In a past interview solo pianist Michele McLaughlin talked about how she and her sister refer to really touching music as music that “makes your heart hurt”. The Quebe Sisters song, “Georgia On My Mind” is a great example of music that makes the heart hurt, while simultaneously making the ears cheer with delight.
You’ll hear more about this in the interview, but just know if you’re looking for music that’s a rich and beautiful environment to explore with your ears, there are few better choices than The Quebe Sisters.
We were excited to dig into the backstory of their musicality and the sisters were honest, open and generous with what they shared.
In this conversation we talk about:
- The challenges of starting to sing together after years of only playing fiddle – and the one practice habit that was painful – but hugely effective for helping them improve.
- How exactly they each think about writing and arranging harmony parts and the relationship between ear skills and theory.
- What the “progressive” in “progressive western swing” means and how they’ve been developing their sound for the new record.
We hope you’ll enjoy this peek behind the scenes and into the minds of The Quebe Sisters.
Watch the episode:
Links and Resources
- The Quebe Sister Online
- The Quebe Sisters – “The Quebe Sisters” on Amazon
- The Quebe Sisters – “The Quebe Sisters” on Spotify
- The Quebe Sisters – “The Quebe Sisters” on iTunes
- The Quebe Sisters – “My Love, My Life, My Friend”
- The Quebe Sisters – “Pierce the Blue”
- The Quebe Sisters – “Georgia On My Mind”
- Musicality Now – 100% Emotion, with Michele McLaughlin
- A Cappella for Ear Training: How
- Seth Riggs – “Singing For The Stars”
- Rosanna Eckert – “Singing with Expression: A Guide to Authentic & Adventurous Song Interpretation”
- Ray Price – “Night Life”
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Grace: Hi, I’m Grace.
Sophia: I’m Sophia.
Hulda: And I’m Hulda, and we’re the Quebe Sisters, and you’re listening to Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show, Hulda, Sophia, and Grace. It’s really exciting to have you here, and I’m going to try hard not to be too much of a fanboy in this interview. We’re very lucky to have amazing guests on the show, but sometimes it’s a case where I’m just as enthusiastic personally as I am professionally, and this is one of those cases. I was looking back in preparation for this interview, to figure out where did I first come across the Quebe Sisters, and I found an email I had drafted back in 2012 to you, but never sent, which was asking if we could somehow collaborate, because your music was so fantastic, and really good for ear training. And I was running this little company called Easy Ear Training, and I thought it would be so cool if we could do something.
Christopher: Anyway, I’ve never sent it, because I was too nervous, and shy, to email these amazing musicians I was listening to every day. But, the reason I was in that direction was, I did end up featuring some of your music in an article we did all about harmonic ear training, because I was finding, you know, you have some of the best tracks for really paying attention to close harmony, and trying to like, follow a certain voice all the way through the track, or hear how they interrelate, and play together. And anyway, I wrote something about that, and that was really what I was so excited to talk to you about today, and get an insight into the women behind this amazing music that I’ve been enjoying for so many years.
Christopher: So I’m going to try not to gush too much, and be too much of a fanboy, and in that spirit, I’m going to ask my normal first question, to get us off on the right start. Which is, I would love to hear a little bit about where the Quebe Sisters came from, in your music learning, in particular, what were those early years like for you in music?
Sophia: Well, she’s looking at me, so I’ll answer this. By the way, Christopher, we really appreciate you having us on the show.
Sophia: Your whole organization is really cool. Like, what you’re all about. So, with that being said, I’ll try to give you kind of a brief, you know, quick outline of where we got started, and how we are here today.
Sophia: We… You know, we went to a fiddle contest, not really knowing much about fiddling or anything, in North Texas. It was at the North Texas State Fair, and we heard… You know we heard other kids our age playing, and we had been playing the violin for what… What do y’all think, maybe like six months? Maybe?
Grace: Oh it was around a year.
Hulda: It was around a year.
Sophia: Something like that. We were doing the Suzuki Method, which is really great for ear training, especially in the beginning. You know, and…
Hulda: We honestly really just did the ear training. And y’all read a little bit, but I honestly didn’t really.
