Part one of my interview with Chandra Watson left off with me having some technical difficulties. Once I got my fan situation figured out, my cassette recorder decided that it also needed a break. This is what I get for using obsolete technology! I argued with it while Chandra laughed on speaker phone. We discussed the difficulty of acquiring cassette tapes, once ubiquitous, and promised to work as a team to keep each other in stock if ever there were a true shortage. I got things up and running again and we went back to it:
Dese’Rae Stage, PopWreck(oning): So, for the album you had Everest backing you and they just released an album [Ghost Notes] too. Are they going to be touring with you?
Chandra Watson: You know what? They’ve already left us in the dust.
PW: Have they? I know they were here recently.
CW: They’re actually in the UK right now opening for My Morning Jacket and Neil Young. They’re having an amazing time and we’re super excited for them.
We’ve been playing with them for years, with Jay and Russ. They produced the EP as well, so there are many more hours to log with them as far as recording and playing together. We’re just out doing our own things right now, which is great. I’m super happy for them, they have a great record.
PW: “How Am I To Be?” is my favorite song on the record.
CW: Oh, thanks.
PW: Anytime. What’s yours? What was the most fun to record?
CW: Oh, that’s hard. I think it’s so weird. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite because they all have these different parts in the recording process and in our journey of writing over a period of time, but the cool thing was that when we went in to record, we did it in two stages.
We recorded a batch of songs first that we’d been playing out live and they were pretty much formed and had their arrangements. For the second half, we took a month off and went on tour, came back and recorded songs that we hadn’t really ever played as a band and that we were kind of messing with in the studio. Russ was creating drum parts as we went, so that was really fun too.
All of the songs on the record have this really specific place in time. For me, if I had to pick one to sing and perform, I think it’s “Sky Open Up” because it has all of these different emotional movements in it and the band totally rocks on it, which is kind of fun.
PW: I’m looking forward to hearing it. The album was released on Vanguard. You’re in the company of alum like Joan Baez and then the current roster has artists like Matt Nathanson. How do you like that?
CW: I think that one of the things that really drew us to Vanguard was obviously their catalog and their roster. These are people I respect that have really great careers, really long careers, which is, as a musician, what you want—someone who’s going to be along for the ride.
You know, we self released our EP and we had some really great things happen with that. The great thing about Vanguard was that, from the beginning, they just said, “We don’t want to change you. We don’t want to form you into something else. We just want to help you do what you’re already doing.”
We were at the point where we were like, “Okay, we could just self release this one and keep pushing it,” but it had gotten to a point where we needed more staff. That’s the bottom line. It was my sister and I, our manager, our publicist, and our mom. That’s pretty much it. When you’re looking at that many people, there’s not enough people to make the phone calls, there’s not enough people to work with the radio stations and do all that stuff, so before we signed with them, we gave them the finished record and said, “This is Fire Songs. If you don’t like it, that’s totally cool; if you like it, great.”
They were like, “Let’s do it,” so there weren’t any changes. We basically gave them the finished product and the art work and they thought it was great. My sister and I are very visually oriented people and have specific ideas about how we want to be represented and how we want things to sound and feel, so being able to be in control of that and really have our opinions heard was the most important thing. I think Vanguard’s been really great in that, in letting us have our own creative freedom and not trying to put us in a box.
PW: It sounds like the perfect deal.
CW: It is! I think another part of it is that there’s a different feeling at the label. It’s a really family oriented, smaller label. That’s really great. It feels nice to go out to dinner or walk into the office and know who the people are. They’re just like, “Call me if you need me.”
PW: Okay, we’re gonna switch gears a little. You guys have covered songs by men, like “Powderfinger” by Neil Young and now “Just Like Heaven” [The Cure]. Most artists change the personal pronouns in songs like that and you guys didn’t, like when Veruca Salt did Depeche Mode‘s “Somebody.” Why? Was it about lyrical integrity or was it something else?
CW: Honestly, this is going to sound weird, but we never even discussed it. I really don’t think you have to do that to get the feeling across.
PW: Yeah, I always feel really odd when artists are so conscious of things like that, but it seems like a lot of them think that maybe the image will be one thing when it’s not supposed to be.
CW: Right. We never discussed it. We never talked about whether it should be “she” or “he.” The song just speaks for itself. I think, had either song been less well known, we might have discussed it, but it’s so obviously a cover that everybody who is familiar with any kind of music pretty much knows that song, whether they’re fifteen or fifty.
Most of the listeners, I think, know it. But honestly, I kind of feel like it is what it is, and that’s how the song’s written. I don’t think it makes that much difference. I think you can still sing it with emotion and feeling without having your proper pronoun in there.
