Twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson (known to the music world as The Watson Twins) are about to head out on tour. They'll open a string of shows for singer/songwriter Amos Lee. Though, not for his Asheville date. And not on April 24.
"We really wanted to play in Asheville, because it's one of our favorite cities," says Chandra. But when her booking agent called local venues to line up a show on the Watson Twins' day off, nothing was available. "I got online and was like, what's an indie record store? So I called Harvest." The local record shop booked the sisters at Forsythia Hall, a revamped church-turned-event space just north of downtown Asheville.
It's a good fit for the twins who were raised in Louisville, Ky. and still consider themselves Southern girls at heart. "It's a part of us and we've been talking for years about moving closer to our families. That lifestyle and pace suits us more," says Leigh. They're currently based in Los Angeles. "On the tour, going through all these cities in the South, is like having a slice of peach pie," says Chandra. She cites seeing flowers blooming as one of the things she's most looking forward to. (The Watson Twins are sweet that way: forget spotlights and stadium crowds — they want daffodils and to reintroduce the word "neat" into mainstream vocabulary.)
Also sweet is the Watson Twins’ newly released EP, Night Covers. It is, as the name suggests, a covers album, though at first glance the choices seem disparate at best. A Turtles tune next to a PJ Harvey song? Sade paired with The Black Keys? "They're one and the same for us," jokes Leigh. But what makes the six-song collection work is that each song is rendered in the Watsons’ instantly recognizable style. A little bit country, a little bit shoegaze-y. Folky and sultry.
"It's a fine line between doing a covers record and doing a karaoke version of the song," says Leigh. "The excitement comes in when we get to put our own interpretation on it." They succeed on Night: You've never heard "Hear Comes the Rain" quite like this.
This is not the Watsons first experiment with covers. "It's fun to perform covers," says Chandra. "It's an extension of yourself." A previous cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" found its way on to an episode of True Blood — in fact, in a steamy bathtub scene between characters Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton.
"We ended up meeting [True Blood music supervisor] Gary Calamar and asked him, 'Why did you pick this song?'" says Leigh. "He said it was the perfect combination of the gothic (The Cure) with this sweet Southern sound." Just like vampire Bill and Louisiana girl Sookie.
On the popularity of that song and others (they performed "Powderfinger" on 2008's charity album Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young), the Watson Twins were encouraged by their fans to record. Plus, it's been about a year since their last album, Talking To You, Talking To Me. "It's fun to go out and promote something new," says Chandra.
And even if the songs weren't written by the Watsons (they have three original albums under their belts since their debut with Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis on the 2006 project Rabbit Fur Coat), their stamp is definitely on Night. "Leigh and I do things 100 percent, all the time," says Chandra. "When we decided to self-release this record, we were like, 'We're going to hand-stamp all the CD packaging.' And I'm making art pieces for the website for people to purchase. It's about getting creative with stuff that's actually personal to you."
The sisters consider themselves lucky that they enjoy relating to their fans that way. Though they also point out that there are plenty of challenges — one is winning over listeners when they're an opening act, especially when it’s for a male band. "The odds of converting all these fans, it's just not going to happen," says Chandra. But the upside is, "opening for a female, we're embraced." At a show with Amos Lee and Brandy Carlisle, they were pleasantly surprised to find themselves signing CDs for hundreds of listeners.
And there are plenty of other upsides. "Leigh and I write our songs and it's insular," says Chandra. She describes the experience of having someone come up after a show and say, “This song has always meant so much to me,” or “I just played this song at my wedding.” "We all have these artists who have touched our lives," says Chandra. "It's just weird to think of yourself as that."
The Watson Twins have their DIY approach to thank for those gratifying moments. "There are a lot of artists who have a label standing between them and the real world. That can create some delusions," says Leigh. "It's good to be hands-on and to know what works and doesn't work. It's exciting to have this thing we're propelling."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Watson Twins
where: Forsythia Hall (28 Forsythe St., forsythiahall.org)
when: Sunday, April 24 (7 p.m., $12. harvest-records.com)
when: Sunday, Sept. 26 (3 p.m. $20 adults, $50 patrons, $5 students ages 13 to 21, free for children 12 and under. Tickets at 257-4530 or 277-4111. www.aapf.ws)