About a 20-minute drive is all that separated The Secret Sisters from being born in historic Muscle Shoals, Alabama, though its sheer proximity to their hometown of Happy Valley practically foretold that Laura and Lydia Rogers were destined for lives as recording and performing artists. With their sophomore album, Put Your Needle Down [Republic Records], The Secret Sisters’ future has never seemed clearer.
Growing up surrounded by the sounds of the South and the powerful timeless music emanating from Muscle Shoals, The Secret Sisters were heavily influenced by a range of uniquely American musical styles, including country, bluegrass and gospel, as well as classic rock and pop. They were raised on a rich tapestry of music, listening to everything from George Jones and Loretta Lynn, to The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, The Ramones, Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright. But it was their father, a musician himself, who introduced Laura and Lydia to bluegrass at an early age and spent many weekends bringing his daughters to local bluegrass festivals.
While The Secret Sisters’ 2010 eponymous debut was comprised mostly of traditional country songs the sisters grew up loving, although two standouts were Laura and Lydia originals “Tennessee Me” and “Waste The Day.” That album introduced the world to the sisters’ stunning and seemingly magical ability to blend vocals which developed from singing together in church on Sundays and listening to some of the world’s most iconic musicians throughout their upbringing. With that album lauded by critics and adored by their rapidly growing legion of fans, the stage was set for the sisters to advance as artists and further establish themselves as songwriters with Put Your Needle Down. “This record was a long time coming,” said Laura. “Most artists don’t wait three years or so in between records, but we felt it was important to spend a lot of time on our songs and also broaden our sound.”
The result is Put Your Needle Down, an eclectic mix of musical styles and sounds rooted in storytelling that showcases their depth and growth as songwriters, vocalists and as women. Put Your Needle Down, titled after a line in the P.J. Harvey song, “The Pocket Knife,” featured on the album, is a tribute to the singers’ deep-rooted affinity for vinyl, and an ode to the assertiveness the two have gained on their journey to maturity since they first began making music.
“It’s kind of a testimony to our belief that listening to something on a record player is always going to be better than anything else,” says Lydia. “The song also strikes us as very symbolic of our growing up. That attitude of, ‘don’t make our sweet little country dresses anymore, because we’re grown women with a viewpoint and things to say.’ And, while we’re still figuring out life, we certainly have a better knowledge of it than we did a few years ago.”
Advising the duo once again is powerhouse producer T Bone Burnett, whom they previously collaborated with on their debut album. “We became friends with T Bone early on in our career and he’s been guiding us along ever since,” said Lydia. Laura adds, “The beauty of working with T Bone on this new album is that he really understood and found the storyline that was woven throughout all of our songs. I really don’t think this record would be what it is without him.”
Put Your Needle Down was recorded at the famed Village Recorder in Los Angeles, with The Secret Sisters singing live alongside a five-piece band. The duo was adamant that their album sound as real and authentic as possible. “We wanted it to be a very human record,” said Laura. “I think that recording live is the best way that you can record an album because it really captures a band’s ability to glue themselves to one another and create something beautiful.” She adds, “There is something beautiful and honest about not being perfect.”
In the studio, Laura and Lydia were joined by a stellar array of musicians, carefully chosen by Burnett to provide the sonic and musical foundation for The Secret Sisters incomparable vocals and harmonies. Among them were Jay Bellerose on drums, Gurf Morlix, Marc Ribot and Burnett on guitars, Keefus Ciancia on keyboards and Zach Dawes on bass. While all brought significant contributions to the proceedings, every musician was in awe of the presence of legendary tambourine player Jack Ashford, whose signature sound can be heard on countless Motown hits dating back to the early 1960s and who propels numerous songs on Put Your Needle Down.
The sisters’ songwriting process proved to be a bit more daunting than they’d anticipated, as they ran the gamut of anxiety about telling and sharing their personal stories as well as voicing their frustrations as young woman experiencing relationship woes. Says Laura, “It was terrifying; it is a vulnerable thing to write your own story and ask the world to pick it apart and tell you if it is good or not. Fortunately, we’re finding there are many people who love what we’re writing about and identifying with it strongly.”
There is still an aura of mystery that surrounds The Secret Sisters, and they certainly like to keep their fans wondering where they’ll head next on their musical journey. But with Laura and Lydia, one thing is for certain: integrity and honesty will guide every note.