GoldenOak band members from left are Lena Kendall, Jackson Cromwell, Mike Knowles and Zak Kendall. Becca Haydu Photography

By now, it should be no surprise I’m a huge fan of vocal harmonies. That being said, it is always exciting when I discover a “new-to-me” group that possesses that feature, so here’s this week’s discovery: GoldenOak! This four-piece, Portland-based group is formed around a brother-sister duo made up of Zak and Lena Kendall (guitar/vocal and vocal/clarinet respectively) and includes Mike Knowles (electric/upright bass/vocal) and Jackson Cromwell (drums); and they are celebrating the release of their second full-length album, “Room to Grow,” which deals with climate issues we all are facing. When I learned the band would be performing at One Longfellow Square the end of next week, I requested a phone interview. The Kendalls were gracious enough to grant that opportunity.

Q: I’m familiar with your band’s name but not the music, so when I heard your song, “Falter,” I went, “Whoa—hello!” You see, I go back to bands like Fat City, Starland Vocal Band and The Mamas & the Papas: groups with close harmonies and that folk groove to — I guess it must be my age showing.
Zak: No … I mean, we drew lots of inspiration from that ’70s harmonies — Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the early folk harmonies are definitely where a lot of our roots stem from.

Q: We had groups like The Association, The Hollies, and Marmalade which was amazing stuff back then. So when I hear something like The Belle Brigade or Delta Rae or GoldenOak nowadays, it’s like, “Oh, please — more!!”
Lena: (Laughter) That’s what we like to hear.
Zak: Yeah, but for us, you know, as siblings it’s just kind of what we grew up doing: singing harmonies. And when our bass player Mike joined, there was a lot that just clicked with those three-part harmonies. So, yeah, it’s been fun.

Q: Now you’ve got a couple of shows coming up at One Longfellow Square, correct?
Zak: Yeah, May 26 and 27, we’re going to be doing back-to-back nights there. The shows are presented by the State Theatre, which is always a group we love to partner with. One Longfellow is one of our favorite venues of all time, and it holds a really special place in our hearts. Back in 2017, it was the first sold-out show we ever played, and ever since then it’s been very special to us. It’s been a while since we’ve been back there, and we’re really excited to do these back-to-back nights there Memorial Day weekend.

Q: Well, you couldn’t ask for a better venue for what you do. It’ a listening room where you’re up close and personal with the audience. It is, as you say, special that way.
Lena: Yes, it is so intimate that it feels like everyone who is at the show is really a part of the show.

Q: I just did an interview with a singer-songwriter Stan Davis, and he said that you can’t have music without an audience, it just doesn’t work.
Lena: (Laughter) It really doesn’t work, yeah. I feel like that was a lesson we really learned hard in 2020, ya know? Trying to play to a computer screen just wasn’t exactly the same (chuckle).


Q: Yeah, no feedback, no instant gratification …
Zak: Yeah, you’re just waiting for the comment to roll in, ya know?

Q: Yeah, I do. Now seeing “Room to Grow,” which came out in June of 2021, is your second full-length album, I’m curious to know if you’re working on something new.
Zak: When we start working on songs, or when songs start coming to us, we never really know what it’s going to end up being until you have a group of them together. So we’re kind of in this uncertain place where we’re looking at this batch of songs and trying to figure out what suits them best: whether it’s going to be a record or an EP or maybe just singles. But we’re really excited about the new stuff, and we’ve got the first single we’re going to release from this batch of new songs on May 19, coming right up. It’s going to be available on all the streaming platforms. We’re going to take it from there. We’ll see how the rest of them feel and if we want to group them together in a way or if they just end up being singles.

Q: Is it hard to determine how you’re going to get your music heard?
Zak: You know, releasing music these days is so different, and everybody does it in a different way. I feel like every time we release music, we’re always just trying new strategies and new ways to just get music to our fans. We kind of learn as we go.

Q: Just out of curiosity, where did the band name GoldenOak come from?
Lena: (Laughter) I think, honestly, when we were first starting out and trying to come up with a band name, it felt like a very daunting task, because it’s supposed to be the label, essentially, that is all-encompassing of who you are. I think we went through a lot of band names that we absolutely hated, and then someone said, “What about GoldenOak?” and we were like, “You know, I don’t hate that one, let’s go with it!” and then it kind of stuck (chuckle). We knew we wanted it to emulate nature in some way, because a lot of our songwriting kind of talks about that connection between people and the Earth. That name felt grounding to us, and it kind of just rolled off the tongue nicely.

Q: And seeing your songs deal with the way this climate crisis impacts us in many ways, this name does seem appropriate on several levels.
Zak: That’s true.

Q: Well, is there anything you two would like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Zak: Yeah, we love highlighting these two shows we have coming up in Portland. They’re hometown shows for us, and it’s going to be a really fun time. Friday night’s show is going to be more of a seated show and then Saturday night is going to be a standing-room show, so we sort of have these two different vibes with each night. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The other really fun Maine project we have coming up this September, Labor Day weekend, is that we’re actually putting on our own music festival up in Farmington, which is the town that Lena and I grew up in.

Q: Oh, that’s neat! What’s it called?
Zak: It’s called “Under the Oaks” Music Fest, and we’re bringing in a lot of friends of ours that are regional touring acts, some really great bands. And it’s two days of music. There’s camping, there’s going to be workshops. It’s a really fun, exciting and kind of scary project that we’ve taken on this summer. … That’s going to be Sept. 1 and 2, and folks can find more info on our website and social media.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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