12 Breakthrough Austin Bands at SXSW Music
“The banjo is such an interesting instrument because it’s like a musical id and ego”
"Do you want to see the banjo I made?" interjects Lindsey Verrill, jumping up from the kitchen table of her small South Austin house to rush into another room.
She returns with a banjo that looks antique, stark contrast to the shining new bass banjo her partner Jeff Johnston gifted her for her 36th birthday. Verrill points out the various origins of the homemade instrument's salvaged parts, repurposed and crafted into something wholly unique. It's not unlike the arresting, atmospheric music she and Johnston craft as Little Mazarn.
"The banjo is such an interesting instrument because it's like a musical id and ego," opines the singer. "You can go two different ways with it. You could be like Earl Scruggs and know musical theory, but it's also really improvisational and the kind of instrument where people without education can do really interesting things.
"More or less, everyone is self-taught. It has a history of DIY and that's why I love it."
That ethic infuses Verrill's music going back to her 2006 arrival in Austin. The Dallas native began playing with folk outfit Some Say Leland and settled into a house with her two sisters and bandleader Dan Grissom. Together, they formed the informal Annie Street Arts Collective, which hosted hushed house concerts and secret shows around town, eschewing clubs out of both aesthetic and necessity.
Our host today became linchpin to a number of local bands, but it wasn't until 2015 when she began performing her own songs at the encouragement of fellow alternative folk artists Ethan Azarian and Ralph White. Little Mazarn's eponymous EP last December captured the quiet, personal pull of Verrill's songwriting, opening meditative expanses in the patient space between her banjo and Johnston's saw.
"It's excruciating," she confides with a laugh about finally stepping in front of the mic. "I have stacks of notebooks with songs and poems, decades of my life, but I'd just never felt the confidence to share it. I feel like a lot of personal growth has come from that, and that's probably been the greatest reward."