During the long Independence Day weekend, I got a chance to talk with Chandra Watson of the Watson Twins. After a little banter about liquor stores with home delivery services (and the subsequent trouble you may or may not find yourself in), immaculate conception in Park Slope, and some devious scheming (not included), we got down to it.
Dese’Rae Stage, PopWreck(oning): You were raised in Kentucky. How’d you guys get started?
Chandra Watson: We were nine or ten, we were in church choir, and we ended up doing an audition for a kids’ musical type thing. We started singing for the choir director and she was like, “Wow, you guys can sing.” She pulled my mom aside afterwards and was like, “Look, they have some natural talent.
If you want me to help cultivate their voices, let me know.” So we ended up doing vocal lessons with her and singing in three or four different choirs and quartets and all this stuff at church when we were little. When we were teenagers, my sister learned how to play guitar and started writing songs. From there, we branched out and started going to punk rock shows in Louisville and started getting involved and just hanging out with a bunch of musicians and bands. We started writing our own music and thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we should play out sometime.’ So, by the time we got to college, we were putting together little bands and playing out, but it wasn’t really until we moved to LA that we started pursuing it in a more serious way.
PW: Who are your influences?
CW: It’s kind of across the board. When we were little, we grew up listening to the [Rolling]
Stones, Pink Floyd, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, the Go-Go’s, the Bangles, and that sort of thing. As we got older, there was a lot of influential music coming out of Louisville: Will Oldham, of course, and bands like Slint and Rodan, so there was a bubbling music scene there which was influential and seeing people who were your peers or maybe a couple of years older than you just playing shows was inspiring.
PW: I’m getting ready to nerd out on you.
CW: That’s okay.
PW: You were in a band called Slydell in the Silver Lake scene, but you guys started gaining notoriety after you met Rilo Kiley and hooked up with Jenny Lewis for Rabbit Fur Coat. How was that?
CW: It was a really natural evolution. We moved into Silver Lake about eight or nine months after we moved to LA and just started immediately meeting musicians. For this neighborhood at the time, that was just what happened. You’d be at the same bars as everyone else and you’d see Beck at the grocery store or Elliott Smith walking down the street. It was just coming up in a way that it was still sort of a secret and there were all these bands playing shows. We were just talking about it the other day, and it’s so weird because my sister and I have been in LA for almost ten years. All the bands that we’ve been playing shows with, like Rilo Kiley and Silversun Pickups and Earlimart and Sea Wolf, are bands that have been around this neighborhood for awhile and it’s exciting to see your friends who’ve been working for years making their mark.
PW: I’m a huge Rilo Kiley fan and I’ve been listening to them since I was in high school and the Initial Friend EP came out. I was in Florida e-mailing them every week being like, “Can you please come to Florida now?”
CW: [laughs] That’s awesome.
PW: They finally did in 2003. I got to see them play in Orlando and it was ridiculous. I’ve been to every one of their recent New York shows and it’s so different seeing them now.
CW: It’s amazing. I think part of it is, if you’re in LA, you’re closer to opportunity and that’s why people come here. I think ultimately, for us, it was just staying on our path, just working on the music as it evolved and changed. We went from backup singers with Slydell and started writing our own material when that band broke up, to working on our own EP [Southern Manners], then Jenny asked us to do the record with her, and we did that tour. It’s kind of coming back full circle again where we’re working on our own stuff and releasing this record. I feel like it’s been a really organic progression and really naturally unfolding. I think that when you have that, everyone’s like, “Oh, you’re being thrust into the front now,” and in a way that stuff’s true, but it’s something that we’ve been doing. We’ve been playing our own music for years, it’s just never been the focus.
PW: It all comes with time.
CW: Yeah, and I think for us it’s just coming. It’s time for us to focus on that and have fun with it. We’re looking forward to the tour and shows and to just playing the songs.
PW: Has this tour not started at all yet?
CW: We’ve been doing these really weird one-offs. We’ve been to Chicago, Minneapolis, Philly, Pittsburgh, and we went over to the UK. We’ve been doing a lot of promo shows this last month and just kind of flying around and playing randomly. We did a couple shows with Elbow and played in a little café. We leave on Saturday to drive across the country and start the tour in DC.
PW: How have the promo shows been different from the tour with Jenny? Are the fans different?
CW: There’s overlap. It’s different. There’s definitely a contingent that’s familiar with Rilo Kiley and then there are other people who are familiar with our EP. Sometimes we’re like, “Oh, we did this record with Jenny,” and they’re like, “Who?” [laughs] So there’s still—which is kind of weird—this small contingent that knows us from this little EP that we put out, an Americana sort of fan base, especially in the Midwest where we’re from. A lot of cool stations played us and helped us there.
PW: Did you ever manage to go on tour for Southern Manners? I know it came out around the same time as the Jenny Lewis album did.
CW: Yeah, it was a little difficult. We ended up doing a couple of smaller tours in between when we were out with Jenny and then beyond that, we waited until the record cycle was over with Jenny and we did a couple more tours after that.
PW: This is actually a pretty short tour then, if you’re just leaving Saturday (7/5). It ends at the end of the month, right?
CW: Yeah. It’s about three weeks. I think it ends up being about 22 shows.
PW: What are you going to do after that?
CW: Come back here. We have a couple of one-off shows that we’ll be doing. It’s been nonstop for us for the last three months. We’re so heavily involved with our merchandise and our website and MySpace. We’re still really hands on with all of that, so it’s been a full-time job. After the tour’s over, it’ll be nice to have a couple of weeks to just chill. Then we’re doing a couple shows out here over the summer and in the fall we’ll go back out and probably go to the UK.
PW: Cool. So, Fire Songs is straight-up analog. Did you like it? Hate it? Pros/cons?
CW: I actually prefer it, just because I’m kind of a… I drive a stick shift. I’m a manual sort. I need to see where A goes to B. For me, it’s like, you’re in the studio and you’ve got this beautiful board in front of you and you’re just kind of looking straight ahead instead of looking at wavelengths on a computer screen, and I love the sound of tape. I love that warm, roomy sound. We did the EP that way and made a conscious choice to make this record that way.
It’s at this point in our conversation that both the fan in my living room and my tape recorder decided to misbehave, so I figure this is as good a stopping point as any. To be continued…