The Watson Twins display theirSouthern Manners
Thu 28th Sep, 2006 in Features
If you follow Sunset Boulevard westward from Hollywood towards downtown Los Angeles, you will intersect with the neighbourhood of Silver Lake. Having been subjected to several name changes across the years, Silver Lake’s final nomenclature reflects the large body of water that sits in the middle of its eclectic community. But the area offers Los Angeles more than a supply of water; for it also feeds the city’s thirst for alternative music. Since the early nineties Silver Lake has been home to the likes of Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rilo Kiley, Pavement, and Elliott Smith. It is also where, eight years ago, two sisters from Kentucky transplanted their musical roots.
It is Monday night and local music institution Spaceland is abuzz. For joining Sea Wolf for their Monday night residency are everybody’s favourite twin sisters, Chandra and Leigh Watson. Having first emerged as part of Slydell, The Watson Twins are veterans of the local LA music scene while their collaboration with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis has seen the pair recently thrust into the international spotlight. So the intimate Spaceland setting not only offers something of a reality check for the globe trotting twins, but also an all too rare opportunity to refocus their attention on their own musical undertakings.
“We want to be able to do both things,” explained Leigh Watson. “We want to sing and play with Jenny, but we also want to create our own music. It’s exciting to be on the road traveling the world with Jenny and playing all those huge venues. That gives us something to aspire to. And during the times we do have off we are very proactive in playing our own shows and getting our music out to people. We have spent a lot of time playing with Jenny and it maybe slowed the momentum a little, but it hasn’t hindered it. I think that all good things take time to grow and that is how our record happened.”
If that is true, then the gestation of the Watson Twins recently released Southern Manners must have been eons in the making. For encompassed within their debut solo release are some of the finest musical moments to emanate from a recording this year. Lush harmonies ebb and flow upon a turbid sea of sentiment. Impassioned lyrical pleas contently drift upon refreshingly organic instrumental arrangements. All of which seamlessly combines to sculpt a sound that washes across numerous musical boundaries. So it is not surprising to learn that for this ensemble, the musical means is more important than the mode.
“These songs were folk songs that were written on a guitar and I think they do come from a really honest place,” explained Leigh. “That’s a huge part of who we are and we wanted to tap into that, but we also wanted to build on it a little. We wanted to make a fuller sound, but keep that rawness and honesty. I feel so lucky to be able to play music with my sister, who is also my best friend, and to have created a record with two other close friends. This is really a family affair and that’s how it feels when we play. It’s a lot more fun to play your songs with people you know so well.”
For the Watson Twins, music has always encapsulated both heart and home. Raised just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, the sister’s musical enthusiasm might have started with the pair jumping around the house singing into imaginary microphones, but it was the local church choir where it really took root. By the time the choir director had pulled their mother aside to instill the depth of the twins’ vocal talent, their Sunday sessions were being supplemented by exposure to the likes of Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. But theirs was by no means a traditionally ‘country’ upbringing.
“My mom has a really wide musical taste,” enthused Leigh. “She listened to Pearl Jam and Nirvana too and she defiantly paved the way for us appreciating all different types of music. But she did shield us a little too! I remember getting into the car once and she was listening to the Violent Femmes and when a song that had some profanity in it came on she kept turning it down. It was “Add it up” which has that line “why can’t I get just one fuck” and my mom would turn it down every time the line with the ‘f’ word came around!”
Home fires obviously burn brightly for The Watson Twins. As the pair stand at the foot of the Spaceland stage they positively glow as they recount the domicile inspirations behind songs such as Southern Manners and High School. Silver Lake might be a world away from the rolling hills of Kentucky, but the embracing response The Watson Twins receive as they exit the stage offers an insight into the depth to which they have entrenched themselves into the Los Angeles music scene. Which is perhaps a little ironic since California was simply meant to be port of call in a larger adventure.
“After we graduated from college we took six months and drove around the country in our truck to visit friends and look at other cities,” explained Leigh. “Los Angeles was the one place we drove away from where I said to Chandra ‘I could never live there, so please don’t ask me to’. Three months later I was moving there! So a little risk taking got involved and we moved out here and started meeting musicians and bands in this neighborhood. And slowly we became a part of the Silver Lake music scene. Los Angeles might have been an accident, but has been a very pleasant one.”
While Los Angeles might have been a pleasant accident, it has since proved to the first phase of a much larger adventure. Through entrenching themselves within the local music scene, and crossing musical paths with the like to Jenny Lewis, these two twin sisters from Kentucky have been afforded the opportunity to take their music to the world. And one senses that it won’t be too long before The Watson Twins will be delighting neighborhoods the world over with their Southern Manners.
Southern Manners is out now through Shock