Video by Eslah Attar, Words by Ian Flickinger
Shelby Denton took the stage at Stow-Munroe High School four years ago for a Battle of The Bands competition. She looked out into the audience, pointed at her boyfriend, Jimmy Miller—seated conveniently in the back— and dedicated her first ever live performance in his honor.
“Well, who would’ve thought I’d be so in love?
I’d lose my breath just because…
You’re one of a kind…you’re forever mine…”
His face proceeded to turn a bright shade of red.
“I used to do it to him at every concert,” Denton said. “And he got really mad at me, so I’ve stopped calling out.”
While the individual addresses ended at the Battle of the Bands, the night served as the beginning of a new partnership. Denton and her music partner that night, Ariel McCleary, formed a duo called Recipe of Life.
“We wanted to enter but we didn’t have a band and didn’t know what to do, and I had written one song at the time,” Denton said. “We chose the quote Recipe of Life, it was from a quote that said, ‘Friendship is the most important ingredient in the recipe of life’ and it just kind of stuck and we kept doing it and we kept making music after the battle of the bands.”
Denton first picked up the ukulele right before beginning her freshman year of high school, right around the time Denton and Miller began to date.
While Miller isn’t her sole motivation for playing the ukulele, he does play a key part in her songwriting.
“(He) isn’t the inspiration for the ukulele, but for all the songs written on the ukulele,” Denton said. “Pretty much all the songs that are romantic have been inspired by my boyfriend because we’ve dating about as long as I’ve been writing music.”
Denton is the only daughter of Tammy and Shawn Denton, the latter of which studied vocal performance at Otterbein University, and has one brother named Xavier, a guitarist-singer for the band Seldom Fade.
She said she was always involved with music growing up— learning to play the saxophone in fifth grade and participating in the youth choir for the Church her father led worship at — but never performed music publically due to anxiety. It wasn’t until her family forced her to join a show choir and subsequently won a solo in her first audition that she realized her talent.
When she first started writing Denton said she would hide in her room and lock the door, not because her parents didn’t approve of her interests, but because she was afraid her father would judge or critique her work.
“He was always nice about it, but he would always give constructive criticism— even when I didn’t want it,” she said.
Ultimately her passion for music became more than just her passion when Denton, now a junior, chose to become a music education major (with a choral education concentration) at Kent State University.
Unlike other ukulele-centric groups like Garfunkel & Oates, another girl duo whose comedy-folk style features much raunchier lyrics than the polite Recipe of Life, Denton and McCleary focus more on upbeat, happy music.
“In terms of exactly what we do, there aren’t a lot that I’ve found so far,” Denton said.
RECIPE OF LIFE
Denton describes Recipe of Life’s genre as folk-pop, with herself and Ariel McCleary sharing the duty of writing the duo’s songs. She said she and McCleary have very different styles musically— both in terms of themes in songwriting and sound— which produces a balanced end result.
“She talks more about life and problems,” she said. “Mine in the past, recently (it) has changed, but most have been romantic lovey-dovey type songs.”
While both predominantly play their signature ukuleles, songs will occasionally feature McCleary with the guitar and Denton on the piano.
In addition piano and the piano and ukulele— all five different sizes: baritone, concert, tenor, soprano and bass— Denton also plays the saxophone and guitar.
Denton said her favorite instrument is the baritone ukulele, “It’s tuned to the four highest strings of a guitar, so it’s D-G-B-E and it has a really warm darker tone.”
Denton and her musical partner embarked on a short weeklong tour this past summer through Ohio and up into Michigan. They hit six or seven different cities, beginning at the Nervous Dog Coffee House in Stow— playing at mostly coffee shops along the way, often times for free — before finishing in Plymouth, Michigan.
In addition to taking 21 credit hours, plus a required 40 hours of observation, Denton works two jobs in addition to her music career: one as an office assistant for a retirement home and another as the assistant speech coach at Stow-Munroe High School. That time restraint has made it more difficult for Denton to find time to sit down and write new songs. And with McCleary attending Ashland University, Recipe of Life’s practice time is limited to school breaks.
Still, Denton said the duo is hoping to go on another tour this summer and put together another album and she continues to write songs whenever she finds inspiration.
“Finding time to do this (write songs) it’s really at late at night,” Denton said. “And I stay up really late and I get really tired the next morning, but I have to keep myself going because that’s what I want to do.”