The Secret Sisters
'we’ve just found where we’re supposed to be.’
The Secret Sisters’ incredible story is as simple and true as the effortless harmonies that got them here. Begin anywhere – the thick and fertile brambles of their own family history (their grandfather and his brothers actually forged a group called ‘The Happy Valley Boys’) or light upon the branches of the wondrous, fractal menagerie that makes up their debut album (a guileless, rapturous mixture of roots-ified pop that includes classics like “Why Don’t Ya Love Me?” and “Why Baby Why”). The pure goldenrod from a pair of Alabama sisters direct from Muscle Shoals (barely twenty-somethings themselves) dare to cover the Sinatra untouchable “Something Stupid,” one minute, and deliver their own self-penned, soon-to-be signature anthem “Tennessee Me,” the next.
And the space between Laura and Lydia Rogers, well … you couldn’t slip a butter-slice between that. Fortified by an airtight familial camaraderie – ‘a love of music from all sides’ gushes Laura – ‘our father, our mother’s side of the family, her mother and father – our church…all our cousins…’ and emboldened with a zeal for country music and a knowledgeable repertoire of the American canon of classic recordings - the bond between Laura and Lydia is as deep as “the Tennessee river in springtime” – one of their other favorite colloquialisms.
Such grounded wisdom permeates their stunning musical debut, recorded in Nashville in a mere two weeks in legendary Blackbird studios. The 10-song valentine – helmed by acclaimed producer Dave Cobb (Waylon Jennings, Jamey Johnson), manages to evoke, dare we say, even loftier pop latitudes by tapping into the indie-cool power of the Secret Sisters’ mesmerizing vocals: Arrow-straight (“Timeless,” is how Cobb describes their harmonizing) the unique, un-filtered Rogers’ sound deftly ambling between savant-like grace and ‘good ‘ol fashioned’ pop horse sense – defying both convention and the fake-it-as-you-go M.O. of the contemporary, hyper-shuffled music industry.
It was the Secret Sisters’ vocals and their love and respect for music and harmony that first caught the attention of T Bone Burnett, who signed on as Executive Producer after spending time with Laura and Lydia and hearing them sing live, and is releasing the album on his new label created especially for this release - Beladroit. As Burnett explains, “I have been making music for over forty years and The Secret Sisters album is as close to pure as it gets.
“Listening to the Secret Sisters sing, you hear in their voices a sound that is timeless and of the moment. You hear the history of rural American music from the 1920’s and a reverence for every musical genre this country has produced. Popular music requires the absolute honesty of the Secret Sisters, and I’m thrilled to be involved in presenting them to the world.”
“The girls were able to step up and deliver just as we first heard them,” says Cobb. “They possess that rarest quality of being able to convert their magic exactly as it comes across. We didn’t have to do anything but bring the band in.” Surrounded by a team of iconic Nashville session players such as pedal steel genius Robbie Turner and piano great Pig Robbins, the girls tore through a selection of ‘found’ treasures and a couple of songs written by Laura, including the impressive “Waste The Day.”
Classic, ‘old school’ recording equipment was also the rule of the day at the two week-long recording marathon. The album was recorded the same way it would have been recorded in the 1950s. No computers or digital equipment were even aloud near the sessions in an effort to capture the sisters’ stunning vocal prowess ‘as is.’ The production team and the girls utilized vintage microphones and ‘throwback’ recording techniques down to the same type of tape they would have used fifty years ago. “Some songs only took a few takes to capture,” says Lydia. “Often we’ve found we’re freshest on the first-take. The way we bounce off each other when singing also seems to give us a confidence to ‘go for it,’ even though this was our first time in a ‘real’ studio.”
The speed with which the sisters’ have been thrust into the musical spotlight has also amazed them. Hailing from the legendary musical hamlet of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Laura refers to their ‘accidental discovery’ as “one of those things that happens when you’re not looking. You just embrace it and be grateful.”
Recalling annual family picnics where the girls first learned to harmonize classic gems by the Everly Brothers, Doc Watson, and others, they also credit growing up in The Church Of Christ, and their home congregation in Alabama for encouraging a cappella singing. But amazingly, Laura and Lydia never considered a singing career as a duo. “I went off to college to pursue a career in business,” laughs Laura. “I always considered Lydia the ‘real’ singer of our family.”
It took an impromptu Nashville audition by Laura – where Cobb and a few other music business representatives were looking to possibly craft a new singing group last fall – to bring their incredible talents into focus. “Lydia was delayed so I drove up by myself,” says Laura. “I didn’t think I had a chance.” The song she chose was by singer Brandi Carlile – “Same Old You.” “I didn’t know if I did well or not.”
By the time she got home her phone was ringing off the hook with messages from representatives from the audition asking her back. Cobb remembers being blown away immediately. “We were looking for a whole different thing,” he admits. “But when I heard Laura I was just knocked out. I’d never heard anything like it, at least in person. There was something so innocent about her style in a ‘40s or ‘50s kind of way. So clear and classic. When she told us she had a sister, we all looked at each other in disbelief.”
Lydia showed up later, and when the two were asked to sing together, all the music business representatives present realized the mission was a simple one: To capture this abundance of raw talent in its purest form. The Secret Sisters were born.
In a matter of days the girls were flown to Los Angeles to record a couple of demos. “Here we were, just a couple of Alabama girls suddenly coming face to face with our dream,” says Lydia. For Laura, it was her first time in an airplane. “You can’t imagine what was going through my head,” she laughs. “The whole thing was starting to become a fairy tale.”
A batch of demos was produced and record companies began responding accordingly. Within weeks they were signed to Universal Republic, and the song selection process for their debut album began in earnest. “It was fun going through the process. We had grown up singing so many great songs with our family, listening to our dad play Don Williams’ songs about ‘good ‘ol boys’ and rivers running dry with the fireflies blinking behind our house,” says Laura. “I can’t help but think we brought that all into the studio with us.”
For Laura and Lydia, that ‘place’ just might be that unshakable, impenetrable bond that sparks it all. “Maybe the stuff that comes out is all that nurturing, musical and otherwise, back in Alabama, that contributes in some indivisible way to who we are,” says Lydia.
In a series of notes trying to put her finger on it herself, Laura expressed it even simpler: ‘In so many ways we are still the same kids who would perform songs in our parents’ room, when we sang about silver threads and golden needles and cold hearted snakes, and all that. Even with everything that’s happened - getting that dream chance to make our own album, I really believe we’ve just found where we’re supposed to be.’
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