The Secret Sisters are a traditional country duo, comprised of real-life sisters, Lydia and Laura Rogers. With a tour underway and a soon-to-be-released EP, the pair are ever-expanding their musical talents and repertoire. I had the chance to meet up with them to discuss their first audition in Nashville, what it’s like touring as sisters, and their feature on the Hunger Games soundtrack.
JS: I read that your grandfather was in a band and that your dad was a major influence on your musical taste and background. Is that what got you guys started in music from such a young age?
Laura: That definitely was a really big factor in us loving music. We didn’t grow up dreaming of being professional musicians. I don’t know that we ever dreamed that that was even possible for us, just based on where we were and what we loved musically. It never even crossed ours minds that we could do this for a living when we got older but growing up we just LOVED music so much. It was at the forefront of every family get-together and every hobby. We were surrounded by it growing up so yeah, our dad and our grandfather were both really big figures in our musical education and the music that we hold the most dear to us really came from both of them.
They were definitely responsible for a lot of that, and of course growing up in church. You know, like good southern girls we grew up going to church every week and that was a really big influence on how we sang and how we blended together. Those three influences are primarily what got us started from our youth and of course as we got older we ventured out into new territory and we found other inspirations.
JS: How old were you guys when your started playing and writing?
Lydia: Well together… We didn’t really start writing songs together until we started this about six years ago. Laura had never performed in front of an audience her whole life until we got this record deal. [laughs]So… we kind of did it backwards. We got signed and then we had to learn how to perform and write our own songs and I still feel like we’re learning that as we go along but we’re still working on that. I feel as we get older and the more we do it, hopefully, the better we’re getting. [laughs]
Laura: When we were younger, we did a lot of things separately from one another. We never dreamed of having a band together that way that we do now. In our own separated worlds I would sit in my room, when I was in college, and write songs and play guitar and just belt out these emotional songs of my youth. Then Lydia she spent a lot of her time as a teenager and in her early 20s playing guitar and singing in front of people and doing a handful of little performances here and there but we never performed in front of anyone together until much later and more professionally. It’s been a little bit of a steep learning curve for us but one that we obviously love now! [Laughs]
JS: That’s interesting that you started later as a duo especially since you grew up together. If y’all hadn’t originally had the idea of going into music professionally, what propelled you to go to the audition in Nashville?
Laura: Well… I was the first one to go audition and when I went to the audition, I wasn’t trying to have a career in music; if I had known that that was going to be the result of that I probably would’ve been so terrified that I wouldn’t have gone. [laughs]Like Lydia said, I had really terrible stage fright growing up and it was a long process of coming out of my shell. I think at that point in time I was ready to get a little more bold. In my brain I thought, if I go and do something that’s scary and I look my fears in the face and just do it, put my nose to the ground and make it happen, then maybe I’ll be more comfortable to stand in front of my friends and sing a song because at that point, I had friends who didn’t even know I could sing because I was so terrified to perform in front of people.
So I went to the audition with the hope that it would help me conquer some of my insecurities and then, of course, when I got the reaction that I got, I was absolutely astounded that people would feel that way about something that I was so self-conscious about. I remember that day I was getting really panicky and I was like “Wait a minute, I want you to hear my sister sing!” I thought, “she’s better than me and maybe they’ll pick her instead! [Laughs] They ended up making us sing together and… here we are! [Laughs]
JS: That’s really interesting, so it just kind of worked out that you guys became a duo because you harmonize so well.
Lydia: Well, we weren’t actively seeking it that’s for sure. It’s funny how things work that way. We had always said, if ever a career in music ever worked out we would form it to happen together so it’s funny that it actually did happen like that.
JS: What kind of roles did you take on in the band? Does one of you write songs more and one of you do more of the business side or is it an even distribution of everything?
Laura: In the beginning we were both so green in a lot of ways that we really relied on people who came into our career to help us navigate the business side of things.
Lydia became more of the creative mind and I was creatively minded but I was really interested in the business side of things and how we were going to promote a certain project or what the image was going to be on a public level. I really got into that and I don’t know why I did, but I love that part of it. Now after all of this turmoil of the past couple of years we’ve really had to take on all the responsibilities of having a music career. So, we kind of split it evenly now.