Sophia: Yeah. It was more of just like, “This note is moving up, and this one’s moving down.” But, I can hear… You know, we just listened to the recordings a lot. And so I think that method’s really great for getting a young musician started with getting their ears going. And so, we just went to check out the fiddle contest, and you know, we were really impressed by like, other kids and other adults like playing, you know, these cool tunes on the same instrument that we played, and so we went and started taking some lessons, and it sort of snowballed from there. You know, with fiddling, and fiddle contests, and-
Sophia: Then playing together. Yeah, and yeah.
Christopher: And… For those in our audience who maybe aren’t country aficionados, or folk aficionados, they maybe be wondering, how is it the same instrument, violin and fiddle? Are they different, are they the same? Could you just explain what a fiddle contest was versus a violin competition, maybe?
Sophia: Yeah, yes.
Hulda: Yeah, that’s a good question.
Grace: Well, they’re generally really casual, and fun kind of things. A lot of them are outdoors, and it’s just… They’ll have age groups, so they’ll have kids age groups, and then they’ll have adult groups, and then they’ll you know, just throughout the day, they go through those groups. You play a breakdown, a waltz, and a tune of choice. So you play a variety of different styles of Texas style fiddling. And then, that is for Texas style fiddle contests. There’s old time fiddle contests, different styles of fiddle contests, and, you just compete and then have fun visiting with your friends.
Hulda: Mm-hmm. There’s a lot of jamming and stuff that happens-
Hulda: You know, afterwards, and at night, and so that’s a lot of the culture of fiddle contests. And contests have changed, you know, a lot over the years, but, yeah that’s still a big part of it. So.
Hulda: That’s kind of our first introduction to music, and musicians, was contests.
Christopher: Interesting. Okay, so you were able to see this violin that you guys had been playing, played in presumably quite a different way than the Suzuki tapes had been demonstrating.
Christopher: And were you taking part at that stage? Or you just went, and you were inspired?
Sophia: We just went, and we were just… Well-
Grace: We just went in listening.
Sophia: Yeah, we just went and listened. When we heard everybody playing, we’re like, “No. Not, we’re not entering the contest. We don’t know what we’re doing.” But we, we just hung out, and we were in the audience.
Sophia: Soaked it in, you know?
Christopher: And one thing I’m always curious about is the kind of home environment musicians are coming from, if there’s some people are born into musical families, that expected them to go on and become pros, others, not at all. It sounds like the three of you were all learning violin at the same time.
Hulda: We did, yeah, you know, usually it would be like the oldest starts, and then the middle, and the youngest, and all that. But, no, we started on the same day, playing Suzuki Method, and then we also started taking fiddle lessons on the same day, and we would always just… We didn’t take a ton of lessons in the beginning, because we lived a ways from our teacher, so we would just go like once a month. Well we would all sit in the same room. So we were all like working on the same material, and that’s obviously how I think the band kind of got started for us, was that, once we had done the contest thing for a while, we were all working and learning on the same music, and so, it made sense for us to start working on arrangements and stuff like that.
Hulda: And so, working on, here’s the lead, here’s the high, here’s the low, and just learning harmony, you know? And making arrangements and then it’s like, once you work up some arrangements, you go play them somewhere. That’s so… We just started playing little gigs around, you know, when we were pretty young, and our first album is an all instrumental album, because we didn’t sing. We just fiddled. So.
Sophia: That was pre-vocals.
Hulda: That was pre-vocals, yeah. I think we recorded that… What year did we record that, Grace?
Hulda: Yeah, so I would’ve been 12.
Christopher: Amazing. And, what you just described today, you know, the lessons together, the figuring some things out by ear, the getting into arranging three part harmony so early on in your instrument learning, is that normal in that context of learning fiddle in kind of a Texas country style? Or was that unusual?
Sophia: I think what was normal about it, in the sense of like, twin fiddling has been something that a lot people would just do, mostly just kind of casual like, sometimes there’s a twin fiddle division at some contests, and so people will quickly like, be like, “Hey, I’m going to play this part, and do you know this song, and I’ll work out a quick harmony.” And it’s not real… It’s not as like…
Hulda: It’s not super competitive, but it’s really fun.
