Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Watson Twins still give each other chills

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 11:30 AM

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The Watson Twins new record, Night Covers, was less a matter of “if” and more so one of “when.” Cover songs are nothing new to the identical Louisville-born twins, who first surfaced as Jenny Lewis’ sidekicks on the 2006 release Rabbit Fur Coat before releasing four records of their own in the years since. They’ve often sprinkled them into their live sets and even featured The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” on their 2008 release, Fire Songs. Though a record full of covers like this one is always a touch of a surprise, it’s perhaps less of one for the Louisville-born and raised duo. The timing was right in the months after finishing their major label contract at Vanguard, heaving the Twins back into the independent and DIY music world. But for being thrust back into a place so often tempestuous and uncertain, the pair seems remarkably at home, paying homage to songs that have bred and inspired them while looking forward to a future they once again hold completely in their own hands.

So here’s the obvious question: Why a record of covers? Why now?
Leigh Watson: It didn’t seem like a far stretch for us, but we didn’t know when we would do it or how we would do it. At the end of last year, we were finishing up our contract with Vanguard, so we sort of took the bull by the horns and just decided to do it on our own. We had so many covers in our set, anyway, and a lot of our fans would ask when they could hear the recording of them. And we wanted to hear the recordings, too (laughs). So it felt like something needed to be done, but it’s a guilty pleasure I guess. For people that ask why we would do a covers record, just tell them that I’m self-indulgent (laughs).

That being said, there is a common misconception about cover songs in general, where people assume it’s much easier to just sing someone else’s song rather than write your own. Why is that not necessarily true?

LW: Anyone can go sing karaoke, ya know? I get that. And actually, in doing these, we did work on a song that never made it to the record because we felt that way — I felt like I was just singing a karaoke song. It didn’t feel like it had enough of our personality and spin on it. [Covers can be] frustrating to me, as well. There are moments where I hear a cover and I think ‘Just let Bob Dylan sing that song, because he does it right. You don’t need to try it.’ So I understand that there is that fine line of picking a cover and using your voice to interpret it.

What was your criteria for choosing the songs you did?
LW: We picked songs that are definitely our favorites, but we also tried to not be really genre specific. We tried to cross different genres and different time periods. It’s kind of just an homage to these writers and performers that really have been ones that have stuck out in our head, as well as new songs that are striking a chord.

Is there a track that you’d say came the most naturally in the arranging process?
LW: The track we’re giving away on our site right now is “You Chose Me” by The Turtles worked really well for us. That particular song, the harmonies are just so open and you can go so many different places with it, so that one was really exiting for us to be able to work on. I feel like all of the songs have in some way taken on Watson Twins’ personality traits. But we also wanted to stay to true to the heart of these songs. I think there will be that moment where you hear a cover song for the first time of ‘I know I know this song...and I just can’t think of what it is!’ So that was fun in doing this, for us too, to create that moment. We had to find a new way to share our voices.

What’s a cover you’ve heard someone else do that’s always stuck with you?
LW: I remember one of the first covers I heard that totally struck a chord with me was M. Ward doing “Let’s Dance.” It was a totally different song. The lyrics meant something totally different than when I heard Bowie sing it. And then you have someone like Jose Gonzalez who does nice covers. I love the originals and I love Jose’s versions, but they’re two totally different songs to me. They take on different lives, and I think that’s the fun.

This record is self-released, after Talking To You, Talking To Me being released by Vanguard. How’s it feel to be back on your own?
LW: There’s a little bit of freedom to not being tied to a specific label. It lets you create your own timeframe of when you want things to come out. We had a great experience with Vanguard, but we were really excited about doing something on our own again. It’s a very DIY operation over here at Watson Twins headquarters. I’m stuffing envelopes right now, we’re both hand-making merchandise. We just really want to make that connection that’s sometimes lost, ya know. We want them to know that we are as present as they are. I think that’s something that, when you put a label on between and you put this wall of people — who are amazing, and who are on your team and who do support you — it does kind of create a divide between us and them. It’s a scary time, because there’s no road map or no formula at the moment that’s necessarily working really well. But that means it’s a great time to stretch our wings, be free and experiment and really try to connect with our listeners and friends and fans in a more sort of direct and organic way. I think that’s where we’re coming from.

Were there any production tricks you used on TTY, TTM that stuck around in the recording process for Night Covers?
LW: The TTY,TTM record, we tried the perception that it was one lead singer and then The Watson Twins singing backup for her, whoever was singing lead on the track, whether it was me or Chandra. On this record, we took that approach on some songs, and then on other ones we switch off back and forth. That’s more kind of like Fire Songs and Southern Manners way. It wasn’t intentional, but once we listened back to the recording, Chandra and I were talking and we realized that this record kind of encompasses all of our records. It has moments of Fire Songs. It has moments of Southern Manners. It has moments of TTY,TTM. It just felt really full circle, for these songs to not even be our own but feel like there was a part of each our records within them.

You’re West-coasters now, but will the Southeast always be home? Does it feel nice to tour this part of the country?
LW: Definitely. Some of our family lives in Nashville and some is in Kentucky still. That part of the country is so very dear to us and we have a lot of hear and soul there. That’s something that never goes away. I think there’s a lot of pride when you come from that part of the country, and that’s something you’re very aware of. It’s roots. It’s how you got where you are, and it’s something we never forget. I just posted something the other day saying that I missed being on the road. We’ve always been travelers, and I love the open road anyway, but it’s always better when you’re out there with a purpose. I love experiencing new things. I think we’re better at it now, because we understand it and we know that we can’t go all out and have to reserve some energy when you’re out there for a while.

So what’s in The Watson Twins’ survival kit for a long tour run?
LW: Vitamin D, which they say is the new Vitamin C. When you start feeling a little run down, start taking 6000 IUs of Vitamin D. That’s the first go to. And then, a Neti Pot. Which is so gross, but it works. Those two things, for sure. And we inevitably have an iPod loaded with This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and maybe like a David Sedaris book. Sometimes you just can’t listen to music anymore. Your ears need a break.

What’s the one thing you hope you and your sister never lose?
LW: There is definitely a connection the two of us have that a lot of siblings don’t. Obviously, a lot of that connection comes from the music that we play together, and I think there’s something that happens inside of us when we sing together. And I really hope that excitement and fun of singing with one other never goes away. We’ve been lucky in that I still get chills when we hit a harmony that’s sonically perfect. I feel her energy and she feels mine. I hope that’s one thing. I hope I never stop getting chills.

The Watson Twins with Matthew Mayfield. $15. 8 p.m. Tues., Apr 26. Smiths Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave. 404-875-1522. www.smithsoldebar.com

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