Picture, if you will, the dulcet tones of two beautiful 6-foot twins twining around your ears. Better yet, seek out an EP called Southern Manners, an elegant, dark, exquisitely melodic set of neotrad country tunes the sisters Watson have self-released via their site (www.thewatsontwins.com) and their MySpace page, as well as all your best record shops around town. The critical acclaim for the EP has taken the Kentucky-born L.A. transplants Chandra and Leigh a bit by surprise, as its release wasn’t exactly intended to herald their quest for world domination. The ex-Slydell backup singers have been quite happy with their lot as support vocalists for Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis and others, but now it looks like they’ll have to prepare for the spotlight.
L.A. WEEKLY: I was stunned by your EP. These are new classic country songs, with unusually fresh harmonies and wonderfully spare, stately arrangements. Who the heck are these people, I asked myself. Turns out you were the singers in L.A. psych-pop group Slydell, a few members of which were also involved in the recording of your EP.
LEIGH: Yeah, we were with that band for, I don’t know, five years? We had such an amazing time, and felt like we were gaining some sort of recognition, specifically on the Eastside; we drew, like, 300 people every time we played. But we just couldn’t break out of that cycle, and . . . finally everybody just sort of threw up their hands and said, can’t do it anymore.
CHANDRA: The lead singer decided he was gonna quit music . . .
LEIGH: . . . And now he’s a lawyer in Arizona. Everybody’s got their own path. . . . But then, we decided, we’ve been writing these songs forever, let’s go into the studio and make it happen. Our friend [J. Soda], who played guitar in Slydell, had been acquiring all this recording gear, and so it was like perfect timing. We took, like, a year off, just writing and trying to sort of formulate what we were gonna do. Within that year, Jenny called up and asked us to sing on her record, and then we also started recording our own material.
You’re from Kentucky originally.
CHANDRA: We’re from Louisville, and we’ve been out here for eight years. L.A.’s a difficult place to settle into, but I think you make it whatever you want it to be, and then it has everything in the world you could want. I appreciate going back to Kentucky more and more now because priorities are different in that city, and the people are different, and it has a completely different vibe. Before you really grow up, you write songs about how much you hate it, and you just wanna get to the big city. And those things pave the road to make you the person that you are, and it sort of changes your perspective on what home is.
Where did you learn to harmonize?
LEIGH: Growing up, we got involved in a lot of different choirs, and basically sang in church, from age 9 or 10 up until we were in high school. Learning harmonies and learning how to sing with people — I mean, when we were little kids, my mom says that we used to sing in our own language to each other. We always had that communication with each other, and having some formal training in choirs really helped us to home in on the sound. And then my mom was listening to Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens. We’d go into church and be singing four-part harmonies with people, and then go home and listen to great old country and rock music.
CHANDRA: We used to get in trouble for singing at the dinner table. My mom would get home from work, and my sister and I would’ve made dinner or something, and we’d be sitting there singing church songs or who knows what, and Mom would be, “There is no singing at the dinner table!” [Laughs.] And we’d be, like, “Mom, we’re celebrating the Lord . . .” [Laughs.]
We did a quartet for a while that was all girls, and we were creating our own songs, our own structures and harmonies, finding more secular music. Right after we moved out here we started playing with a guy who we still play with, he’s our keyboard player, and he plays lap steel with us, and I remember one time we were rehearsing, he says, “That’s that thing that I was telling you about.” And I was, like, “What?” And he goes, “The Watson Twin harmony.”
LEIGH: He was talking about the intonation, the movement and the phrasing of the chord.
The sound on the EP is great too, very full and warm — detailed but spacious. I heard it was recorded mostly on vintage analog equipment, with no click tracks and all that kinda baloney.
LEIGH: It was the first real record that we’ve ever sat down and said, okay, we’re gonna actually try to do the best recording of these songs that we can. We can’t go into a really large studio, we can’t hire a fancy producer, but we’re just gonna go in here and do what we do. It was very hands-on for us; they were really putting us to work and making us learn how to do it, and in turn, luckily for us, we had somebody to hold our hand and show us how to do this stuff, and people who are our best friends [working with us].
CHANDRA: We just kind of did what came naturally to us, and what sounded good to our ears, and I think that that maybe comes from being a little bit naive and not having done a record; this is the sound that sounded rich and real to us.
You seem to get along extremely well.
LEIGH: We definitely have our disagreements, but they usually end in about 15 minutes with one of us calling the other and going, “I don’t want to fight with you, you’re my best friend . . .” [Laughs.] And it always works out.
CHANDRA: It’s like everyone’s dream, to do something with your best friend. To be able to go on tour together, and to sing in front of people and have fun together, it’s already like a dream come true. It’s like, wow, we get to do this really amazing thing that we’re passionate about, and we get to do it together.
Where will you be a year from now?
CHANDRA: There’s hunger, you know? We’ve got places to go. I still feel a little nervous about the attention that the EP is getting, because it was something that we were gonna put out ourselves and sell at shows. It wasn’t like, oh, we’re gonna get signed and we’re gonna get this and we’re gonna do that, it was like, we need to lay these songs down, it was like it had to happen.
LEIGH: We started on a very small level, we have distribution now in the States, and we just got distribution in Australia and New Zealand, and we’re doing it all ourselves. So we’re like a four-person team, us and a manager and publicist . . .
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CHANDRA: And don’t forget about Mom.
LEIGH: [Laughs.] And my mom, yeah, she does ?shipping.
THE WATSON TWINS | Southern Manners EP | Self-released
The Watson Twins perform Monday, August 14, at Spaceland, 9 p.m., with The Little Ones, The Bird and the Bee.