Sophia: But it’s just something fun to just do like a duo with somebody. And then, so in that sense, that has had a foothold in the tradition of fiddle contests and so forth. But, triple fiddles though, is not something you see very often. Where kind of, us, and maybe the Time Jumpers, they have triple fiddles.
Hulda: Occasionally, yeah.
Sophia: Only groups out there that have triple fiddles. And we had triple fiddles-
Grace: Well there’s probably somebody else.
Sophia: I know, I shouldn’t say the only, but, you know, I think we started doing triple fiddles because there were three of us in one house playing the fiddle, so it’s just kind of the natural thing to occur. But we got that from listening to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, because he had triple fiddles. That was really… He had twin fiddles and triple fiddles always in his band. So, that’s where we kind of started picking up that tradition. Yeah.
Christopher: Gotcha. Well, you said something there about how you might just get together with someone in a duo and work out a harmony part on the spot. I definitely want to circle back to in due course and talk about what that actually looks like, but, those early years when you were learning, clearly you got very good very quickly, and I was reading past interviews with you and articles about you, and there were some really interesting comments. There was one from Sherry McKenzie, who I believe was one of your early teachers, is that right?
Christopher: And she said, “Sure, they were talented, but more importantly, they were determined and studious. They aren’t prodigies, they just work really hard.”
Christopher: And I was wondering, is that something you’d agree with? Was it hard work to become as good as you became so quickly?
Grace: I mean, that’s very kind, especially from a teacher, you know, to say, you know. It makes you feel good as a student, for your teacher to say, “You’re working hard.” So, yeah. I think having the three of us to… You know, like Hulda was saying, we all started the same time. And having the three of us all playing together really kept us going. And it kept us inspired and kind of set a pace, you know. So that you know, it’s harder I think when there’s just one kid, and nobody else in the family plays. And no one else in our family plays anything. Our mom is very musically talented, and she wanted to get us started playing an instrument, but…
Hulda: She doesn’t actually play an instrument, but yeah, she does have really good ears.
Grace: She does.
Grace: And, so you know, we can thank her. But, we just, we had each other, so that really kept us going, and kind of motivated us, you know, to push through hard times.
Sophia: Yeah. And yes, I don’t think that we’re musical prodigies or anything.
Hulda: No. Not at all.
Sophia: But, you know, if you enjoy it, and you like, are into something, you can learn almost anything.
Sophia: That’s kind of how I look at it. Yeah.
Christopher: Interesting. And, that’s certainly something that’s come through when I’ve watched you guys being interviewed, or read about you, is that you know, you weren’t driven by wanting to become pop stars, or pass exams, or get into a conservatory. You were studious in those years because it sounds like you genuinely really were thrilled by what you were learning.
Hulda: It was the late 1990s and early 2000s, fiddle wasn’t like the most popular thing, so…
Sophia: You have to be into it.
Hulda: You have to kind of be into it to want to do it.
Sophia: You know.
Hulda: It’s actually a lot, you know, with like acoustic music and the resurgence of it coming out, you know, starting with like bluegrass getting popular, like in the early 2000s, mid 2000s, and kind of bubbling over. Now, like acoustic music is kind of really coming back, which is cool.
Hulda: But now people are like, “Oh, whoa, you play fiddle, that’s cool.” And I’m like, “Haha. Not as a child, it was not.” So yeah.
Christopher: And you mentioned that you got to recording your first album before vocals really entered the picture. Had you not been performing as vocalists? Or had you literally not been even singing together up until that point?
Grace: We didn’t sing at all, and we didn’t sing together, and it was really… We made our first record that Hulda was mentioning, because we were playing little gigs, and people would say, “Oh, do you have a CD? Do you have any recordings? And we were always like, “No, we don’t.” And enough of our friends and people that liked what we did were saying, “Y’all should record it, y’all should record some stuff.”
