The Secret Sisters Revealed
The Secret Sisters, comprised of Laura and Lydia Rogers, arrive in stores with their self-titled debut album this week. The siblings teamed up with Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett (of 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' fame), along with Dave Cobb (Waylon Jennings, Jamey Johnson) to present this collection of purely vocal magic under the Universal Republic imprint created just for them, Beladroit Records.
The pair were born and raised in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where they grew up on a steady diet of classic country, bluegrass and classic rock that helped define their signature sound which transports the listener back to simpler times. How naturally they blend together can be traced back to learning to harmonize at family picnics, singing songs by the Everly Brothers and Doc Watson, as well as a cappella performances in their hometown church.
Would you believe that Laura and Lydia never even considered a singing career? Laura event went off to college to pursue a career in business and always "considered Lydia the real'singer" in the family. Laura decided on a last-minute whim to drive up to Nashville alone -- Lydia was delayed -- for an audition where Cobb and other music business executives wanted to put together a new singing group. By the time she got back home, she had several enthusiastic messages from the folks she had just auditioned for, asking her to come back. Once Lydia and Laura had a chance to sing together in front of the crew, it was just in a matter of days before they were flown to Los Angeles to record a couple of demos. Now, here they are in a place they never even dreamed about being -- with their debut album already making waves.
The Boot caught up with the singing sisters to talk about the new album, their influences, working with T-Bone and The White Stripes' Jack White, as well as their unexpected and pleasantly surprising ultimate collaboration.
Is it possible to describe all of your emotions as we approach your very first album "street week"?
Laura: It's been a long road. When you record your first record, it's so hard to foresee what it's going to be like when the album finally comes out. We love this record and have fallen for it so hard. We're proud of it. Many other people, who have known us from when we were little bitty, are proud of it, too. To be able to represent the genre, to be able to represent our family and our hometown, Muscle Shoals -- it's so much more than having a great record on the shelf. There's so much passion, and our grandfathers who aren't here anymore would be so happy about this ... We're hoping it sells a decent amount, not for monetary gain, but just because we want people to hear it. We believe in it, and we want other people to be inspired by it and have those moments where they're like, "This feels like home." I want everybody in America to feel like they're going home.
It certainly transported me back to a little girl sitting on the floor of my grandparents' home.
Laura: That's the best compliment, when people say it felt like home. Everybody's got that concept of home, no matter what. I've had people tell us before, "When I heard that song, it reminded me of my granddad, and he's not here anymore and it made me miss him, and it just touched me." That's what it's about. This isn't about awards or TV shows or performing at a certain venue. It's about reaching regular people who have those memories and pulling it out of them.
You recorded this album on analog, instead of digital, which is what most artists use today, and you only had one microphone between the two of you. Why you chose to go old-school on your debut?
Lydia: It was really cool to stay true to that era. We wanted to do it the way they did back then, because the best music comes out of that era.
Laura: And it felt so real. When you know they're not going to auto tune your voice, and they're not going to piece every syllable of your words. You know what you sang in that microphone, you can recreate that in your live show, and that's what we wanted. Yeah, it's imperfect. Yeah, we screw up sometimes, but that's what humanity is: being imperfect and embracing it and going, "Oops. I messed up. Hit a bad note. My bad." It's OK if you mess up. People in this industry are so afraid of making mistakes. Make them! Mistakes are beautiful. [laughs]
What exactly would you like to accomplish with this album?
Laura: What we really want to do, but in a backwards way, is to use our youthfulness to take this older kind of music and put it back out there. To say, "Hey! You're only 18 years old, but listen to this, because this is the root of American music, this is where country music came from ..."
Lydia: It's where we came from.
Laura: Fortunately, it's been speaking for itself and it's not anything that we can explain other than just people have an ear for it. There is still a desire for that, and thank goodness that there is, because it'd be a shame to lose that generation.
Who were your musical influences growing up?
Laura: My dad was such a huge factor in influencing us musically, and he introduced us to all of the people we have been inspired by and loved for years. Any of the songs that he would sit around and play, like a Don Williams' tune or Crosby, Stills & Nash or Simon & Garfunkel ... James Taylor. Those songs evoke a memory of my dad sitting in the living room. At the time, he probably didn't even realize we were paying attention to that. There's 'Homeward Bound,' the Simon & Garfunkel song. John Denver, as well. It's weird because all the ones I mentioned are not necessarily from the era where we gravitate towards musically in our performances and recordings. But any old gospel church songs. There are so many church songs that I'll hear them and I go, "Oh my goodness. This is home. this is a place for me." [laughs] It's ridiculous. Music literally is the most emotional thing. Nothing compares to it.
Lydia: We're also inspired by modern-day artists. We don't want people to think that we're just influenced by people out of the '50s and '60s. We're really big fans of Brandi Carlile, Fiona Apple, Jack White ...
