By Brian T. Atkinson, November 2006
usic critics are forever claiming that the Watson Twins are a country group. Yet, fans used to perking up to the sounds of Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or even Uncle Tupelo might curl an eyebrow at the assertion. After all, only a couple songs into the sisters' debut EP, "Southern Manners," it becomes readily apparent that they are as indebted to influences like Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan as they are Lucinda Williams.
Leigh Watson - her sister, Chandra, is the other twin - thinks it's all just a matter of perspective. "It's interesting," she says. "I think that there are songs that we play that are country influenced, and we do play our version of country. I think a lot of people who have been writing about us are indie rock writers, who are used to reviewing records like the Jenny Lewis record or Death Cab for Cutie, and they don't really know how to classify it."
Watson credits her formative years for any hillbilly bent their music takes. "Some of the new songs we've been writing do sound a little more country," she says. "I think more than anything it's just our musical background, growing up in Kentucky. It definitely peeks its head out there, but so do indie rock influences as well and folk music. They've all been combined into this record."
Same could be said for the album that's currently sending the girls around the globe on tour. If their moniker sounds familiar, it's probably because the first time it appeared in a national release the jewel case inside the cover read like this: Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins.
The album, released in January, was called "Rabbit Fur Coat." Lewis, the lead singer of indie darlings Rilo Kiley, gave the Louisville natives a strong boost into the limelight by hiring them for her solo debut and the ensuing tour.
"I met the girls in L.A. through Blake (Sennett, Rilo Kiley's guitarist)," Lewis explains on her website. "I'm just so impressed with their instincts as singers and their relationship to my songs. They were very serious about them."
The three ladies discovered that they share a love of the country music they were raised on. It's how they bonded. "I think the records you first hear as a child are those that stay with you the longest," Lewis told the BBC earlier this year. "I learned how to sing, singing along with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton and Dusty Springfield, and so I think that's what shaped my voice. And my mother was also a singer in Las Vegas - she had a lounge act. "
"These were the records that we shared and listened to on Sundays, making breakfast at home in the Valley. I think they're the dearest to me, the most important. One of the records that we listened to the most was a record by Laura Nyro and Lavelle, and it's a great soul record. That sort of set up with women singing together inspired this and pressed me to ask the Watson Twins to come in on the record."
Leigh explains that the experience of recording and performing with Lewis has been a hugely positive one: "We've been traveling all over the country and to Europe several times. It's definitely taken touring and performing to another level for us. (Lewis) is a very consistent and professional performer, which is what I aspire to be."
"My sister and I want to get to the point in a music career where you've made it be an experience. We've heard a lot on this particular tour with Lewis, 'Wow, you guys really put on a show.' Our response is like, 'Yeah, that's what we're here for.' There's dancing around and costumes, and it's more of a show show. It's made me realize how you can get people in by creating an environment. It's been like going to 'tour school.'"
It would seem, though, that a rigorous touring schedule to essentially promote someone else's music could become a detriment to the Watsons' budding solo - or, more accurately, duo - career. Leigh admits that "Southern Manners" was, in fact, squeezed in around the Lewis' recording schedule. However, the sisters' creative energy made more than the most of their time in the studio.
"The EP was something we did on our own time while we were working with Jenny Lewis on her record, 'Rabbit Fur Coat,' and touring on that," she says. "Doing an EP was all we had time for. We wanted to have the record finished before this year was over. But, originally, it wasn't meant to be anything more than a four-song EP. Then we got into the studio and were having such a great time doing it and bringing more songs to the table. Finally, eight songs into it, the guys were like, 'You have to get out of the studio."
The Watson Twins hope to have a major label help them release a full-length at some point in 2007. Until then, they continue to enjoy the balancing their own career with supporting Lewis.
"I feel like it's all part of the big picture," Leigh says. "My sister and I love working with Jenny, and it hasn't at all gotten to the point where there's any competition between working with Jenny and doing our own thing. They're kind of walking hand in hand with each other. Both elements are exposure. Hopefully, people buy the Jenny Lewis record and wonder what the Watson Twins are like."