The Court Yard Hounds “It Didn’t Make A Sound” live at studio b.
For Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, following their passion for music has opened doors, led to an award-winning career, and an even more incredible journey. The sister duo and founding members of the Dixie Chicks, have started yet another adventure with their new band, the Court Yard Hounds. And how, in the world did they come up with the unusual name? The Court Yard Hounds came from a novel Robison was reading called City of Thieves by David Benioff. “There’s a quote in the book about how inspiration comes and goes,” said Robison, “The idea is that there are seasons of talent, and that at some point it’s gonna leave you, so you have to make the most of it when you are inspired.”
This past October, I had the pleasure of hearing the two perform live music from their first album at a private concert at studio b. on the Florida Panhandle, where they also worked on materials for their second album. “As a Dixie Chick I went places and experienced things with my career beyond my wildest dreams,” said Emily, “Within the last year I have endeavored to take a step outside my comfort zone, start a new band with my sister Martie, the Court Yard Hounds, and experience the thrill of trying new things and in some ways, starting all over. I am very excited to be creating some of our music at the b.!” With the current hiatus of the Dixie Chicks, Emily and Martie simply missed what they love most: playing and creating music. In the Court Yard Hounds, Emily has taken the role of the lead singer and Martie, melody. The record produces such effortless blends and beautiful harmonies that after first listen, you might wonder why either of them ever takes a side role when it comes to vocals.
The Court Yard Hounds live in the courtyard of studio b. (yes, how perfect!)
from the court yard hounds
Martie and Emily live at studio b
so close – it was actually unreal!
“It wasn’t until I was about 18 (the Dixie Chicks were formed when I was 16) and the Dixie Chicks started to gain some loyal attention in Dallas that I deferred college and considered it a viable career for myself,” - Emily Robison
But, it seems, they each have their reasons for standing to the side- today and in the past. “In our bands as kids, Emily and I both sang lead on a few songs,” said Martie, “And, early in the Dixie Chicks I would sing one song, but never really enjoyed it. I love finding harmonies and being part of a larger group.” Though Martie’s choice stemmed from simply enjoying harmony, for a long time, Emily was fighting a case of stage fright. “We both had a song or two to sing in the kids’ bluegrass band we were in growing up,” she said, “I still remember breaking out in hives before having to sing ‘Country Roads’ by John Denver. It took me a long time to get over that sick feeling of being on stage and really not wanting to be that exposed. I was happy to sing harmony. Harmony parts are a lot of fun… I kind of miss it.” In fact, having always been part of larger groups, working on the Court Yard Hounds’ album was the first time the sisters ever professionally recorded music with solely the two of them.
So, beyond the temporary stall of the Dixie Chicks, what inspired the creation of the Court Yard Hounds? “Emily played me the beginnings of ‘April’s Love’ in the car, driving back together from a Dixie Chicks recording session,” said Martie, “I was floored. I loved her voice and the song, and it really was the first time I realized that we could make a sisters’ album. I could hear exactly where I would sing and play the fiddle.” The Court Yard Hounds were born. Did these two talented sisters always imagine themselves as internationally acclaimed musical artists? “I started violin lessons when I was 5, then fiddle style lessons, and my first band at 12, so it really has been a way of life for me,” said Martie, “I don’t think it was ever really a plan of mine to do music as a career, but the opportunities just keep popping up, until I finally quit college and went on the road. At that point, I realized that I was not going to finish school – so I better make it in the music business!” For Emily, there was not a single inclination she would someday have a musical career – much less a successful one. “Music was always in our house and we played it growing up, but I didn’t think I could make a living at the banjo,” she said, “It wasn’t until I was about 18 (the Dixie Chicks were formed when I was 16) and the Dixie Chicks started to gain some loyal attention in Dallas that I deferred college and considered it a viable career for myself.”
“My dad drove us all over Texas, and beyond, to music lessons and to hear live music,” said Martie.
The lives of Emily and Martie were so intertwined with music; it was hard for either of them to ever really imagine a life without it. “I think our parents had a lot to do with the fact that music has always been a part of our lives,” said Martie, “Our dad had a substantial vinyl collection that was always on the record player at home. My mother was a teacher and played violin. She would either play with me, or sit on my bed grading papers while I practiced.” And, for the two sisters, family trips were often centered around musical performances as well. “My dad drove us all over Texas, and beyond, to music lessons and to hear live music,” she said, “I think that the live music experience made me fall in love with it more than anything else. The pure emotion I would feel when hearing people play and sing was overwhelming at times. I was a pretty melancholy teen and listening to music was a happy space for me to be in.” The sisters note growing up listening to musical artists including: Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Tim O’Brien, The Cox Family, New Grass Revival, and The Whites. “These were some of the artists we listened to as kids and who inspired me to want to play music,” said Martie. Lately, she’s been listening to Gillian Welch, Billy Harvey, and the Jayhawks.