With all of these various influences, how did you come up with your particular style?
Lydia: It was a natural process, honestly.
Laura: I don't know that it was anything that we ever really pursued. It just kind of happened. Oddly enough, whenever I am singing at the piano by myself, I don't necessarily sing these classic country songs. When Lydia's playing guitar in her room, she's not playing the songs that are identical to the songs on our album. We take from so many different styles individually, but when our two voices get together, it just fits with that Everly Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Andrews Sisters kind of sound, that family kind of vocal similarity. What's really cool about it is when you listen to, for example, the Everly Brothers, you don't know which one is singing which part. It's almost like one voice coming out of two people and creating this really eerie, parallel movement, and that's what we do just on accident. I could never sing like Carrie Underwood. I could never be the next Martina McBride. What we do is just what we do.
When people ask us, "Well, who's the lead singer?," we tell them, "There's not a lead singer." I can't be a Secret Sister without her. It's the way the two voices match up and move that makes the sound.
So, what exactly is the "secret"?
Lydia: [laughs] We had the hardest time choosing a name. Actually, our manager just ran across the phrase 'the Secret Sisters,' and he thought it sounded cool. And it wasn't taken, which is a big deal. [laughs] We decided to take it and run with it, and it actually started becoming appropriate because up until that point, nobody had known who we were. People would Google us and couldn't find anything.
Laura: It was almost eerie, because it was like, "Wow! That really works! What are the odds that that one name is not taken by anybody and you have the story you have?" It just fit, and I'm glad we came across that name, because I think we really stepped into it and got wrapped into it.
T-Bone Burnett is your Executive Producer. How did you meet him?
Laura: He is a really cool person. We were fans for a long time before we ever realized we would get to meet him. One day, we got a phone call, and they said, "We got the album into T-Bone's hands and he loves it, and he wants to mix it and master it and put some more parts on it. He just wants to help you with your career." That's like winning the lottery! How many performers out there would not give their two legs to have T-Bone Burnett help them out? He has been so helpful to us, not just musically, but also with life advice. He's such a thinker. He's so artfully-minded, and he sees the point in everything.
You also worked with Jack White on one of his own projects.
Lydia: He heard our record and wanted to do something with us as part of his 7" series. It was crazy to work with someone of his magnitude. He's a character. [laughs]
Laura: What we did with him was completely separate from our record. The label completely turned their heads away, and we went to Las Vegas for the weekend. It was like, "We can do whatever we want with Jack White," and so we pranced our little selves in there and we made this rocking Jack White album. When you hear it, even if you don't know Jack White had anything to do with it, you hear that shredding on that guitar and you're like, "That's Jack White!" [laughs] It was really liberating for us, because our record has this innocent, sweet purity to it, but then you listen to the Jack White stuff, it's like [big growl], just really intense. It was really nice to be able to step out of that sweet little innocent angelic thing and be like, "I'm a rock star and a White Stripe today! Take that!"
What would be your ultimate goal, the pinnacle of success for you?
Laura: I have several. [both laugh] I'm not going to go fan-girly, I'm really not.
Oh please do.
Laura: OK, so I'm obsessed, frighteningly crazy about Brandi Carlile. I talk about her in every interview. Wherever she is, I need her to come and find me, because [laughs] I love her. She is so inspiring to me on every level. Of all of the artists that I have loved throughout my life, nobody has moved me the way she does and nobody has inspired as far as performance, personality, crowd interaction, writing ability, vocal ability, nobody holds a candle to her in my book. And maybe I'm just a psycho, and she'll probably hear about me one day and say, "Keep her at least 500 yards from me!" But I'm just so inspired by her. If we could work with her, that would be a huge thing. Also, if we could work with somebody like George Jones or Loretta Lynn, somebody who was one of the early pillars of country music. It's sad, and I hate to even say it, but that generation is not going to be around forever, just like ours won't. I like the idea of two young girls who appreciate that music so much to be able to pair up with them and just make a statement, however large or small it might be.
Lydia: I think being on stage with Elton John is going to be up there as a pinnacle for sure.
[The Secret Sisters will share the stage with Sir Elton at 'The Speaking Clock Revue' -- a multi-artist concert extravaganza organized by T-Bone Burnett. The two-night show will take place in Boston, Mass. on October 16, and in New York City on October 20.]
Laura: Overall, in the grand scheme of things, the big Secret Sisters' umbrella is just to know that we connected with, even it was just one person that we touched, if it was just one person who listened to our record and said, "That means something to me." The way that the Brandi Carlile records speak to me ... If somebody can connect to our music that way or be inspired or just put a smile on their face temporarily, and if we can be just one ray of sunshine in somebody's day, that's what we're doing it for.