Twang Nation: Secret Sisters Interview – Sharing Sincerity

As I said in an earlier post the first time I saw the Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s Secret Sisters ( Laura Rogers Lydia Rogers) was at a GRAMMY event for the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers honoring T Bone Burnett. Burnett’s then recent protégés had just released their self-titled debut album which featured him at the production helm. The Sisters opened the event and I saw what he perhaps saw while watching their performance as did the jaded industry folks who stopped hobnobbing and stood entranced by the delicate harmony and winning personalities on stage. I was a fan.

The duo recently released a 7 inch released by Jack White’s Third Man Records and had their song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”, inspired by the Alabama tornado outbreak, featured on the T Bone produced soundtrack for The Hunger Games.

The duo were kind enough to give thoughtful l answers to emailed questions submitted by me and some of my twitter followers.

Twang Nation: What was your first experience with music?
The Secret Sisters: The two of us have been completely surrounded by music since we were babies. We spent many summers attending bluegrass festivals with our dad, who is a bluegrass musician. Though we can’t remember that far back, it’s very likely that the first concert we ever attended was a bluegrass festival somewhere in the South. We really believe that bluegrass musicians are some of the most incredible, skilled artists in the music world, and growing up in those circles helped us appreciate a time-honored musical genre and tradition that still finds its way into our music on a regular basis. We are very influenced by certain aspects of the bluegrass world, and that sound has been ingrained in us since we were very young.

TN: Alabama musicians seem to look after one another – from the Drive-By Truckers , John Paul White from the Civil Wars and Doc Daily – what is the source of that camaraderie and how has it helped you?
TSS: We believe that the camaraderie comes from the desire to see Alabama be well represented again. Alabama is known for producing some of the most legendary artists, musicians, and songwriters in all of music history. It seems to us that all Alabama musicians are proud of the heritage we have, and we just really cheer for one another when big things happen, when our fellow Alabama artists get recognized for their talent. We’ve had countless compliments and expressions of support from other artists in Alabama, and knowing that those people are supporting us helps us keep going. It’s almost as though we’ve all subconsciously joined a movement to put Alabama back in the musical spotlight. That movement also requires a bit of a responsibility-we don’t want to do anything to tarnish the reputation of great music in our state, and we believe that all the artists in Alabama help to hold each other accountable for always putting out quality music.

TN:What is your songwriting process like? Do you walk into the studio with ideas fully formed or do you work it out in the studio?
TSS: All of our songs come about in unique ways. Sometimes they come to us quickly, other times we struggle with them for hours and hours. We’ve spent a lot of time this year working together on our songs, and also exploring songwriting with some of our very favorite cowriters. It has been a wonderful learning experience and we still have so much to figure out. For the second record, we’ve chosen to have our songs mostly complete when we go into the studio. It saves time, and having a real grasp of the song ahead of time gives everything a good direction to work from. Of course some changes will be made once we get into the studio, but for the most part our songs are all ironed out and ready to be put to tape.

TN:Your self-titled debut album album was executive produced by one of the godfather’s of Americana, T-Bone Burnett. How was working with him and how did it open doors for you. Did his association hamper you in any way?
TSS: Working with T bone has been very advantageous for us. He has been very kind and protective towards us, and we truly believe that much of our progress can be attributed to his involvement in our career. His knowledge of music history and sound quality is absolutely incredible, and he has taught us so much, in a very short amount of time. Having him in our corner helped us be involved in the Hunger Games soundtrack, which was a huge boost to our career. He’s constantly fighting for us and involving us in the cool projects that he undertakes, and it’s very nice to know that someone so well-respected is looking out for us.

TN:What compels young performers to create or cover music that is, or sounds like it’s, from generations before they were born?
TSS: For the two of us, we choose to cover songs only if we love them. We obviously tend to love music from the early years of the 20th century, but we will cover any song that really touches us. The kind of songs we gravitate towards reminds us of home, our family, the South, God and faith, and all the other things that are most important to us. We think that young performers like us get tired of being surrounded by music that is fleeting. We want to cover and create music that can withstand the test of time. For the two of us, there’s also a sense of preservation in the music we play. We value early American roots music so much, and to think of that music fading into obscurity breaks our hearts. So we use our voices and our platform, no matter how big or small it may be, to remind everyone of how sincere and special the music from long ago is.

TN:You recorded the song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” for the The Hunger Games soundtrack. Did you read the books? If so did you imagine your music as a backdrop while you reading it?
TSS: Honestly, we had written the song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” before we read the books. When we were approached about being on the soundtrack, we knew that we had a song in our pockets that would work very well in light of the subject matter of the books. So we submitted the song for consideration, and everyone involved agreed that though the song was begun previously, it was truly meant to be associated with that film. When we finally read the books, we were stunned at how perfectly our song fit with the emotional themes in the stories. It reminded us that music has its own way of getting to where it’s supposed to be.

