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Watson Twins display "Southern Manners"

By Brian T. Atkinson, November 2006

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If "Southern Manners" is any indication, the Watson Twins are like this: dulcet, sultry and angelic. Their voices blend so naturally together it's no surprise that these 30-year-olds have been singing together since not long after they began climbing stairs. By way of comparison, imagine cloning Emmylou Harris. Then pair the Emmylous together for a duet of "If I Needed You." That's a fair approximation of the level of beauty the Watson Twins achieve on the debut recording.

Take, for instance, the album's third track. Titled "High School," it floats skyward on the power of harmony alone. The song - all eight on the EP are originals - also highlights one of the Watsons' most fearless songwriting knack, the ability to juxtapose dark tales against their ethereal voices.

"We have four nephews who were entering school at the same time because they'd been home-schooled their whole lives," Leigh explains. "('High School') is a song about how brutal people can be in that world. It's remembering your first days at a new school and how that translates throughout the rest of your life. It kind of always feels like the first day of school."

Chandra is responsible for penning that tune, but the two collaborate on nearly every song. Turns out, there's no such thing as sibling rivalry between the sisters when it comes to creating music. In fact, their closeness seems to work in their favor.

"We both write words and music," Leigh says. "We've co-written a couple songs simultaneously - working on a chord progression, then adding lyrics. Mostly, though, they're skeletons of songs that we do on our own individually, and then we come together and flesh the songs out, making comments about lyrics and the bridge and other structural things."

"They're pretty much full songs when we show them to each other, and that's helped our working relationship. It's difficult to co-write. Luckily, we've lived our whole lives together - so, those blows like, 'that lyric doesn't work and needs to be changed' don't hurt as bad."

A song like "Shoot the Lights Out" shows the duo at their best. "The story's always better than the truth/So tell me what you want to see/And I'll give it back to you," Chandra sings as the song opens. "It's about performing and being on stage and feeling misunderstood - people having an image of you but that not being you," Leigh says. "It's about what other people around you building up something that's not necessarily the truth."

Sounds like an accurate depiction of the pratfalls of life in Los Angeles. The girls should know something about that - they moved from Kentucky to southern California eight years ago. The transition was made easier through a support system of college friends who also moved to the area at the same time. Plus, the Watsons had each other, more than most souls who drift that way can count on.

"L.A. can be a really tough place," Leigh says. "But my sister and I built a platform of a lot of great people to keep us grounded and real. We're people in Los Angeles - there are struggles being in a town that's built on people's dreams. Ninety percent of the time, those dreams go up in flames. You definitely feel that glossy picture that everyone paints. Behind it there's a bunch of really sad things. But we've been able to bring part of Kentucky to Los Angeles."

The title track to the new EP speaks to that. It endorses the most southern idea of them all - that hospitality never goes out of style. "'Southern Manners' is a song that encompasses where we come from," Leigh states. "When someone comes over to your house, you make sure that they're fed, and they have something to drink. People are always telling my sister and I that we can make anyone feel comfortable when they come over - it's that southern hospitality."

"We've tried to transplant that out to L.A. The song's about a relationship, but it's also about having manners, having a good man in your life, the hope that you can have that world no matter where you are. That's a part of us."

So is a homegrown do-it-yourself attitude. The Twins self-released "Southern Manners" and still rely on their mother to handle bookkeeping matters. That grounded attitude - along with analog equipment borrowed from friends and co-producers of "Southern Manners" J. Soda and Russ Pollard - is what gives the album its comfortable, homey feel.

"We just went into a really small studio setting with two of our best friends," Leigh explains. "This record really captures the sound of how we sing live. We got to test out a bunch of microphones to see which ones got the warm, embracing feel that we wanted. My sister and I really got to be a part of the whole recording process, and the album ended up feeling just like we wanted - like it was recorded in the '70s."

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