Grace: So we did, so that we’d have something to sell at our gigs, and people bought it. So-
Grace: We’re like, “Well, we’ll make another one, I guess.” And… Well, it was actually after that, that we got some encouragement from some great musicians we know, to start singing. And so we practiced singing and really, we just started singing the harmonies that we were already playing on fiddle. And, that helped immensely to already be… Have an ear that was sort of trained for harmony, you know, to listen for parts. When we went to go to start singing, but, we were just… We were terrible.
Grace: We said to ourselves, we’ll sing if we like it, and if we sound good. And, it was really a struggle at first.
Hulda: Neither one of those happened at the beginning.
Grace: So we ended up singing and practicing for a year before we ever sang on stage. And then before we… We went for our first… We had a specific performance in mind, is like, “This is where we’re going to debut our singing, and see how it goes.” So before that, we practicing singing over a sound system. We were already used to playing over it, but, you know, it’s so different hearing yourself back through monitors, or through a PA, that-
Hulda: That’s a whole other story right there.
Grace: Yeah, we-
Hulda: Is just learning how to work as acoustic musicians, on a PA system. But, anyways, I butted in.
Grace: Yeah. So, we sang together for a year before we ever went out in public and sang, and that was really useful. And eventually we… We were like, “You know, I think we like this.”
Sophia: We’re ready for it. Yeah that-
Sophia: That was a big moment for us, and we were like, “Okay. We’re doing this, this is the gig. We’re going to debut the vocals.”
Hulda: Or going to sing.
Christopher: That’s so interesting to hear. So for me, your album Timeless was my first introduction to you, and it is one of my top five albums of all time. Love it. But, from the outset then, I knew you guys as three part harmony singers, and three part harmony fiddlers, and it’s part of the magic of your group, I think, that you do those two things in tracks, and you know, the ear can kind of follow from the voice just to the violins, it’s amazing.
Christopher: But, it’s so fascinating to hear that actually you… The vocals was a late, I mean relatively, to your sound and your skills.
Hulda: Well, you know what, another thing that did inspire us to want to… That kind of carried us through that period where… Because like, Sophia was going to tell a story, I know what story you were going to tell.
Sophia: You can tell it.
Hulda: We have… Because we used to record all of our stuff on tapes, you know, just like tapes in a tape player.
Hulda: And we get those little, cassettes. Thank you, that’s the word. We have our early singing tapes labeled as Wretched Singing Tape Number One, Wretched Singing Tape Number Two, and just goes.
Sophia: We recorded everything.
Hulda: We recorded everything. And it sounds so bad. But anyways, I digress. The thing that honestly really inspired us to sing, is we heard the Mills Brothers.
Sophia: And the Sons of the Pioneers.
Hulda: We heard this… Yeah. We were really into the Sons of the Pioneers, and… But then, I do remember, Grace heard the Mills Brothers first, and I remember her coming home and she goes, “Y’all are going to lose your minds. This group is amazing.”
Hulda: And that, they really did it for us. And they still are, to us, probably the best vocal group that’s ever been.
Sophia: The best harmony.
Hulda: Harmony, vocal group.
Sophia: And family harmony, you know, that, and their arrangements were so… They’re so amazing. And they would imitate instruments with their voices, and…
Hulda: To me, that, the imitation thing that they did, was just like an added bonus. But they were incredible just as musicians. But, I digress. But that really is what got us to… Into singing outside of people saying, “Y’all should sing.” So.
Hulda: And that was a big factor for… I remember for me-
Sophia: An inspiration.
Christopher: Gotcha. And, I definitely want to come back and ask you, what changed between Wretched Singing Tape Number One, and your first recorded album, and you’re at the height of your career now. Or hopefully, you know, on the upward trajectory. But I’m curious, so I said to you before we hit record, it’s a bit funny for me to get to talk to you, because I know your voices so well, and I’ve listened to you so much, but I’ve not had names to attach to each of the voices. You know, I never had one of your physical CDs to have liner notes, and know who was singing the lead, or that kind of thing, I don’t know if those are even a thing anymore.