TN:In a period of music industry turbulence and self-reflection how have you shaped the direction of your careers?
TSS: We don’t let our career define us. We’ve focused on staying true to our beliefs and morals, and we both believe that we can be happy no matter what happens in our career, so long as we choose to be happy and grateful for whatever comes our way. We try not to get too worried about music business ups and downs. We simply make the kind of music we want to make, and if at any point we are pushed to be something other than what we want to be, we will walk away. Luckily, we are surrounded by people who help us preserve our true identities and the music that moves us, and we just let that music do what it will. Ultimately, our faith reassures us that we’re so blessed, in every moment, and that everything will pan out exactly as it should.

TN: How was it to play Jack White’s divorce party? Was it at all awkward?
TSS: We actually did not play at Jack White’s divorce party. Not exactly sure how that rumor got started, but we are friends and fans of both Jack and Karen, and we love them both dearly and treasure their sweet family.

TN: How is your new album coming? Who’s playing on it and does it have a title yet?
TSS: As of right now, we haven’t started tracking the record yet. We focused most of our time this year on writing the entirety of our record, and hope to go into the studio in October to start cutting songs. We did some of the songwriting with our good friend, Brandi Carlile, and that experience was absolutely priceless for us. We feel that Brandi really understands our musical inspiration, and she helped us develop our songs into something we are very proud of. We don’t know quite yet who will be playing on our record, but we can promise that some of the friends we’ve made in the past will be making appearances. We toured with so many incredible people last year, and several of them have offered to make a contribution to our second record. So be on the lookout for some awesome collaborating!

TN: John Paul White (The Civil Wars) mentioned be collaborated with you for a song on the album, who else has had a hand in writing songs for it?
TSS: We did write a song with John Paul, and he was so great to work with. He really taught us so much, and we are proud for him and Joy and the success they’ve had. As mentioned before, we’ve worked with Brandi Carlile quite a bit on our songs, as well as Dan Wilson, Kevin Griffin, and other Nashville writers that we love and respect. At the end of the day, we really love the moments when just the two of us get together to write a song, mainly because we feel that those moments help us grow exponentially as writers. As we spend time writing together, our respect for one another grows, and the songs that come out of those sessions surprise us every time. Like maybe we are supposed to be doing this after all.

Official Site

Here’s “Black And Blue,” a new song from the The Secret Sister’s upcoming album live from the stage at Wakarusa

What the $#%& is Couch By Couchwest?!

Truth be told I really had no idea what the hell Couch By Couchwest was going in . I got that the name was a play off the Austin Music/Tech/Film festival South By Southwest but what else?

Being a newbie I reached out to the Couch By Couchwest via their twitter account for a scheduled of performances. Being a blogger I’m naturally lazy and like to get my information neatly packaged. No dice. I got this response “..this is a festival based on laziness! Do you really think we’d put together a schedule!?”and “Official CXCW Schedule: March 11-18th, videos sun-up to sun-up. Couch, kitchen, bed, bathroom, alternate as needed.” My laziness had been trumped.

So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do. I Googled Couch By Couchwest. I was presented with the main sources for performances, YouTube and Vimeo video uploads that are then gathered by the main site,  a step up from their original tumblr page, as a single place for enjoying the music. Past performances by Neko Case (below) and other excellent, and some okay, performances. But there was no denying how compelling the idea of open source cultural event like this was.

The submission criteria makes to mentions of genre, style or guidelines of any type aside from uploading and tagging on the submitted video. This is as democratic as the local open mic except that it’s happening world-wide. Judging my the videos the only crieria is that there is often, but not always a couch in teh videos submitted.

Audience participation comes in the form of posting pics of your pets (sharing the couch with you no doubt) and tacos (apparently the official Couch By Couchwest fare) as well as the often hilarious Twitter feed which is topically aligned by the hashtag #CXCW or #CXCW2012.

Operations take place in secret from some undisclosed location Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the pseudonym, Baron Childs. Childs is reported as saying “There are some really talented people who just don’t’ get the chance to get heard because either they can’t afford to go to South by South West or they families that prevent them from going. This is a way to give those people a voice, too.” and that the purpose of Couch by Couch West is not about exposure or making money, but rather the focus should be on the music. “We’re not making any money off this, it actually costs us money.”

The defies all the conventional ideas about marketing and music publicity and results in an open-source cultural event. So far this week has Couch By Couchwest has given us excellent performance by Austin Lucas, Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil , Imperial Rooster an many others.

