A Secret History

A Secret History

Everything seems to have happened so fast. I read somewhere that when you went to record demos in L.A. in 2010, it was Laura’s first time flying, and that you also recorded your album in two weeks. How have you got used to your new-found, whirlwind success?

Laura: It's been a gradual process, and to be honest, I still don't feel like I'm used to it yet. We've been on more planes than I can even count, our lives have been completely turned upside down. It's a lot of hard work, but being able to connect with countless people through music is a really lovely thing. So we're grateful for it.

Lydia: We've definitely had to deal with homesickness and exhaustion... all the things touring artists have to face. Luckily there are modern conveniences like cell phones and webcams that help us keep in touch with everyone we miss when we're out on the road. We just have to take things day by day and do our best. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy. We're tough though, and really learning a lot about ourselves as we go through this growth process.

From being discovered in 2010, you’ve gone on to collaborate with notable artists such as Elton John, Jack White and Elvis Costello. Does this feel real yet?

Laura: I still, to this day, have moments where I think, "I can't believe this is my life now." Getting to work with artists like Elton or Jack or Elvis, is huge to us. We feel so unimportant in comparison to them, and so when we are lucky enough to be around such legends, we always kind of have to wonder why. I mean, I think we both feel undeserving, and so it surprises us when such talented people take the time to collaborate with us... we still don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Lydia: Yeah, especially looking back over the past year's developments. When you think about where we were when this all started, it really has been a lot like a fairy tale.

I first came across you watching Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on New Years’ Eve. How was it?

Lydia: That was so much fun!  It was our first trip out of the USA, and getting to be on that show was a huge boost for us. Neither of us realized how far-reaching that appearance would be. We've just finished up our tour of Europe and the UK, and literally every person we met told us that they'd seen us on Jools Holland. It just gave us incredible exposure. I think we'll always be indebted to Jools for helping us out so early in our careers.

How have you adjusted to touring and what’s it like supporting Ray LaMontagne?

Laura: Touring is simultaneously wonderful and exhausting. As we said earlier, we get homesick relatively easy. I think it's especially tough because we've never done anything like it before. But we knew that touring would be a huge part of this journey, and so we're learning how to handle the rigors of it. And it always helps to tour with someone who inspires you, musically and just as a person.

Ray is our favorite artist to tour with, for so many reasons. He's genuinely one of the sweetest people we've ever known, not to mention his amazing talents and his live show. I just love getting to watch him perform every night. We've learned so much from him.

Lydia: I think if we had to tour alone, as in, just the two of us, it would be so much more challenging. But when you tour with artists like Ray, you get the benefit of building friendships with him and his band and crew, and so you kind of develop your own little touring family. It's nice, because when you're feeling down in the dumps, you just go find someone to talk to, and they've all been doing it for years, so they can talk you through it and be your support mechanism. We're so lucky to know Ray and to have him believe in us so much.

You recorded your record on classic analogue equipment rather than using any modern computer based technology. Was this a conscious decision to capture a retro sound, and is it something you’ll employ again in the future?

Lydia: When we went in the record the album, we didn't have any experience with recording techniques. We knew what we wanted the finished product to sound like, but we didn't know how to achieve it exactly. Luckily, our producer, Dave Cobb, knew how to set everything up so that it was authentic and so that we could capture our voices the way we wanted to. So it was a conscious decision, that we came to with his help.

Laura: All along, we both knew that we wanted the record to match what we could do in a live performance setting. So the way we did it enabled us to set standards that we are able to meet. 

So many artists today put out a near-perfect record, and then you see them live and it's just a train wreck. We didn't want that. I think we'll still use the same techniques in future recordings, just because it allows you to be completely honest about your capabilities. It's just a fun way to record things. It really makes you step up your game as a vocalist.

The record has been well received critically. With everything happening so quickly, has that helped allay any fears about performing and touring?

Laura: It has definitely boosted our confidence in what we're doing. It has made us realize that there is really fertile ground for the kind of music we love to perform, and knowing how many people love it instantly really makes it important to us. It's so much bigger than two young girls from Alabama who like to sing. It's about a movement toward sincere, pure music that showcases an artist's true abilities. Knowing that people instantly fall in love with it makes performances so much more fun, and helps us feel confident about a strong future of touring all over the world.

Where does the influence and inspiration come from for your music and is it the kind of music you’d listen to growing up?

Lydia: It comes mainly from our family. Our dad, our grandfather, our whole family focused on music as their favorite past time. So growing up, we were constantly surrounded by good music. Family members sitting around, playing guitar or mandolin. Sometimes we'd whip out a church songbook and just sing gospel tunes. It was just in the air around us.  We went through the typical phases... loving pop music or whatever other junk was on the radio, but this is what we always came back to. This era of music, the early, rootsy country music... that's what we love most.

There are quite a few covers and traditional songs on the record. Was the album in any way rush-released, and do you plan future records to be completely original records?

Laura: We've been completely honest all along about our story, and yes... the album was most definitely rush-released. That was due to the fact that we literally came out of nowhere. We had no existing fanbase, no previous records, no touring experience. We started at square one, and so the plan was to just test the waters... to put out a fun record of mostly cover songs and see how people liked it. Luckily, they've responded really positively, to both the music itself and our voices.

Lydia: Yeah, absolutely. That being said, the next record will absolutely be mostly original material. We're in the writing process now, and feel that we need to compose our own material in order to grow. We simply didn't have time to do that for the first record. But now we've got a little bit of experience under our belts, and so we are excited to see what kind of sound we can come up with on our own. It'd be easy to do a whole second record of great covers, but that's not progress.

With the original songs you have written, how do you go about the writing process?

Laura: We're still relatively new to the process, but we are figuring out our dynamic. I'm usually the one writing the words, Lydia is great with melodies and harmonies. So it works out.

Lydia: Absolutely. We believe that all good, Southern music has to be influenced, in some way, by faith in a higher power. We grew up in a very spiritual family, and attended church three times a week. The church we went to didn't use musical instruments or a choir or anything like that. It was just simple, a capella, congregational singing. That's how we learned to sing. Blending with everyone around you and making all the parts work together to form something beautiful.

Laura: We're not ashamed to express our beliefs. We are where we are because of something bigger than us. It's not something we want to force onto others. We just simply want people to understand that it's what inspires us and keeps us going. I think the honesty and sincerity of the music is due, in large part, to how we were raised and how we choose to live our lives. It's simple, really.

Laura: I think there will always be traces of that sound in our recordings. Our voices just naturally lend themselves to that style. But I do know that we want to venture into other areas of musical style. I honestly don't know what the next record will sound like. I think it will be something that we create as we go along, writing and touring and learning. It will be a sound all our own, that comes as a result of developing yourself artistically. It will be good, I know that much.

interview by Stephen Grindrod, March 2011

The Secret Sisters return for their first UK and Irish headline tour in May. They play Oran Mor, Glasgow (3), The Ruby Lounge, Manchester (4), Stables, Milton Keynes (5), Academy 2, Oxford (10), Leaf, Liverpool (11), Bush Hall, London (12), Academy 2, Bristol (15), Glee Club, Birmingham (16), Aunt Annie’s Porterhouse, Belfast (17) and Academy 2, Dublin (18).