Christopher: But, in kind of prepping for this interview, I think I’ve sleuthed out, and I think, tell me if I’m wrong. I think Grace, as the oldest, you tend to sing the lowest part, and Hulda, as the youngest, you tend to sing the highest part. And was that true on fiddle, and it then came across to voice? How true is that, as a consistent thing? I’m just curious, because I’ve followed your voices and clearly, you said you start out by singing your fiddle parts in harmony. What role do each of you play in the sense of that harmony?
Grace: When we were just playing instrumentally, and still to this day when we do and instrumental, we don’t have to stick to a specific harmony part. We switch it around intentionally when we work up a song, just so that we have some variety in our lives. But when we started singing, that kind of changed things for us, and you’re exactly right. I sang the low part, Hulda sang the lead, so by default Sophia sang… I mean Hulda sang the high parts, so by default Sophia was the lead singer. And we did that for years and years, and it’s only been in our most recent arrangements, and on our new record, that Hulda and I are singing lead parts.
Sophia: That’s great.
Grace: And these days, I… You know, as adults now, my voice, my speaking voice is actually higher, and Hulda’s is actually lower. So, as soon as I get my high voice, you know, vocal chops, in shape, Hulda will turn over some of her parts to me.
Hulda: We’re slowly transitioning right now.
Grace: Yeah. So we’ll probably end up singing those part… You know, like switching, and have Sophia singing more harmonies going forward. But, for now, we kind of share everything a little bit.
Christopher: Interesting. And I’m really curious to know… I realize to you it’s probably obvious and you take it for granted, but if we go back to that time, maybe the first year or so when you were starting to work on vocal harmony, what did the practicing for that look like? What kinds of things were you listening for, or realizing, you know, you thought sounded wretched? What kind of things was it.
Sophia: Well I’ll tackle that one.
Hulda: To start, tell him about Seth Riggs.
Sophia: Oh, of course.
Sophia: Okay, so the first phase of our vocals, we didn’t know anything. Our fiddle teacher is just… He sings too, but he’s not like singer per se. He’s more of an instrumentalist. But he sort of coached us some in vocals but-
Grace: Then we went to Rosanna.
Hulda: Well honestly what we were doing with vocals in the very beginning, especially the Wretched Singing Tapes, we were honestly just imitating… Trying to just listen to the people we liked, and imitate them.
Hulda: And, you know, we just-
Grace: Didn’t have vocal techniques, so we’d run out of air, and we would, you know, sing too loud, and we just didn’t know.
Grace: But you learn, if you just open your mouths and start singing, you’ll figure things out.
Hulda: So a lot of those early years for us, was just figuring it out. But, actually our bass player at the time, Drew Phelps, he was talking to us, and he was like, “Y’all should go, take a lesson.” Which, we’re so… We’re so lucky that we have the University of North Texas, which is a… It’s a school, it’s near us, it’s a college-
Sophia: With a great jazz program.
Hulda: And they have a great jazz program. So they have some really good teachers, we’ve actually found a lot of our bass players through that school. So, we… Yeah, they’re great. But, our bass player, Drew, said, “Hey why don’t y’all go take some lessons from the jazz vocal teacher.” Her name is Rosanna Eckert. And, she-
Sophia: One of the best things that we ever did.
Hulda: One of the best things ever. I’m like, “Drew, thank you.”
Sophia: So for any of you… Like, aspiring vocalists out there, I would say, find, you know, a really good teacher, and go take a couple lessons from them. Because we didn’t know… Like, when we made Timeless, I didn’t even know that you had different ranges in your voice. So I didn’t know there was a head voice, and a mid-range, and then a chest voice. Like, so, in spite of our lack of, you know, understanding of the voice and how it works, and proper technique and all, we were able to get that album made. It was a miracle. But, you know, that’s a great learning curve.
Sophia: You know a lot of musicians, a lot of my favorite singers are not really schooled, per se. But if you follow what Hulda said, you know, if you just really try to emulate the people that you like. And, so I’ll get to the Seth Riggs thing, but, I think the best thing during the Wretched Singing phase, was we just recorded our practices, and we recorded all of our lessons, and we listened back to them.
