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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Della Mae

Singer/guitarist Celia Woodsmith and two-time national champion fiddle player Kimber Ludiker are members of Della Mae, a Grammy-nominated, Nashville-based, all-female string band. (The other members are mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner and upright bassist Zoe Guigueno.) They’re currently touring with actors/bluegrass musicians Steve Martin & Martin Short. Their latest album, The Butcher Shoppe EP, released earlier in this year. Learn more here and here.

Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Celia Woodsmith: If we’re talking songwriting, I come up with my best ideas around a kitchen table. I am not an everyday writer, but I am thinking all the time. I observe everyday life and percolate on those experiences and thoughts. When I’m ready to download those thoughts as songs, I set up my computer, a recording device, a notebook, grab my guitar, and head to the kitchen table. A strong pot of coffee helps.
Kimber Ludiker: My brain shoots off at night when I’m in bed trying to sleep and when I’m driving. I also have many great — and terrible —  ideas when I’m asleep. 

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
CW: A skydiving jump.
KL: Love.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
CW: For my husband’s birthday a couple of years ago I recorded six of his favorite songs by artists like Ween, Tom Waits, and John Prine.
KL: I hope it’s love, support, and kindness. 

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
CW: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is one I’m still facing: How to continue working as a musician when it’s physically exhausting, mentally challenging, and keeps you apart from friends and family. I’ve come close to quitting many times. The challenge used to be “How do I make enough money to survive?” Now that I’m comfortable, the challenge has morphed into “how do I make this a sustainable profession?”
KL: Playing the fiddle! It’s very difficult. I’ve also struggled with maintaining close relationships. This profession is, in many ways, very isolating. 

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
CW: I’ve often thought I would’ve been a nurse if I wasn’t a musician. My father, mother, and step-mother were all nurses.
KL: Either a potter, an elementary school teacher, a diplomat, or something in the foreign services. 

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made?
CW: I used to run myself into the ground on tours regularly. It’s tempting to stay out late, party with friends, and have fun every night. I don’t make that mistake anymore. Learning to pace yourself is a valuable lesson that takes a lot of mistakes — and hangovers — to get right.

“It’s tempting to stay out late, party with friends, and have fun every night. I don’t make that mistake anymore.”

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
CW: Three years ago I biked from Geneva, Switzerland to Vlore, Albania with my husband. We took an alternate route out of Trebinje, Bosnia toward Kotor, Montenegro and unwittingly ended up in a “country between countries” called Republik of Srpska. This is a place that foreigners don’t ever visit because there are checkpoints on the roads that you can’t cross with an international passport. We took a back “road”, accidentally crossed a border and got stuck in this no man’s land. There were about five houses in this small area and we were welcomed into one of the houses for a moonshine drink, mostly because they were curious about how we’d ended up there. How we left is a whole other story.
KL: Meeting a former spy in Central Asia. 

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
CW: I don’t regret passing anything up. I’ve gotten to where I am today by accepting and declining thousands of opportunities, and I’m happy with where I’m at. I cannot sit around thinking of what might have been. I’m here now, and I’m grateful for what I have.
KL: I can’t think of anything so far! 

How do you relax?
CW: I know it seems weird, but I relax by cleaning. I put in earbuds, turn on a favorite podcast, and clean my whole house. I like it because I can see the progress and when I’m done I feel like I’ve nested. However, when the house is clean, a glass of wine and a hot bath do the trick.
KL: Quality time with my people, snowboarding, riding things with wheels, walking the dog, swimming, watching food programs. 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
CW: I just got off tour and I’m not dying to go anywhere. There’s no place I’d rather be than home.
KL: Home.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
CW: When I was four I cut the tip of my ring finger off in a supermarket door. I still remember the moment the door hinge closed over my tiny hand. To this day the ring finger of my right hand is about a half-inch shorter, fortunately it’s on my pick hand so it doesn’t affect my guitar playing.
KL: Sitting on my grandpa Lloyd’s lap learning to play my first fiddle tunes. 

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
CW: How to be myself. I went through years of trying out different personas. In the end, I learned to love my quirks.
KL: The value of kindness, and how unsavory it is when people try to be cool by putting others down, and that no matter how hard I tried to be “responsible” and not be a musician, it was meant to be. 

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
CW: When I’m stuck, it helps me to have a quiet place to think. In this world, there is noise everywhere, and we are often tempted to fill the quiet with TV, podcasts, news, or music. But I’ve found it’s so important to have quiet to think. When I drive I often travel in silence and that helps me think through challenges I need to unravel.
KL: I seek advice from those who know me best. 

What is your proudest moment?
CW: The end of my TEDx Piscataqua River talk. I worked so hard on nailing every aspect of my story. Memorizing it word for word, thinking about the emotion and the movement to best support it. I was more nervous than I’ve been in years right before, and afterward, I was on top of the world.
KL: How about a few? Beating my dad’s score at Tetris. Looking in my nephew’s eyes for the first time. Starting this band. Following my dreams. 

What would you like to experience before you die?
CW: I hope to experience motherhood. It hasn’t been easy to start a family in this profession and it won’t get easier should it happen. However, bringing up a compassionate child in this empathy challenged world is something I hope to experience.
KL: A work-life balance. More time in a loving atmosphere with safety, security, and mutual trust. I want to see the world around me change, and to keep doing what I can to help that change occur. I want to see us take action with environmental change. I want to see gender equity. Human equity. I want “love is love” to be universal. Just a small list.

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