In a time when many are falling out of love with modern Country music, more and more listeners are relying on stacks of old LPs and cassette tapes to take them back to when Country music was closer to home. It is that same sense of community, familial camaraderie, and mesmerizing harmonies braced by their Muscle Shoals roots, in which the Alabama-reared siblings The Secret Sisters - Laura and Lydia Rogers – are steeped.
The debut CD from The Secret Sisters sounds like something that landed straight out of a time machine. As they said in O' Brother, Where Art Thou? It’s "old timey" music. It is not a coincidence that T Bone Burnett, the producer of the soundtrack for “O’Brother” is the executive producer of the album which he describes as being "as close to `pure’ as it gets, and I've been doing this for forty years."
The multiple-Grammy winner's enthusiasm for The Secret Sisters attests to their burgeoning stature as one of the year's rare musical finds. "In The Secret Sisters, you can hear the history of rural American music from the 1920s and a reverence for every musical genre since," stated T Bone Burnett. "Popular music requires the absolute honesty of The Secret Sisters, and I'm thrilled to be involved in presenting them to the world."
The Secret Sisters album was recorded in a marathon two-week recording time frame at Nashville's renowned Blackbird Studio, and was produced by revered country knob-turner Dave Cobb (Waylon Jennings and Jamey Johnson). Also brought in were vintage analogue recording equipment and vintage microphones, to best capture The Secret Sisters' magical harmonizing and stunning vocal power. The duo's signature sound is evident on songs such as "Why Don't Ya Love Me," “Why Baby Why," and the lilting anthem "Tennessee Me," among others.
Dish Magazine recently had the pleasure of chatting with Laura & Lydia Rogers during a photo shoot prior to their performance later that night on the Ryman Auditorium stage , where they opened for Amos Lee.
Dish: Mussel Shoals, Alabama is the sort of place that people have certain ideas about because of its history. How would you say being from Mussel Shoals has impacted your music and performance?
Lydia: Muscle Shoals definitely has a history but it isn’t what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong though, there are a ton of great musicians that hail from there like the Drive-By Truckers, Dylan LeBlanc, The Civil Wars and more; but it seems like there’s not as much music getting out from there as there used to be. Everyone kind of sees us with all the glitz and glamour, but when we’re home we are really country. We go out digging in the dirt in the garden and walk in the woods. All of that plays into our music and the way we deliver it. If we had been born anywhere else or raised anywhere else we wouldn’t have the same stories to tell.
Laura: A lot of people not being from the South tent to romanticize it. Memphis has Beale Street and Nashville has Broadway. We don’t have a signature live music strip or anything like that. Everyone always thinks there has to be something going on there but it’s just not the way they might expect from other music towns. I think that some of the greatest music in the world comes from there. It means everything to our music. Being in the South and growing up in the Church of Christ influenced us immensely. We are very family oriented and we’re really just country girls
Dish: Coming from small town Alabama, was there a lot of culture shock being thrust into the spotlight so quickly?
Laura: YES! I had never flown in an airplane before. We would get offended when cabs would drive by while I was trying to hail them in New York. I didn’t know they had their lights off for a reason. Europe was the worst because every day was a new culture shock. Worst food ever! I’m not afraid to say that. I’m a Southerner and I know what good food is. They don’t have it! Quit putting mayonnaise on everything!
Dish: What about the “pinch me” moments? What is the most memorable of them for you?
Lydia: In October of last year we did a tour with T Bone Burnett alongside Jeff Bridges, Levon Helm, Elton John, Greg Allman, Elvis Costello and many more. We did three shows on the tour and it was a moment we will never forget. At one point we were backstage and about to go on. Laura and I had started playing through “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and all of a sudden Elton John walked up and started singing along. If that weren’t enough, Elvis Costello came up seconds later and joined in followed by John Mellancamp and the Punch Brothers.
Laura: Before we knew it we were surrounded by a circle of performers singing along to “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. It was amazing. We were all in this tiny hall waiting to go on and even though the show was great, that was so much better. No one recorded it, but I’m really kinda glad we get to keep that for ourselves.
