[Photo credit: Nadine Berns]
Caroline Shumate and Greg Graves grew up in the same Houston neighborhood and both played instruments together as kids. However, it wasn’t until after high school that the two became friends.
Graves went on to tour with YouTube star Tyler Ward to sell merch. Shumate went to college, studying to be an accountant—but she soon knew that music was her calling.
The two multi-instrumentalists moved to Nashville.
“That summer opened up everything for us.”
“There’s so many incredible artists and writers and producers here,” Shumate says. “Everybody in this town does music.”
Shumate’s background is in guitar and drums, while Graves’ background is in guitar and bass. Both Graves and Shumate hopped on tour with Ward in summer 2014, playing in his backing band.
“That summer opened up everything for us,” Shumate says.
Graves and Shumate formed the Queen And King soon after, a duo that mostly released covers of Billboard hits. Notably, their Echosmith and Vance Joy cover that mashed up “Cool Kids” and “Riptide” has accumulated over 45 million spins on Spotify.
Graves and Shumate only released one EP, Cavities, as the Queen And King. Eventually, they were introduced to producer Kyle Dreaden, which would result in the Pep Talk EP. Recorded over two weeks in summer 2015, Pep Talk was written and produced by Graves and Shumate under the guidance of Dreaden.
“On the surface, it seems like fun pop music, but when you dig in, it's got some meat.“
“On the surface, it seems like fun pop music, but when you dig in, it's got some meat. It's high-energy dance music with a lot of heart,” Graves explains. “When you’re out having fun and dancing with your friends, or when you’re feeling down and need reassurance that it’s going to be alright—we strive to create music that wants to be celebrated in good times and bad.”
Since then, Graves and Shumate worked through some drastic rebranding. Sleeptalkre, a pristine alt-pop duo with a Paramore-meets-Echosmith vibe, launched in January 2017.
“[Pep Talk] was very much based off of my shortcomings and also learning what it’s like to be an 18, 19, 20-year-old,” Shumate says. “[The songs] all kind of have this motivational feel to them. It’s totally a coming-of-age record for sure.”
While on tour with Ward in 2014, Shumate experienced a coming-of-age moment herself, which saw her embrace her sexuality.
“I’ve definitely fallen in love with being a gay woman,” Shumate says. “And it took me forever to come to terms with it. I ignored it for the majority of my childhood.”
She continues, “I didn’t realize how important it was to embrace my sexuality until I was on that tour with Tyler [Ward]. Just meeting people and seeing people feel empowered—I played drums, it’s not like I was singing, it’s not like it was my music or anything—but seeing that girls were feeling empowered by my ability to do something that’s a little bit off of what you’d expect, it was the coolest thing.”
After that tour, Shumate came out to her family and became involved with the gay community.
“It doesn’t matter what their gender is, they’re just phenomenal people.”
On working in Nashville’s music industry as a gay woman, Shumate emphasizes that everyone is encouraging.
“[Something] I’ve learned from Nashville is that there are so many incredible musicians, producers, writers that it doesn’t matter what their gender is, they’re just phenomenal people,” Shumate emphasizes.
“Luckily, since moving to Nashville, I haven’t really dealt with any blatant sexism necessarily,” Shumate says.
“I don’t think I had a whole lot of role models besides Hayley Williams—but Hayley Williams was a singer; I was a drummer.”
She continues, “Growing up, it was constantly ‘You’re pretty good for a girl’ and ‘I wasn’t expecting that from you.’ To some extent I still face that today, and when I was younger it used to bother me, but now it gives me more reason to play better and write better and perform better and be somebody that young girls can look up to.
“I don’t think I had a whole lot of role models besides Hayley Williams—but Hayley Williams was a singer; I was a drummer. If I can be somebody that somebody can look up to, that would be absolutely incredible.”
On what advice she would give young women, Shumate says, “Be persistent and be unabashedly yourself.”
Shumate continues, “There’s been some meetings where I obviously can tell that they don’t respect me or I feel that I have to prove something to them—which is not wrong necessarily—but if you’re having to work for people’s respect, I would say don’t waste a minute on them. If you’re talented and hardworking, people are going to appreciate you.”
Listen to Shumate and Graves’ first original material as Sleeptalkre below.