PW: It’s actually one of my favorite covers of that song ever done.
PW: How do you guys write songs? Do you do it together or do you do it separately and come back together?
CW: We write separately and then bring the songs in together. We work on them a little bit together and talk about them and talk about arrangements.
It’s nice because she’s drawing from different inspirations than I am. Even though we’re twins, we have very different lives, so it’s cool. She could be drawing inspiration off something completely different than I am. It keeps me interested and also inspires me to hear what kind of sounds she’s working with and what her feelings are on her new material and that sort of thing.
It works for us. I think we’ll continue working that way until something comes up.
PW: Is it more or less difficult to be working so closely with someone who’s so deeply entrenched in your life? I have a pair of friends who are identical twins and all they do is bicker. I feel like they should be best friends, but they just bitch at each other all day long.
CW: Yeah, it happens with twins. I think with Leigh and I, we’ve been playing music together and singing together for so long. Because of that, whether it’s a choir rehearsal or band rehearsal or whatever, we’ve always been coordinating together. It’s like, “Okay, we’re going to leave for rehearsal then,” or, “Okay, you work on this part and I’ll work on that part.” Our whole lives, we’ve been working together in some way or another, and we’re best friends. We just get along, strangely enough.
PW: That’s awesome. It’s so good to hear. Knowing my friends, it’s like, “I want a twin sister! I want a built-in best friend!”
CW: I feel like it’s unfortunate if people don’t capitalize on that because it’s a pretty big gift to be given. Somebody who has your back all the time and is there for you and you can totally fight and scream at them and be their friend again.
PW: That’s really cool. I have two more. What are you guys listening to right now?
CW: I have a funny story. I’ve been listening to this band Chicha Libre. Do you know them? They’re from Brooklyn, actually.
CW: It’s kind of like, Brazilian psychedelic surf rock. It’s all those things and it’s instrumental and it’s really fun music. We randomly walked into this bar in Brooklyn when I was there a few weeks ago and we’re sitting and there’s a back room where bands play and you can see through this window and all these people are dancing and everyone’s rockin’ out in this room and it looks really fun and we’re having a drink and all of a sudden they start playing this song and I’m like, “God, I know this song!”
My sister looks at me and she’s like, “Chicha Libre!” So we totally freaked out and it was them playing in the back room and I’m like, “What are the chances of listening to this band I found out about here in L.A. and then walking into a random bar in Brooklyn and they’re playing?”
But I’ve been listening to that, and I just bought the new Allison Krauss and Robert Plant record [Raising Sand]. There are a couple of jams on there. I’ve been listening to the Cat Power‘s Jukebox record, which I love; the new Goldfrapp; just all kind of insane, random things.
I think when you get in record mode and you’re just working on your music and rehearsing, you sort of miss albums that happen when you’re in the studio because you just don’t listen to other music. I’m still sort of catching up, too.
PW: My last question is hypothetical: you’re headlining your dream tour. Who’s supporting you?
CW: Oh, God! Well, the other person that I’m sort of obsessed with right now is—gosh, it’s so hard, though! For me, right now, it’s Andrew Bird. I’m slightly obsessed with his most recent record [Armchair Apocrypha]. The hard thing is you can’t have like, Emmylou Harris open for you.
PW: Sure you can, this is a hypothetical!
CW: If it’s a hypothetical, you’ve got to think big, right?
PW: Yeah! Emmylou’s doing it. Who else?
CW: Bob Dylan opening for the Watson twins. That’s big!
PW: I like it.
CW: If you could just forward that request over to Bob…
PW: Okay, I’m on it. We’ve got Bob, Emmylou, and Andrew Bird opening for the Watson Twins. Cool. That was my last question.
CW: Awesome. Well, thanks for taking the time, and we’ll see you when we’re in New York.
And see me in New York, they did; twice, in fact. The ladies put on quite the charming show, taking turns singing and playing guitar (Leigh does an adorable jig when Chandra sings “How Am I To Be?”) throughout the set. Their voices are magic and their stage banter is clever.
Even better, they genuinely love their fans. They’re not the kind of artists to perform, pack up, and leave. They stick around, have drinks, chat and indulge their more zealous fans with photos and signatures — southern manners, indeed. They’re on the road for another two weeks. Check them out, if you can. It’s worth it.
Jul 18 – Turf Club – St. Paul, Mn.
Jul 19 – Pabst Theater – Milwaukee, Wi. (w/ M. Ward)
Jul 21 – Hi Dive – Denver, Co.
Jul 22 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, Ut.
Jul 25 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, Wa.
Jul 26 – Doug Fir – Portland, Or.
Jul 28 – Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, Ca.
Jul 29 – The Echo – Los Angeles, Ca.