Dish: I understand before the audition that led to your record deal the idea of performing together had never occurred to you?Lydia: Laura had auditioned originally to help get over her stage fright and was called back. She asked if she could bring me along and they agreed to audition us separately. After they saw us each play they asked if we sang together. We said we could but we don’t usually. When we got up there with a guitar and sang a couple of songs, we just watched as their mouths dropped open. It was so weird because we are not used to people having that kind of reaction to what we sing because of where we come from. That was the first moment that I thought we might actually have a real shot at this.
Laura: I agree. That was the first moment that I thought there might be a real shot we could take. We might just be able to take this music we loved so much and get It out to the world. Maybe what we have is something people can relate to. We had never even considered being a duet before that. If you had asked me ten years ago if we would be going into the music industry together I would have laughed. I think Lydia would have been singing everywhere, but I was so terrified to perform I didn’t think I would ever be on stage.
Dish: Coming out into the country music industry where all the female acts are pretty blondes, you two are about the polar opposite of that image. Given that, why do you think you resonate so well with your audience?
Lydia: People relate to us so well because we aren’t the norm. It may be that we aren’t what is hot right now but we are what we are and we’re proud of it. People like that. We don’t want to try too hard to put on a performance for anyone. We are who we are, but we don’t want anyone to underestimate us either. With our first album we wanted to put a little bit of everything on there to show we can tackle anything.
Laura: What artist doesn’t want to be different? I can’t believe there are as many of the pretty blond types either. If I wanted to go into commercial country music the first thing I would do is dye my hair hot pink. I think people who eat salad all the time must be dying for a hunk of steak. We are like that steak. We love the classics like Hank, Johnny and Loretta. It was important to touch on that and then pull from other diverse sources so we could challenge ourselves to work outside of a box. When we covered Frank Sinatra it was terrifying just like if we were covering Patsy Cline. It’s scary because there is no way to do it and not be compared to the original. If you don’t know where you’ve been you can’t know where you are going.
Dish: Only a year into your career everything is looking great. Do you think it is too early to begin thinking about what the next step is?
Laura: We have already been talking about our next record. In our minds it is never too early to take the next step. I know there will be primarily original songs. We could do twenty more records just like this one with mostly covers, but musically we want to show we can sing and write equally as well. We’ve talked about doing some early rock n roll tunes mixed with the traditional country sound.
Lydia: We were tossed into this all so quickly we weren’t able to come up with many songs. They wanted a record really quick. Now that we have time to write and think we have stories to tell now.
Dish: So what IS the big secret in the Secret Sisters?
Laura: People always ask that and I wish we had some juicy little thing to tell them like we were separated at birth or that Lydia was born with tail, but the truth is there is no secret. The “secret” is us and the music we make. We really did come out of complete obscurity. We weren’t groomed for this life at all.
Lydia: We literally walked in and opened our mouths and that was the button that was pushed that started everything. We are paying our dues now and we are grateful for all the opportunities we have been given and we know it doesn’t happen like this for everybody else so we know we have to do our best. We have to work hard just like in any other job to prove we deserve it.
Dish: Over the past year you have been forced to learn the music business from a bunch of different sides, but what do you think you learned about yourselves?
Lydia: It’s bittersweet working with your sister. It can be rough sometimes. There are days we are peachy and everything is fun then there are days we want to kill each other. But, I don’t think I could do this without her. I have learned a lot about patience and she has sure tried my patience! (laughs)
Laura: I have learned to keep my mouth shut more. I am a real motormouth and my most valuable lesson has been knowing when to hush and let Lydia take over. She’s the laid back one and I have to realize it’s all 50/50.
Laura: We put good music in to the world. We’ve been to places we had never been and met all sorts of amazing people. If it all ended tomorrow and I had to go back to being a nanny I would be so proud of everything we got to do anyway. It’s only been a year, but it has been a great year!