Walking into the back room at Doc Water's Pub the mood is relaxed. The tones roll over the air like an ocean swell. The music is gentle and the lyrics thought-provoking.
Travis Croteau sings a somber melody over his fluid guitar. Libby Sterling's violin whispers a harmony to Jesse Stringer's staccato mandolin playing. All complement each other. All blend together into one unit.
The group's name, Little Black Raincloud Co., comes from a Winnie the Pooh song, which Croteau said fits the band because their sound can be melancholy at times.
"It's hard not to feel like you have a black rain cloud following you around in this town and that's the kind of space my music comes out of," he said.
Croteau grew up in Juneau and has been writing songs since he was 15.
"I got a guitar when I was 13 and just started playing in my room, just teaching myself how to play," he said.
He's written over 50 songs, but has forgotten most of them. He developed about 12 over the summer with LBRC, which they've performed at Doc Water's Pub, Concerts in the Park, Rock the Vote, the Autumn Festival and several open mikes at the Alaskan Hotel & Bar.
"All of my songs are about experiences and emotions," Croteau said. "I have one song called 'Unraveling' and it's pretty much about when things fall apart. (The lyrics are) 'I just can't quite find the fight to face myself, so I'm gonna take the high road by myself.'"
The band also plays songs by other musicians. They cited Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and Neil Young as some of them.
"We also cover songs you wouldn't expect a folk trio to cover, like 'Bankrupt on Sellin'' by Modest Mouse and 'Tango 'Til They're Sore' by Tom Waits," Croteau said.
The genesis of LBRC was in May when Croteau and Sterling got together for some impromtu sessions at Doc Water's Pub. They played as a duo for several months there before Stringer joined in mid-summer.
"We're a unit. We're all on the same wavelength. And they're my best friends," Sterling said. "And of course the music is a huge part of the friendship."
Sterling is from Anchorage and moved to Juneau in 2007. She grew up playing in school orchestras and in youth symphony, and later with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra and the Orange County Symphony in California.
She's also played plenty of folk and bluegrass music, including stints in the Anchorage-based bands Wildflowers and Adlib, which performed at festivals throughout Alaska. Angela Oudean, of Barefoot, was a member of both groups.
"When I was 17, I started playing in a band called Finding Clark in Anchorage. It was my first time integrating violin into a rock-emo-indie setting and I loved it," she said. "That lasted about a year and I haven't been in a real band since then, until I found LBRC."
She described playing music with Croteau and Stringer as being like a chemical reaction.
"There's elements that are out of your control. All you need is to put the instruments together and the rest kind of just happens," she said.
LBRC began playing Croteau's original songs, but have started working on songs collaboratively.
"I like to write music that packs a punch, that grabs your attention," Stringer said. "I write music that I hope would convey emotion. I hope that listeners would have a reaction, and hopefully a positive one." he said.
He described one song they recently came up with called "Ophelia."
"It's about our friend's baby. It's a song for Ophelia to let her know that she is surrounded by community and love: 'Open your eyes, what do you see in front of your eyes? ... You have a mom and she loves you, you have a dad and he loves you. We're here for you,' the lyrics say."
Stringer also grew up playing music in Juneau. His dad was a drum major and marching band conductor who taught music in public schools. He surrounded his son with music throughout his early life.
"I started writing music when I was about 14 and that was after I traded in my alto saxophone for a guitar," he said.
He sings and plays guitar, mandolin and harmonica with LBRC.
Croteau and Stringer have played music since they were kids at Juneau-Douglas High School. Their first band was The Duds, which took first place at the first high school Battle of the Bands in 2000.
Over the years, each has gone his own way and come back again, Croteau most notably with the band Urbana Desert.
"The honest truth is we play music together because it's one way that we communicate with each other and with others," Stringer said.
"It takes our friendship to a whole other level. When you get tight with people and you connect on that level of being in a band together, it takes you beyond what even friendship can offer you," Croteau said.
Teri Tibbett is a writer and musician living in Juneau. She can be reached at www.tibbett.com.
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