Music Interviews
7:35 am
Sun April 13, 2014

Throw-Back Harmonies Blend The Secret Sisters

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 9:34 am

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Laura and Lydia Rogers are from Muscle Shoals, Ala., and they go by the name The Secret Sisters. After their first album was released in 2010, the beauty and precision of their harmonies attracted comparisons with The Everly Brothers and The Andrews Sisters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENNESSEE ME")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Oh, oh, Tennessee me. Tennessee me loving you. See me by the fireside light. Come and see me through the night...

MARTIN: The Secret Sisters' music is a nostalgic blend of country, folk, blues and rockabilly. Their throwback harmonies have made them plenty of famous friends, resulting in collaborations with Jack White; Dave Stewart, of Eurythmics; and the legendary T Bone Burnett, who produced their forthcoming album, "Put Your Needle Down."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUT YOUR NEEDLE DOWN")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Mama, put your needle down. How did you feel when you were young?

MARTIN: The Secret Sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, join me from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us, ladies.

LYDIA ROGERS: Thanks for having us today. We're happy to be here.

MARTIN: So let's get straight to the new album. Your last one was mainly covers of classic songs from the '50s and '60s. The new album - mostly your own stuff, but there's still a retro vibe to these songs. Let's listen to "Lonely Island," and then we'll talk on the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY ISLAND")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) I'm living on a lonely island, in a loveless ocean full of misery. I'll die here on my lonely island...

MARTIN: This is like, the saddest song ever, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

LAURA ROGERS: Yes. We love the good, sad songs. I think we - that's our favorite.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And I'm sure you two hear this all the time, but you do sound like you are of another time and place. Do you ever feel that way?

LYDIA ROGERS: I think we do. We grew up in a church that didn't use any musical instruments, so we had to learn how to harmonize and sing a cappella. That singing is reminiscent of an older time.

LAURA ROGERS: So we can't - we can't really imagine singing any other kind of music, even if it is really sad. We are really happy people, I promise.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY ISLAND")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) I know I can't make it without your love for me. I've got to have you back here in my arms...

MARTIN: Even though the majority of the songs on this album are originals, there is an interesting cover, of sorts, on here. Let's listen to a little of this first. This is "Dirty Lie."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIRTY LIE")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Time will tell feeds our soul. Got into trouble, but you just don't know. Thought you had me wondering why. Whosoever told you, told a dirty lie...

MARTIN: I read this was originally a Bob Dylan demo. How did this song get to you?

LYDIA ROGERS: Well, we were just in the recording process in LA and, of course, T Bone is good friends with Bob Dylan. He actually was sent like, seven or eight demos that Bob had recorded a long time ago, and he just never finished. And this was just one that he had in his back pocket. And Laura and I were immediately drawn to it and wanted to add lyrics, and it turned out like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIRTY LIE")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Already winning the game. Your heart's going to break, and it's a crying shame. The lesson learned a long time ago. I'll make sure I take it with me when I go...

MARTIN: You two grew up in Alabama - a town called Muscle Shoals, which is a city famous for producing a lot of hit records, actually. How did that influence your sound, if at all?

LAURA ROGERS: Growing up, we were both certainly aware of the kind of heritage that Muscle Shoals has. Our dad is a local bluegrass musician, and so he would always tell us these little bits of history. And of course, as a kid, you can't really - I guess - register the value of that sort of thing. And I mean, truth be told, our sound is just strictly from growing up in church and listening to old records that most kids our age wouldn't touch.

MARTIN: What kind of old records did you listen to that other kids your age wouldn't touch?

LYDIA ROGERS: On Sunday mornings, when we were getting ready for church, Daddy would always put on a George Jones record. A lot of that, a lot of Merle Haggard, a lot of Doc Watson.

LAURA ROGERS: We loved the The Four Seasons when we were growing up. I remember our dad had a cassette tape that we would listen to in his truck. And I think that I probably learned to sing harmony to that tape. So thank you, Frankie Valli.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: When did the two of you realize that you had a good thing, that you sounded really good together?

LYDIA ROGERS: I don't know if it was this a-ha moment that ever came to us, but we would sing together at family reunions sometimes. But I was always the one who kind of got in front of people a little bit more. Laura was always kind of scared to sing in front of other people.

LAURA ROGERS: No, not scared - terrified.

MARTIN: Oh, really?

LAURA ROGERS: Like, I had debilitating stage fright, and my dad would always try to push me at family functions when people would be sitting around with their instruments. He would be like, you are going to get up here and sing. And I actually had relatives who would say, I'll give you a hundred bucks if you'll get up here and sing a song. And I wouldn't do it because I was so scared. So it's interesting to have this be your path in life after such a fear.

LYDIA ROGERS: The first time we actually sang in front of an audience was at the audition that got us discovered.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THERE BE LONELY")

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Let there be daggers that tear through my skin. Down to my heart where the whole thing begins. Make me a new one, and I'll love again. Until then...

MARTIN: Making music together is an intimate kind of process - and harmony, in particular - even more so, I imagine, for siblings. And moments of tension, I imagine, are inevitable. When those happen with you two, what is it usually about? Is it about the music? Is it about trivial stuff?

LYDIA ROGERS: It's all of the above.

(LAUGHTER)

LAURA ROGERS: Yes, all of that. We get into fights over what songs we're going to put on to our set list. We argue about who's going to take the first shower.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LAURA ROGERS: It's ridiculous little things. And I think we do it half the time just because we're bored, and it's just something to do.

LYDIA ROGERS: But we know we can get rid of each other, so we just go at it all the time.

LAURA ROGERS: And all the historic sibling pairs in music history were kind of notorious for wanting to strangle each other, so...

MARTIN: (Laughter) So why not?

LAURA ROGERS: ...We're just perpetuating - perpetuating the stereotype.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MARTIN: Laura and Lydia Rogers are The Secret Sisters. Their new album is called "Put Your Needle Down." It comes out this week. Laura and Lydia, it's been so fun. Thanks for talking with us.

LAURA ROGERS: It's been an honor.

LYDIA ROGERS: Thank you so much.

LAURA ROGERS: Thank you for your time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) Worrying over you...

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR news. Our theme music was written by B. J. Leiderman. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THE SECRET SISTERS: (Singing) You stared a hole right through our kitchen door. Can't help but wonder what you're waiting for. I know you'd rather be anywhere but here. Baby, listen. Have you've forgotten all your promises? The simple magic in a quiet kiss. How did we go drowning in these tears? Oh, I'm begging. Please don't say goodbye. Give me another try... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.