guitarist/vocalist Eric Ling, drummer Justin Rife and lead guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Jesse Sloan – met at a now-defunct Vineyard Community Church (part of a Christian network of organizations and houses of worship) that became an Anonymous Relief Mission (ARM) center. It was there that the quintet discovered a mutual appreciation for music, first performing worship standards once per month, though not as Bethesda. "Looking back, it's kind of a blur, how did it all come together?" says Delaney, the gregarious, self-deprecating and titian-haired front woman of the band.
Delaney hails from Circleville, Ohio, while Ling grew up in nearby Bellefontaine. Sloan originally came from Florida, Rife from Texas, and Corby from Chardon. They've been playing music together for three years, first as Silver Diamond Doves, the short-lived duo of Delaney and Ling. Bethesda came later – on the fly, the nom de plume a paternal suggestion.
"We were going to our first real show, and thought 'we don't have a name,'" says Delaney. After much deliberation, Sloan piped up that his father had suggested Bethesda. "It means the pool of healing. We want our music to have a healing quality to it for people, to bring joy and healing into their lives, so we were Bethesda." The songs flowed with similar ease.
"When we first came together, songs came out of us in just a matter of minutes," says Delaney. "I think it's also because Eric had been writing them for so long, so he would have lyrics, and we would all jump in, come up with our own thing. It's always been part of our band to let whatever is going to happen just happen.
"I know you hear this a lot, but you don't want to be labeled as one genre… but we really didn't have a genre," says Delaney. Ling's tastes gravitated toward Bright Eyes and Elliott Smith; Sloan embraced rap and math rock; Rife had played in a ska-punk band; Delaney was coming from a musical theater background and pop rock. "When I first got into indie music, Mates of State were a big [influence]; I like a lot of the female-led [bands] such as Feist and Eisley," says Delaney. "We all really like the Decemberists, Cloud Cult, Arcade Fire - of course." Despite common ground, the first album represented a band trying to bridge myriad styles.
"We were all coming from different places," says Delaney. "Our first album very much sounds like that." The band's debut long player, 2010's Love in a Time of Tra La La is the sound of Bethesda growing: the songs are distinct but without cohesion, the performances scattered, the songwriting loose if unrefined. "If it wasn't eight minutes, it wasn't a Bethesda song," jokes Delaney. "Vocally, for me, it was so different, because I was coming from the musical theater thing and country – I grew up on bluegrass – so I'm trying to figure out how to get my vocals to fit this way I'd never sung like before."
The band were also united by academics. Delaney studied musical theater as an undergrad, while Ling studied business. The former teaches ninth grade English, in addition to public speaking and a women's studies course at Lake High School in Uniontown, Ohio; the latter is a seventh grade ancient history teacher at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. "I do a Tuesday tune," says Delaney of her high school gig. "[The students] don't like any of my music, but I try." All the band members are currently pursuing graduate degrees at Kent State University.