In the end Couch By Couchwest is about the joy of music and the serendipitous nature of the web. The use of technology to support the traditional folk and roots legacy of intimate , personal space performances is a great hybrid cultural experience that I can really get behind.


Twang Nation Podcast Episode 3

Due to either 1) all the great and positive responses from listeners and bands, or 2) my general bullheadedness, here it is friends, Episode 3 of the Twang Nation Podcast just in time for the holidays! This episode is festive a mix of gritty (Possessed by Paul James, Doc Dailey, Matt Woods ) and glorious (Laura Repo, Whitehorse, Matraca Berg) and concludes like an empty Tecate can perched on top of a silver tensile Christmas tree, with the classic Robert Earle Keen’s Merry Christmas from the Family. Remember you can leave requests or feedback below or emeuial me at baron(at)twangnation(dot)com.

Twang Nation Podcast Episode 3

1. Possessed by Paul James – song:  Four Men From The Row -  album: Feed the Family (Hillgrass Bluebilly Records 2010 )
2. Root Jack – song:  The Good Life -  album: In The Pines
3. Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil – song:  Sunday School  album: Victims, Enemies, & Old Friends (Southern Discipline Recording Company)
4. Eleven Hundred Springs  – song:  Texas Afternoon -  album: Country Jam (Palo Duro Records)
5 Laura Repo  – Song: Like to call you honey album: Get Yourself Home (Independent)
6. Whitehorse – Song: “Killing Time is Murder – album: self-titled debut  ( Six Shooter Records in October )
7. Matt Woods – Song: Beating Down My Door  – Album: The Matt Woods Manifesto (Lonely Ones Records)
8. Whiskey Daredevils – Song: Party Plates  – Album: Introducing the Whisky Daredevils (Lonely Ones Records)
9. Matraca Berg – Song: Your Husband’s Cheating On Us  – Album: The dreaming Fields (Dualtone Records)
10. The White Buffalo – Song: Matador – Album: The White Buffalo ep
11. Robert Earle Keen  – Song:  Merry Christmas from the Family – Album: Gringo Honeymoon

The Best of 2010

It’s that time again. The end of the year list that are as common as as spam in your inbox, but it’s tradition and I’m a sucker for tradition. So here we go!

If you follow my twitter feed (!/TwangNation) you’ll already know what’s on this list. I did the countdown as seperate tweets lest week and I got a great response. You also know that its not merely a top 10 but a top 25! That’s right, you get 25% more music for your money.

It has been another great year for Americana/roots music, and from what’s currently coming across my desk for 2011 we can look forward to another. Old-timers are beating on the barn door and upstarts are using old parts to make new works that advance the form while staying true to the roots.  The genre appears to be attracting and cultivating the type of nurturing and craftsmanship that labels used to practice in the golden days of the 60s and early 70s. Of course this time without the lavish pay-out. The music industry is in turmoil from the corner office view but from the touring van and the laptop it’s  a prime-time for opportunity. And if you’re a burgeoning musician concerned about the current conditions I urge you to purchase Dr. Ralph Stanley’s book Man of Constant Sorry and learn about what REAL hard time look like.

So I raise a pint and celebrate an embarrassment of riches that show the love of craft and and honor in roots that defines a road of American culture that is often overlooked and forgotten but often leads to the promised land.

As the year comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the past four years of writing Minkin’s Music and all the good times with people I’ve met along the way. May the spirit of the season touch your soul and let comfort and joy shine upon you throughout the upcoming year.

  1. Mat D – Plank Road Drag –
  2. Jamey Johnson – Guitar song-
  3. Ray Wylie Hubbard – A: Enlightenment B: Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C) –
  4. Truckstop Darlin’ – Truckstop Darlin’ –
  5. Reckless Kelly – Somewhere in Time-
  6. Miranda Lambert – Revolution –
  7. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues –
  8. Lindsay Fuller – The Last Light I See –
  9. Elizabeth Cook – Welder –
  10. Jason & The Scorchers  –  Halcyon Times –
  11. Mandolin Orange – Quiet Little Room –
  12. Black Twig Pickers – Ironto Special –
  13. Possessed By Paul James – Feed The Family –
  14. Joe Thompson – Yankee Twang –
  15. Joe Pug – Messenger –
  16. Carolina Chocolate Drops  – Genuine Negro Jig –
  17. The Sadies – Darker Circles –
  18. 6 Day Bender – E’ville Fuzz –
  19. I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In the House – Sounds of Dying –
  20. Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil – Victims, Enemies & Old Friends –
  21. Shineyribs – Well After Awhile –
  22. Patty Griffin – Downtown Church –
  23. Whitey Morgan & the 78′s – Whitey Morgan & the 78′s-
  24. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers  – Agridustrial –
  25. Mary Gauthier – The Foundling –