If Alice got hold of the Mad Hatter's wardrobe and started singing about her tumble down the rabbit hole, she'd sound a lot like folk-rock band SHEL.
The acronym stands for Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza Holbrook, four Fort Collins natives and sisters who have been playing music together most of their lives.
In their early teens, they wrote an instrumental piece that made their mother cry.
"She had tears of joy, essentially," says pianist Hannah Holbrook.
The sisters realized the power in creating something together and decided to take their efforts more seriously.
They play complementary instruments, crafting their intricate sound with a violin, guitar, mandolin, piano, drums and sometimes beatboxing. The musical diversity is a bit of a happy accident and a bit on purpose.
At age 10, Hannah says, she told her sisters: "You guys have to pick different instruments because if everybody plays the piano, I'm never going to get to practice."
The quartet toured the Midwest in coffee-shop and church gigs until they were spotted by a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who, well, eventually connected them with Grammy-winning producer Brent Maher. His increasing involvement in their career persuaded them to drop out of college and pursue music full-time, a decision their parents supported.
"It was kind of unusual but very awesome," says Hannah.
If SHEL's music sounds familiar, it might be because their songs have been featured in several commercials and the film "Hold On." The girls flex their many musical muscles to craft folk ballads that occasionally wander into rock territory. Their songs are marked by a sense of skillful enchantment; they balance allegorical lyrics atop a complex musical tapestry.
On "Is the Doctor in Today," they sing, "Hello, is the Doctor in today?/ Would you tell him that I can't recall my name?/ I've been swinging from the stars so long/ not sure where my mind has gone/ safe to say we're never really whole."
SHEL belongs to the wave of artists who embrace fan interaction and a DIY attitude. They produce many of their own music videos, a product of drummer Sarah's videography talent and an initial lack of film contacts. Their latest album was crowdfunded.
"The cool thing about crowdfunding is the fans get to be a part of the process," Hannah says. "It's a really neat opportunity to kind of connect with our fans and share what we're working on ahead of time, get a little feedback from them, and really just establish a relationship with our fan base."