Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Interview: Catching Up With The Secret Sisters

The debut album by The Secret Sisters, is one that conjures the old ghosts, living legends, and precious mainstays that are at the heart of traditional country music.  It is an album that I very quickly grew fond of, both in part to the wonderful vocal harmonies of Laura and Lydia Rogers, and the intimate and old-time sound it summons through an honest analog recording. 

I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to catch up with Laura and Lydia Rogers, and the two were very generous with their time, and very gracious to share their experiences writing, recording, and supporting their debut album. Plus, I also got to learn about some of their memorable musical moments, who they consider influences, and what is next for the two in 2011.

Can you describe your songwriting process? 

Laura: For us, the songwriting process is kind of an accidental thing.  We've found that our best originals are written quickly and without a lot of pain and suffering. 

Lydia:  Laura is better with the words, and I usually work on the melody and harmony parts, so our dynamic works pretty well.

Can you describe why it was important to record your album using only analog equipment and without any computers or digital equipment? 

Laura:  For us, it was just about authenticity.  And we knew that analog recordings just have a really great sound.  We wanted our record to be done the way it would have when George Jones or Johnny Cash or Hank Williams were getting started.  There is just something really magical about analog recordings. 

Lydia:  We also liked that fact that we had to be on top of our game when recording the old-fashioned way.  We refused to use any auto-tuning, and made sure that everything was natural and organic.  I just think it made the record feel so much more like a live recording.  It was a really fun process.

How did you connect with T Bone Burnett, and what have been your experiences been working with him? 

Lydia:  Our record label sent him some of our music, and, according to him, he instantly loved it, and wanted to get involved. 

Laura:  T Bone has been so supportive, and has imparted a lot of wisdom to us.  He's been in this business for such a long time, and he has given us so many pieces of advice about maintaining our integrity, both musically and personally, in this crazy industry.  He's helped open a lot of doors for us along the way, and he is a valuable ally.

Can you share some of your favorite experiences performing live? Is there one that stands out above the rest? 

Laura:  For me, it was when we were on tour with Ray LaMontagne and Levon Helm.  We had been invited onstage for the end of Levon's set, and were asked to help everyone sing on "The Weight."  I was lucky enough to stand right beside Levon's drum kit, and I looked over during that song, and there he was, just smiling at me.  I remember thinking just how amazing my life is, and how lucky I am to be in my own two shoes.  That was very special for me.

Lydia:  On that same tour, Ray had us come up and sing a few songs with him during his set.  That was a really cool experience, because he is such a huge talent.

How did you connect with some of the living legends (Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn) and contemporary groundbreakers (Punch Brothers) for your current, and upcoming tour schedule? 

Laura: Willie Nelson came about through our booking agency, who knew how badly we wanted to tour with him.  So they arranged it, and it was an amazing experience. We haven't met Loretta yet, but the same thing took place.  Our agency hooked us up with her for a few shows in the spring.  I cannot wait to watch her sing! 

Lydia:  The Punch Brothers came about through our connection with T Bone.  He had invited us to play with him and some other acts at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, and the Punch Brothers were guests for that show as well. We're just so lucky, to be playing with legendary established acts like Willie and Loretta, and then to go on and play for a relatively new act that is a legend in the making.  There is so much talent in the world, and we're glad to be surrounded by it.

In addition to your upcoming live performances, do you have any other plans for 2011? 

Laura:  There has been some discussion about record #2, though I'm not sure when we'll have time to actually do that.  Ha!  Honestly, touring is going to take up a huge chunk of our year.  But we're also hoping to sell more records, to even broader audiences. 

Lydia:  We're also working on the album release in European markets.  That happens sometime in February.  The main goal of 2011 is just to work really hard, and get our career into a good, comfortable spot.

Who are your biggest influences?

Laura:  For both of us, our dad is the number one music influence.  For me, Brandi Carlile is a HUGE influence on my writing and attitude towards performing.  As far as music goes, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette are always winners, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash.  All the good ones.

Lydia:  I love Neil Young and Bob Dylan, along with Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson.  Fiona Apple, Grace Potter, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, are all favorites of mine as well.

What have you been listening to lately? 

Laura:  A lot of James Taylor, a lot of Christmas music, some White Stripes, a TON of Ray LaMontagne, and the new Kings of Leon record. 

Lydia:  Again, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Mumford and Sons, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

The Secret Sisters are now on tour, and have many dates lined up already for 2011. They will be performing with the Punch Brothers at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on January 15th.

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