Emily credits the unique sound of the Court Yard Hounds’ first album to guitarist, Martin Strayer. “Writing a lot of the songs with Martin and utilizing his unique guitar playing, mixing it with our instrumentation, created a thread throughout the entire album for me,” she said. For Martie, it was growing up so closely with each other. “I guess it would be the experience of being sisters and singing together our entire lives,” she said. And, do the two of them get along- in life and on the road? “I don’t know any other way to tour really,” said Martie, “Emily and I were in our first band together when I was 13 and she was 10, and the Dixie Chicks started when I was 19 and she 17, so this is all we really know. I can’t imagine not having her around on the road. It can be a really lonely life for many, but not when you have your sister around.” Growing up, she said the two never fought much and believes they always realized they were lucky to have each other, especially now that they are each married with families of their own. “Once we started having kids, it became even more fun,” she said, “It’s certainly chaotic and crowded at times, but so much fun. And, what a great experience for the kids!”
Amber Rubarth and the Court Yard Hounds
“My dream would be to continue to record and perform in both bands- The Chicks and The Hounds,” said Martie.
As for the future, Emily agrees that the Court Yard Hounds is about the journey with her sister and the creation process as musical artists. “At this point in my career, I would just like to make records,” she said, “I am really proud of us- we push ourselves to try new things and step out of our comfort zone.” For Martie, she hopes to continue making music as both a Dixie Chick and Court Yard Hound. “My dream would be to continue to record and perform in both bands- The Chicks and The Hounds,” she said, “I feel like the songs we would write and choose for the two projects are very different, so we can cover more musical territory. I think nowadays, for a lot of artists, it’s really difficult to make music a full time job, financially speaking. I just hope we can continue to do what we do and people will come see us and buy our music.” What about the fame and mass pandemonium centered on the Dixie Chicks? Does she miss it? “Awards and accolades have become less and less important to me as time goes on,” she said. When it comes to the Court Yard Hounds, it seems their career is truly based upon a shared love for making records.
Their first album included the duet “See You In The Spring” between Emily and Jakob Dylan. How did this come about? “Emily and I have been fans of Jakob for quite some time and thought he would sound perfect in the part,” said Martie, “The character in the song is from Chicago and his low, gravely voice seemed to fit – though Jakob’s actually from Malibu! He said, ‘yes’ right away and was such a sweetheart work with.” Emily noted Jakob’s a very funny guy. “We are fans of his, we could imagine his voice meshing with mine,” she said, “We were just elated that he said yes!”
With such agreeable collaborators, was there any difficulty within the process of creating the first Court Yard Hounds’ album? “For me, I believe it was trying to decide what kind of sound we wanted to make and facing the unknown of how it would be received,” said Martie. For Emily, it wasn’t the album that was disheartening, but the publicity that came with it. “Creating the album was a blast,” she said, “It was the endless barrage of questions that inevitably came about the state of the Dixie Chicks (that was challenging.) We would tell the truth, but I don’t think people believed us.” The truth is, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, is not yet ready to record again.
Thus far, through both good and tougher times, what has been the greatest reward in creating the Court Yard Hounds? “Getting to step outside ourselves, push each other to new things and in the end, be grateful for the music and band we have created and the time we get to spend together playing these songs,” said Emily. For Martie, it’s seeing her other half in the spotlight. “Watching my sister come out of her shell and become such a beautiful and confident lead vocalist,” she said. They both look back at their greatest career achievement as the 2007 Grammy Awards. “That was a very amazing and cathartic night,” said Martie, “After having a pretty rough two years post Dixie Chicks ‘incident,’ then making such an emotional album, just being recognized for our music in that way felt extremely emotional and gratifying.”
“The Coast” by the Court Yard Hounds live at studio b.
Though the two have had some challenging experiences with the Dixie Chicks in recent years, they are currently traveling on an inspired road and creating touching and emotional music. This led them on the recent trip to international photographer Colleen Duffley’s studio b., where they wrote music for their second album. “For artists of any kind, finding new ways to be inspired is essential to our existence, or at least our work,” said Emily, “After meeting Colleen on a project and learning of her other passion, studio b., it was clear to me how much we had in common. I too was at a point in my life where I was looking for that plan b. – a way to be inspired, try new creative things and learn from other creative people’s work. What she has created with studio b. is a beautiful place for all of these things to come together, which is why love to be a part of the b.”
And, as for me, what was it like to be mere inches away from my music idols (from my teen years to present) playing live in an intimate courtyard? Let’s just say it was a purely magical and unbelievable evening I shall certainly never forget. Many thanks and more to the Court Yard Hounds, studio b., and of course, Colleen Duffley for turning dreams into reality.
“Ain’t No Son” – The Court Yard Hounds live at studio b.
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