As far as songwriting goes, I feel like we both work on that individually and together. Lydia tends to be the melody maker. She does all the arrangements and harmonic kind of things. I tend to be better at writing lyrics than I am at melodies. We had to figure out what the balance was going to be and what each one of our strengths and weaknesses were. I actually think it worked out well because in the places where I’m not so great, Lydia actually shines and I think it goes the same way for her. We just had to figure it out and we haven’t had anybody really there to tell us, “This is how you do it; this is how you be successful; this is how you make it work.” I definitely don’t think either of us would’ve wanted to do it by ourselves in hindsight. [Laughs]
JS: So you guys have a really perfect balance is what it sounds like?
Laura: Most of the time! [Laughs] I think musically yes but sometimes, just as people, it can hard traveling everywhere together; being in the same hotel room and on the plane and just everywhere it can get hard especially last year when we were on the road, just the two of us. We butted heads quite a bit but we’re learning more about each other as we go along and fighting is just part of it.
We actually had a fight right before you called! [Both Laugh]
JS: [laughs]I can’t even tell! You guys pull it together very professionally.
Lydia: We’re really good at faking it! [Laughs]
JS: I was wondering because I have a whole bunch of siblings, myself, and there are a lot of really good times and then there’s a lot of… you know, very strong personalities, butting heads, and I didn’t know if there were ups and downs of being in a duo as sisters because you’re so honest with each other?
Lydia: Totally. Especially when we’re writing songs because Laura likes the straightforward, country-sounding songs. I tend to gravitate more to… almost too complex songs… and we are always butting heads. I’m always trying to make it more difficult she’s always trying to get too simple. [Laughs] We go back and forth all the time and one of us ends up crying by the end of the day [Laughs] but somehow we get through it.
Laura: The thing about it is, nobody better mess with my sister. Nobody other than me is allowed to be a jerk to her!
JS: I know that your song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” was featured on the Hunger Games’ soundtrack, which is a huge accomplishment. What did that feel like?
Laura: It was great! We found out [their former producer]was producing the Hunger Games record and he reached out to us shortly after and wanted us to be apart of it. We were so surprised! This had larger-than-life artists on there and we were by far the smallest, lesser known artist on the record, so we were really honored that he thought of us and put us on there. Ever since then, I feel like that’s been a blessing to both of us.
Lydia: One of the biggest perks of that song was that up until that point we had, for whatever reason, collected an audience of primarily older people… and I don’t say that in a negative way, I just think that as an artist you want a diverse fan base. Up until that point, a lot of really cool young people knew about us because they were all gigging around for new music, but most of the people who would come to our shows would be white-haired senior citizens. It’s wonderful because they’re incredibly sweet and we really love old people and we can’t wait to be old.
Laura: Speak for yourself! [Laughs]
Lydia: The great thing about the Hunger Games song is that it was directed to an audience of completely different people than we had ever reached before. We immediately saw our fan base diversify to a younger generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings that loved the book and loved the movie and became fans of us because of the soundtrack; so, that was probably the biggest career effect that that song had on us.
JS: I can see how your sound would attract an older audience because it is so traditional, but you’re right about needing a balance! In cultivating your sound, who would you consider your biggest inspiration musically?
Laura: We take a lot of notes out of the Everly Brothers’ song catalog. We always are really intentional about not trying to sound like the Everly Brothers and not creating a sound of imitating them, but paying tribute to them and understanding the similarities in the two of us versus the Everly Brothers.
I think that the way that we blend with one another, we don’t intentionally try to sound like the Everly Brothers, but a lot of folks hear that influence in our music, especially for me. Any gospel music, any blues music… that part of the American songbook, we love! Lydia tends to be a little more pure about her musical tastes but I think that’s really good because it kind of helps us to avoid becoming one of those artists that just lives in the past. It’s helped us to pay tribute to the things that we love from the traditional standpoint but also with pushing ourselves into different categories. For me, the Everly Brothers, any of the old country heroes that everybody loves, Johnny Cash, of course, I think he’s absolutely fantastic. [Laughs] We try to take a page out of the Emmy Lou book, Patty Griffin, and Nasty Griffith… women in country music who have really influenced us. We also like really obscure artists like Fiona Apple and I love the Ramones, so it goes all across the board.
