If Tom Waits sang a Ryan Adams song with a flute in the room, that formula would get you Zach Caldwell and Mikaela Henderson, Seattle Pacific University’s very own acoustic duo.
Or at least, that’s what they’ll tell you.
“That’s the most accurate description [of our sound] we’ve come up with so far,” Caldwell says while laughing.
Caldwell and Henderson, both graduating this year, met back in their first year at Seattle Pacific University.
“Zach and I are both music majors,” Henderson said, recounting the moment they began their musical adventure.
“He came up to me once and goes, ‘hey, I saw this band play a couple nights ago and he had a flute player, and that sounds like something I want to do, would you want to play flute for my songs?’”
They became best friends, filling small venues with their unique folk-infused sound, Caldwell singing and playing acoustic guitar with Henderson on flute. Sometimes they bring out a full band, with bass and drums, but more often than not, it’s just the duo onstage.
Henderson and Caldwell played Saturday night at Kate’s Pub, a local Wallingford bar, testing the waters by playing acoustic covers of hit songs like “Jolene” or “House of the Rising Sun” — complete with Henderson on a lively kazoo for the latter.
Caldwell croons like Johnny Cash with a throat full of gravel, but not in an unpleasant way. His voice echoes the sentiments of classic, bluesy folk music — a perfect match to the bar’s dark walls and twinkle lights.
Henderson, meanwhile, adds an unexpected pep to the soulful music with her flute playing. Melding a Celtic flair with the acoustic guitar and Caldwell’s singing, Henderson is the standout that makes their playing unique and fresh, while still hearkening back to that classic folk style.
Their perfect chemistry doesn’t end with the music, however. Off stage, Henderson and Caldwell are jovial and good-natured, swapping stories and vibrating with the kind of energy only true good friends can share.
“I get lonely if I play without her,” Caldwell said at one point, while Henderson bursted out laughing.
The duo have a fair amount of originals that they play, Caldwell writing the songs and giving them to Henderson, who in turn writes her own flute additions to each one. They’re hoping a record will happen soon — it’s just a matter of getting it started.
What inspires him to write songs, Caldwell says, are “[r]eal life experiences, sometimes slightly fictionalized, sometimes not fictionalized at all.”
Both Henderson and Caldwell have found a lot of support in their department — the place where it all began.
“It’s been pretty good,” Caldwell says of his past four years at SPU. “The professors in our department are really great. They’re involved in the music community and our community; we can go up and talk to them about almost anything … I don’t have any regrets; if I hadn’t gone to SPU I wouldn’t have met [Henderson] and we wouldn’t be playing this show right now.”
Henderson agreed, nodding her head while Caldwell talked.
“I think really what made me love SPU was the music department,” she said.
Caldwell and Henderson expect to continue playing shows and writing music once they graduate — they try to have at least one or two shows a month, with their next show already scheduled for June 13 at the Tractor Tavern.
The only thing left for them, besides getting a record made, is settling on a name.
“We’ve been thinking about making the transition to [the name] Freckle … we have this matching freckle, in the exact same place,” Caldwell said.
He pointed to Henderson’s cheek, and she immediately leaned over the table to poke the matching freckle on Caldwell’s.
“Yeah, the exact same cheek. So, Freckle, pending!” Henderson exclaimed.
Whatever their name, they’re a duo that’s not to be missed.