Sophia: And the thing is, is like, hearing yourself on tape, especially when you’re learning a new skill, is… It can be pretty rough. But, it is liberating, in the sense of like, it tells you the truth, and then you really know how to improve, and what to work on. And then when you hear yourself get a little bit better, like two weeks later, or three months, six months later, you’re like, “Oh, whoa, I can’t believe like how much better I sound than then.”
Sophia: Hearing it back can be discouraging in the moment, for sure.
Sophia: But, it definitely is the key to really improving. And we had to work on things like, you know, just pronunciation. We had the strongest Texas accents, it was just twangville, and we… You know, and that’s cool, but-
Hulda: You don’t want it… We weren’t trying to sift out our accent, we were just trying to make it sound good-
Sophia: Sound good, you know.
Hulda: And mature, and things like that.
Sophia: And so working on things like pronunciation when we went to Rosanna Eckert-
Hulda: Tell him about speech levels.
Sophia: Yes, she was like, “Hey, you should go buy this book by this extremely famous vocal coach named Seth Riggs.” And he’s out in California, and he wrote a book called Singing for the Stars, and it has an accompanying CD.
Hulda: Sounds cheesy, but it’s actually true.
Sophia: Let me tell you, you can buy it on Amazon. It’s cheap. The book is one of the best vocal technique books, it has… It’s a complete program from A to Z of just like, getting your voice, you know, trying to learn how to have a mixed voice, getting your ranges balanced, just basic little vocal techniques and things that really help. And, that was just immensely huge for us.
Grace: And then tell him about going to
Sophia: Oh my goodness. One day-
Hulda: Well you have to tell Seth’s accolades. He was Michael Jackson’s vocal coach forever. And he… He…
Sophia: He worked with Stevie Wonder.
Hulda: Stevie Wonder.
Sophia: And like, so-
Hulda: Natalie Cole.
Hulda: Every, literally when it says Singing for the Stars, he truly was the vocal coach for stars. He was incredible.
Sophia: Oh. Grace want me to tell this story, that I… We had a gig out in LA, and so, I thought, “You know what? I want to see if I can get a lesson with Seth Riggs.” And he was 82 at the time, but he was still teaching, and I thought, “Oh my goodness how incredible.”
Grace: He may still be teaching.
Sophia: He might be.
Hulda: He probably is.
Sophia: But he has the fountain of youth or something going on. But, I picked up the phone one morning, and you know, it’s two hours earlier from Texas, to California. And he answered the phone. He was in his office, and he has a separate office in his backyard, beautiful place, and he just picked up the phone, and I talked… I almost just passed out. It was Seth Riggs on the phone. And we set up a lesson, and we had an hour with him, and it was incredible. He ran us through our vocal ranges, talked to us about, you know, proper pronunciation, and bridging your voice breaks, and…
Hulda: One of the best hours ever of instruction.
Hulda: He’s incredible.
Sophia: So, that was immensely helpful.
Hulda: Yeah. And we’re still… caveat. We’re still learning all of these technique things, and-
Sophia: Oh sure.
Hulda: Especially with us trying to switch parts and different things, you know, where some of our ranges, like me, sometimes I tend to get stuck in head voice too much.
Grace: I get stuck in chest sometimes.
Hulda: And then sometimes Grace gets too stuck in chest. So she and I are working on stretching our mixes now, so, you know, there’s stuff on our new record that you know, we took chances and sang things that we were kind of out of our comfort zones, if you will. And so that was… vocally, that was a big challenge for us, for our latest record. And we were… We’re really happy with how it came out, but we… You know, we… Of course we always listen back and we’re like, “The next one’s going to be better.” So, lots of practice.
Christopher: Fantastic. And I’m curious to know, you said you took some lessons with a jazz vocal teacher. Some people would see jazz and country as almost polar opposites in terms of style. Why a jazz vocal teacher?
Grace: Really, we already knew stylistically what songs we wanted… What we wanted our songs to sound like. So, we honestly went for technique lessons, and our teacher that Sophia was mentioning, Rosanna Eckert, is fantastic.
