The first thing to say about Chandra and Leigh Watson is that they're identical twins. But they're also best friends and musical collaborators who've performed and recorded together for more than a decade. After growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, they headed out to Los Angeles, where they met indie rockers Rilo Kiley and received a career boost from backing up chanteuse Jenny Lewis.
Last year's Fire Songs established an atmospheric, close-harmony take on indie Americana, but the duo's forthcoming album, Talking to You, Talking to Me, due on Vanguard Records in February, spotlights each sister's unique identity in the context of soul and pop. The Watson Twins make their first appearance in St. Louis this week, opening for Joshua Radin at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. Sister Chandra brought B-Sides up to date with a phone interview from a rehearsal studio in Southern California.
B-Sides: How do I know this is you?
Chandra Watson: I'm going to give you really bad answers and blame it on Leigh. You can say it was Leigh under the guise of Chandra. Or that she's speaking through me.
There's no way out of this hall of mirrors. I've heard one preview from the new record, "U-N-Me," which I take it is a finished track.
The album is complete, twelve songs, and that's the last track. This record is different for us. It's not as Americana-based as our last two. It's more an amalgamation of folk, soul and indie rock. We're experimenting with different influences and having fun with it. We've always been into soul and pop music. We just wanted to cut the fat, just make the best, most concise songs we could. When you wrap everything up in a two- or three-minute bow, it has more of a pop feel, and you're getting your point across to the audience quickly, with just a couple of hooks.
And you're working again with Russell Pollard and J. Soda, who produced your last album. What's it like working with two different producers?
They've been friends of ours for a long time, so there was a great sense of comfort, especially with what they allow us to do. Being a woman in the studio isn't always easy. Your voice isn't always heard. Maybe you're not as experienced, and you can't play all the instruments. But they've always taken every idea and experimented with it and never shot down anything. There was real freedom in going back in with them. We never feel like someone is going to say, "That's stupid." We also went into a new studio, which has the EMI console that Pink Floyd's The Wall was recorded on.
And if you get too close to the console you'll start acid-flashbacking.
Exactly. It's a beast, but it's produced some amazing records.
Fire Songs was kind of sleeper last year. When I first got the CD, it didn't knock me out, but I still listen to it as much as any record from 2008. It has an airy, weightless quality that I like. Does that come from you and your sister, or from your producers?
This new record is a bit different. Part of that comes from having been backup singers for so many years. When you're a backup singer, you hone your voice to accent another instrument. So you get an airy quality, a blending of sounds. But on this record, Leigh and I weren't afraid to just be lead vocalists. We approached Fire Songs as two vocalists singing together, harmonizing, and that's what we do. On this one, we sing backup for ourselves. Sonically it's different, in that there's more independence in the lead vocals, and the backup vocals are maybe a little more traditional.
There is a theory about twin sisters, that you have this magical understanding of what's going on inside your twin. Can anyone really know what's going on inside another?
I'd say there is an understanding, something that transcends what a listener might hear. There are so many layers of connection that end up being part of the music. We went and saw Tegan and Sara the other night. It's so weird to see other twins perform. Twins are weird! But I totally relate to the connection.
So you're planning on forming a supergroup with Tegan and Sara?
[Laughs] Who knows! We'll really freak people out with that.