It's been a minute since we first started jamming Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins' great Rabbit Fur Coat album, so you can imagine our pleasant surprise opening the mailbag and finding the self-released Southern Manners EP by the Watsons waiting for us. We spoke to Leigh and Chandra Watson about going solo (as a duo), and you can read up on that read up after the jump. We did our best attributing quotes to the right sister - and think we nailed 99% of the conversation accurately - but they already know they sound hella alike and said they were cool with it. You can also download the title track from the EP right here (right-click and save-as), just cause we're nice.
What’s a typical day in LA like for the Twins?
Chandra: Well, we’ve been a little bit all over the place, we’ve been doing some magazine stuff, and we’re always trying to get that done. We have a manager that we work with but for the most part it is just us trying to get things going. Just trying to tie together every element of it, you know? We just got a small distribution deal. So we’re trying to do that sort of stuff.
Leigh: We just did a song for a short film. We’re just trying to do our music as much as we can, I think that’s what’s number one for us for the moment. We’re getting ready to go out with Lewis again, to do some European festival stuff, between everything it's definitely keeping us busy.
How was this past winter’s Rabbit Fur Coat tour recieved?
Chandra: Its really been amazing, I mean, the reception from that record with Jenny was just...it had just been something totally unexpected, I don’t think any of us knew that it was going to be that well received, so we’ve just been enjoying ourselves and loving the songs and loving being out with each other, and its been really good.
When you were recording the album, how did you think it would be accepted?
Chandra: It was just so casual - when we first got a hold of these songs she just came over and was like ‘I’ve got these songs and I’m interested in having some back up vocals, do you guys want to just hang out and play some music, see if it works?’ So we sang a couple of songs and it was just totally clicking and really easy.
Leigh: A couple of weeks after she came back and said to us. ‘I want to do a show with you guys,’ it was like a hootenanny thing - do the three songs maybe a couple more. We went and did it, and we did another show, you know just like small shows while the songs were just kind of coming together.
Chandra: We did a show where we opened up for the Elected, that was like our first real show. It was at the Echo in Silver Lake in LA.
What kind of music were you working on before the project with Jenny?
Leigh: We were back up singers for a kind of southern rock/gospel influenced band. We played in Silver Lake and Rilo Kiley would be playing on the same nights, we were playing in the scene together so Lewis had seen us singing back up before. When she was searching for back up singers for the record, she really wanted that kind of country, sort of gospel sound so she was talking to people about it. ‘We should call the Twins and see if they’re interested.’
I thought it was cool how on the actual album, there was such an emphasis on “…and the Watson Twins” as opposed to just being a solo album.
Chandra: (laughs) I remember in the studio when we were in the sessions doing the recordings I said, ‘Well when you’re done recording what are you going to call it?’ and Lewis said, ‘I don’t know, I feel weird about calling it my name.’ So we were just coming up with really stupid names, and then it was a couple of weeks later that she was like, ‘I think I want to call it Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, is that alright with you guys?’ And at that point we were just so thrilled with how it came out and the work that [Mike] Mogis did on it, we were just happy to sing on it, and then to be given credit…
Leigh: We were just so flattered that she would do that, it’s just been a really unique experience. I feel like there was a decade of time when people had backup singers, they were usually people that had their own thing going on but they would come and sit in the band - a staple singer that would come and sing with them or whatever, things like that. It’s kind of a lost artform that doesn’t happen as much.
It’s also a nice throwback to a pre-diva kind of era. It seems like when you have two women on a track together they try to make it some Mariah/Whitney kind of competition - it was nice to see you all supporting each other.
Leigh: I think that, Jenny has a sister, and then my sister and I being so close, and we also have an older sister, I think that as girls that grew up with older sisters, when we sing together, we really get it, and its fun. She grew up messing around with her sister and her mom or whatever. I think [Rabbit Fur Coat] really brought us all back to a time a long time ago when we really just had fun singing. We didn’t really have a plan to start singing together, it just kind of happened.
How have things been going with the Southern Manners EP?
Chandra: We had a sold-out night, it was great. we played with this girl Juana Molina, I don’t know if you know her, she’s really great and she has this really super technical, interesting approach where she loops different instruments and her voice to create a whole symphony. You should have seen our soundcheck, we were like, ‘Oh this is going to be a weird set up’ - but we went in knowing that we had sold it out, and that was great feeling.
Leigh: We’ve played one show of this [new] material, but that was our second show of our material, and I could tell people were really excited to hear our sound live. Just a really good vibe, and that’s what everyone kept telling me, just an amazing vibe in the room, everyone had beaming smiles on their faces. People don’t want to tell you the bad stuff, but we’ve had a really great response, people were surprised that we produced it ourselves and that we recorded it ourselves - especially in LA where people are on huge recording budgets. People respect that even though we’re in LA we didn’t wait for a record deal to happen, we kind of did it on our own.
Chandra: Also because all the attention focused around the Jenny album was about how we were gospel back up singers - that’s kind of our prop, but I don’t think that that’s what this record is about. I think people are pleasantly surprised that we didn’t go for like a straightforward record, we just put together pieces of a lot of different kinds of music on the record, and that’s us, we grew up listening to country and rock and psych and everything, so its all kind of in there.
One of my favorite tracks was “Time Of My Life” because it starts with that little snippet of drum machine.
Chandra: That was kind of a mistake how that happened.
Leigh: The people that we recorded the record with, J. Soda and Russ Pollard, the gear was all analog, stuff that we were just learning how to use - none of us really knew what was going on and the guys were experimenting a ton. But my sister and I were learning how to track and that’s really an exciting thing, especially as a female in the business to know your way around a studio,
Yeah – I always think about those interviews with Le Tigre where they talk about going into the Guitar Center and the staffers thinking you have no idea what you’re doing.
Chandra: I guess I would say when I first started going in with the guys, their tendency is to just go in and say we’re just going to do it. But we want to know how to do this. In a way I think that if you understand how to get different sounds it inspires you to be more experimental. I definitely think the next record we do will be even more interesting or experimental, we feel like now we sort of have the wings to do that.
What’s the plan for the next couple months and the rest of the summer?
Leigh: We’re doing a small tour on the west coast opening for Matt Costa. And we have two tours lined up with Lewis to do festivals – we’re going to Europe a couple of times and then Japan for Fuji Rock, We have some shows lined up for LA, we have two nights at the Troubador here in LA which both sold out, which is great. So we’re sort of just starting on working on material for the tour with Matt and kind of just getting that stuff together. We’ve been working on new songs as well. I mean you wouldn’t be surprised to find us back in our little studio recording stuff just cause we were having fun with it.
Have people approached you since the Lewis album came out about collaborations?
Chandra: Yeah, kind of – whether they’re just dreaming about it or not. There’s definitely musicians that we respect and have said really nice things about us. Eminem was the last person, what do you think? (Laughs)
Leigh: It’s cool, definitely. People have been receptive and have made moves to start recording, we haven’t got the phone calls yet but I hope to god it comes, we love singing with people. It’s inspiring because you go and you’re singing with other people, you open yourself up and when you dig in you can find cool harmonies and the inspiration to create something that’s not our typical style.