JS: I love that you guys have a focus on women in country. I feel like women in country don’t get enough credit.
Laura: Yeah! It’s a struggle all the time. But we’re really big fans of Casey Musgrave and a lot of the current women in country; we’re rooting for all of them because they need it.
JS: We’re excited for your upcoming show at Eddie’s Attic on May 8th! Is this the first time you’ll be at the venue?
Lydia: At Eddie’s Attic, yes. It’s really exciting because there are these stepping stone venues that every artist is like “you know you’ve got to hit the 930 Club in D.C., you know you’ve got to hit the Valerie Ballroom in New York.” To me Eddie’s Attic is one of those where it’s like when I follow along other bands that I love I’ll be like “oh look they’re playing at Eddie’s Attic.” Even before we played music professionally I’ve always known about Eddie’s Attic because I’ve followed so many bands that have played there so it’s a little weird to be like “okay, now it’s OUR Eddie’s Attic debut.” [Laughs]
JS: I love hearing that! What can we expect in terms of performance from you guys?
Laura: We’re working on new songs, which I’m sure you’ve read about in our news, lately, that we are in the middle of making our third record. We’ll probably feature a handful of songs from the new album just to test them out on the road… that’s always a good practice for us. But then, you’ll get the standards from other records… you know, pull out a few that are from each of our records and then a few that we’ve never even recorded before. A few covers, a few traditional hymns, it’s going to be simple; it’s just the two of us on guitar. Lots of stories and hopefully some humor and no train-wrecks.
JS: I love that you guys are testing out new songs, too. I was reading about your album, which is being produced by Brandy Carlile and the twins. Tell me about that.
L: We’re really excited about it! We’ve got five songs recorded so far. We’ve been recording in Seattle and we’re going back in two weeks to hopefully finish it. It’s been a lot of fun and cool to be back in the studio and doing it in a different way. We’re excited to test them out on the road hopefully they’re not a train wreck.
JS: It seems like your doing a lot of traveling, too. Are you touring around in addition to Eddie’s?
Lydia: We’re doing a few shows surrounding Eddie’s. I think we’re only doing 4 or 5 in the whole run and Laura’s getting married at the end of April, so we’re in wedding mode right now and we’re trying to not tour as much. [Laughs]
Laura: Thank you! [laughs]
Lydia: So, we’re kind of in that mode, right now. Like I said, we’re going to the studio in two weeks and then we’re done with that. We get back the 18th and then that’s the week Laura gets married. So it’s like we’re going back and forth throughout the whole process. After she gets back from her honeymoon, we’re going to get into touring mode and record promotion.
Laura: Let me get that ring on my finger and then I’ll be back home! [laughs]
JS: What is it like balancing relationships and family when you are touring? Especially in you’re getting married in the middle of it all!
Laura: Well, Lydia’s already married. She got married back in 2014 and I feel like she and her husband have been able to figure out a little bit what it’s like to be married and one of you traveling all the time to try to make a living. I don’t know yet if it’s going to work. I know that we use a lot of technology to keep in touch with one another and of course there’s flying our significant others out to come and join us for a few days on the road, which is always really good. Luckily, they’re both really supportive of us and they come and see us when they can. It’s a good balance I feel like and we’ve been really fortunate. So far, so good.
JS: It sounds like it is, especially if you have people who understand the passion you guys have behind it.
Laura: Absolutely, we’re very lucky!
The Secret Sisters have a crowd funding campaign for their 3rd record, through Pledge Music. Check it out here.
Don’t miss Secret Sisters when they head to Eddie’s Attic on May 8th and again, when they open for John Paul White on June 13th!
Upcoming Tour Dates:
Tour with John Paul White:
June 14th in Carrboro, NC at Cat’s Cradle Back Room
June 16th in Charlottesville, VA at The Southern Cafe
June 17th in Arlington, VA at IOTA Club & Cafe
June 21st in Brooklyn, NY at National Sawdust
June 22nd in Boston, MA at Berklee College of Music: The Red Room
June 23rd in Philadelphia, PA at World Cafe Live Upstairs
June 25th in Pittsburgh, PA at Club Cafe
June 26th in Louisville, KY at Zanzabar
Photo by Autumn de Wilde from The Secret Sisters website