The Secret Sisters should have been taking sublime new album Saturn Return on the road across the UK this month. With those plans on hold until January, Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle.
Rushonrock: Looking back to 2009, was it the right decision to form a band together?
Secret Sisters (Laura): I think so – especially now that our touring has been put on hold for a little while. It means we’re still involved with each other even if the music isn’t happening live. I guess other musicians and bands have been feeling a little isolated but as sisters we share incredible experiences beyond the music that we make. Ten years of making music together has flown by but we’re glad we’ve been doing it together. We haven’t broken up yet so something good must have happened!
Rushonrock: What persuaded you to take the plunge and form The Secret Sisters?
Secret Sisters (Lydia): It pretty much fell into place. There was no real plan. Laura had heard about an open audition that was being held in Nashville for anybody who wanted to go and try out for a panel of judges. She decided to go on a whim and played a couple of songs. The people there ended up really liking her voice and so they started talking about record deals and the whole shebang! Then she said ‘hang on just a second, I have a sister who I would love for you to hear’. So I drove up with Laura and we were asked to sing together. That was the point when it just happened for us. We weren’t trying to be in a band but that’s what we became. Ten years later we’re still that same band and it still feels surreal in so many ways.
Rushonrock: Do you think there is a different dynamic within the band when you’re performing with your sister?
Secret Sisters (Laura): Definitely. You know, in a way, I think it makes things easier just because there are no pleasantries to worry about. If I have an opinion about anything I can say exactly how I feel and Lydia hears me very clearly! Our ability to communicate is smoother because there are no filters. We’re not trying to tiptoe around each other’s feelings or soften the blow. But whatever I do doesn’t just affect a random person – it impacts upon someone who matters very much to me and we do hold each other accountable for our actions.
Secret Sisters (Lydia): I think the whole sister thing helps because we’re able to look after each other. Even though we’re both adults now, I can look after Laura if she’s having a bad day. When we’re off to work, for whatever reason, I’m there to help. We do disagree from time to time but Laura could say a lot of things to me that might break someone else and she knows she won’t hurt my feelings! I’m probably the only person in the world she could say some things to!
Rushonrock: You’ve had some low points as The Secret Sisters – most notably when your record label dropped you in 2015. Have there been times when you believed that might have been it for the band?
Secret Sisters (Lydia): Oh yeah – several of those moments! We lost a lot of money after we were dropped and it was like the universe was trying to tell us to stop. For a good eight or nine months we weren’t doing anything. We weren’t really playing shows and we weren’t being creative in any way. I don’t know what the initial thing was that made us get back to it again but eventually the creativity came back and we slowly got back to it. But 2015 was definitely a moment where we thought we would have to get regular 9-5 jobs or do something completely different because it wasn’t working for us as a band. Five years later we’re still here…
Rushonrock: How challenging can it be to get to grips with the business side of things when your background is in music?
Secret Sisters (Lydia): It is difficult. It’s part of our culture in America that you will be rewarded for hard work. You’re kinda taught from an early age that if you do eight hours’ worth of work then you’re going to get paid for those eight hours. It’s not that way in our business – the amount of work that you do often doesn’t relate to what you bring home at the end of the day. There are so many perks to being a musician: the opportunity to share your art – and experience a positive reaction to that art – is priceless. But you don’t think about becoming a small business owner or making sure you’re financially smart. We had to learn how to communicate with business people and take charge of our own affairs. We weren’t ready for that when we started out and we were in no position to deal with the fallout from losing our record deal. It’s a learning process.
Secret Sisters (Laura): We’re still figuring out how to be successful business owners and how to make smart decisions about the way that we spend our money. We have to consider what is worth spending money on and what isn’t and I think a lot of artists at our level seem to be in the same position and having the same debate. If you’re constantly living from paycheck to paycheck – but you know that you can’t walk away – it can be very tough. It’s an ever-changing business too. When we first started, streaming wasn’t really a thing. People were still buying music! But 2020 is a different world to try to navigate if you’re a musician. You have to come up with new ways to make money that don’t involve people buying your songs. It’s always changing and always keeping us on our toes. That in itself can be a really good thing – it forces us to remember we can never be complacent.
Rushonrock: How important has Brandi Carlisle been to your band’s journey?
Secret Sisters (Laura): Like Lydia said, it was eight or nine months where we weren’t doing anything. We were so down and it was just such a dark time. Even through all of that, you know, Brandi would check in with us every month or so and ask how we were doing. Out of everybody that we formed friendships with over the years, she was the most constant in terms of support. When we decided to make [2017’s] You Don’t Own Me Anymore, Brandi was like ‘we gotta make this sucker together’. She was so kind and benevolent. There was no financial incentive for her and we couldn’t pay her what she was owed but she wanted to do it anyway. All we really had were the songs but Brandi gave us so much encouragement. We joined her in Seattle and she reignited our sense of creativity and self-confidence. When the industry had started to drag us down, she picked us up again.
Rushonrock: Was it a no-brainer to bring back Brandi for Saturn Return?
Secret Sisters (Lydia): That sort of just fell into place. We were actually on the road with Brandi – opening up some shows for her. She’d been playing with The Old Crow Medicine Show and we were just having dinner together and talking about the next record and what that would look like. Brandi was like ‘you gotta let me and the twins [Tim and Phil Hanseroth] do this one again – I think we’ve got a little more life left in this collaboration’. It went so well with our third record and it was such an easy, effortless collaboration that we were really on board with doing it all again. It felt right but it was a completely different experience second time around. Even though we had the same producers, it was even better and even more natural. I’m really glad we went with Brandi and the twins again.
Rushonrock: So much has changed for both of you during the last 18 months but how much of it is documented on Saturn Return?
Secret Sisters (Laura): I think most of those changes will influence songs on the next record. We knew we would both become mothers after we’d wrapped up Saturn Return but I don’t think there will be any way to avoid writing about motherhood in the future. I’m sure there will be some songs that come out of our shared experience of becoming mothers for the first time but I guess we might end up writing songs about living through the coronavirus. Then again, I suppose a lot of bands will be doing that. Maybe we might regret it.
Rushonrock: Saturn Return has been lauded as a genre-defying record but is its versatility a blessing or a curse?
Secret Sisters (Lydia): I would say it’s a good thing. In 2010, when we first got started, we were pinned as a country band and we didn’t feel like we could play any other kind of music except old country. It was important with the next record for us to get out of that world and I’m so glad that we did. It freed up a lot of our creativity. I think it’s a good thing, for the most part, that we can write whatever we want.
Rushonrock: Do you see the coronavirus pandemic as a long-term threat to the music business?
Secret Sisters (Laura): I think my biggest hope is that we will all be able to gather together in close spaces and share music together again – sometime soon. But one thing that this whole situation has shown me is what a wonderful thing it is to be around people. I think that, for whatever reason, our society takes so many things for granted and I think that in a way this virus can be a blessing. It can show us how wonderful it is to be around people and how special it is to share something as beautiful as music. I just hope that we all come back together and enjoy sharing things like a concert or a movie again.
Secret Sisters (Lydia): I hope that all the people within the industry, who are having a hard time with no money right now, get through this and go back to making music. We’re going to need music more than ever when this is over. Even if it doesn’t pay the bills then it’s like Laura said – we can’t get away from it even if we tried! It’s ingrained in us and we’re going to make music whatever happens. I feel like creativity will come back to the forefront of society given everything that’s happened. I hope that it does.
*Saturn Return is out now via New West Records.
*The Secret Sisters have rescheduled their UK dates for January 2021. Visit www.secretsistersband.com for details.