Hulda: She actually just wrote a book, too.
Grace: Yeah she did.
Grace: And, so she was… Just helped us with technique, because the technique, no matter what you’re singing, you know, will help you. So, really it was, if you have a good technique thing, you can just do… Plug it in where you need it.
Hulda: Mm-hmm. That’s what she was teaching us.
Sophia: We never learned any songs, we sang our own songs when going to lessons and stuff, and she was just like, “What do you want to work on?” And so-
Sophia: That’s what we did.
Hulda: I think that’s what’s really special about the speech level singing technique, is exactly what Grace said. It’s not genre specific, and we were wanting to find a teacher that could help us with our genres, but we didn’t know a lot of people that specialize in the music of the Sons of the Pioneers.
Hulda: So, yeah. Anyways.
Christopher: Gotcha. And, if you don’t mind me asking, how did a trio of fairly young women put all of that together? Clearly you were studious and diligent, but, you know, you were choosing repertoire, you were learning fiddle, and improving, you were arranging things, you were learning to sing as well as fiddle at a top level, you were, I think already touring quite a lot. Did you have like a strong manager who was helping make you stay organized? Because I know at that age, I was not… I would not have been capable of half of that.
Grace: I mean we did, the three of us didn’t have like, a goal of like starting a band when we started playing. We were just playing music, and that was just part of our daily life. And it was really just because like, Hulda and Sophia were saying, we took lessons together, and we would sit in on each other’s lesson part of that. And, so we kind of stayed up to speed, and then our teacher was like, “You know, why don’t y’all learn something in harmony? That’d be fun.” And we’re like, “Yeah, that sounds fun.”
Grace: So we started playing together, and it really was our teacher, Joey McKenzie, who was, you know, had it in his mind like, this would be a good song as a next song to learn. This next song that we’ll work out, will teach you this next skill. And so, those kind of things. It was really his thinking ahead, and being like, “This will build on this.” And then, helping us, you know, go out and play. He would play with us, as you know, and he played in our band for years. So it was really him that got us going.
Sophia: And he did our arrangements for us while we were… While he was in the band and everything.
Grace: But we did it-
Hulda: It was collaborative.
Grace: We learned because we did it during our lessons.
Grace: So, he would work out stuff, and we would learn it, and then he would work out another part. So we really learned just by watching and doing it with him, how that works.
Hulda: And I think for people that aren’t, you know, students, because everybody’s different and not everyone has access to a great teacher, or you can’t afford it, you know? There’s elements of those things at play. But I think if you really do want to study music, being able to find people just to play with, that are, maybe, you know, little bit better than you, or a lot better than you. And, people that maybe they’re not exactly into your style of music, but at least you can play together, and you know, bounce things off each other and learn. Because, you know, not everyone has access to a teacher.
Hulda: But for us, I think also a big thing to add onto what Grace said, is they really introduce us to a lot of different music. And that is… That, honestly, is probably the biggest thing that, looking back, I’m like, “Well how did we get into these styles of music?” Because, our family didn’t play music. You know, our mom liked music, but it wasn’t like a huge thing in our household.
Hulda: So it wasn’t like, you know, our parents had some amazing record collection, and we found all this stuff. But it was really our teacher just going, “Well, you like fiddle, you like fiddle music. Why don’t you listen to western swing? Why don’t you listen to swing music? Why don’t you listen to some jazz? Why don’t you listen to some country?”
Hulda: I remember we had a bass player, this guy that was playing bass with us, who’s really nice, and his name was Mike Grimes. He’s such a sweetheart. But, he introduced us to the Beatles. He was like, “I think you girls would like this record. Here’s Sergeant Pepper’s.”
Hulda: We were just like, “What?”
Sophia: This is awesome.
Hulda: Is this? I remember we went into our lesson, and we were like, “Hey, Joey, Sherry, have you heard of this band called the Beatles?”
Hulda: And I just remember the looks on their faces, were like, “Yeah. Yes, we have.”
Hulda: “They’re really good.” And the obsession began from there, with like, not only listening to American roots music, but like listening to you know, rock and roll, and…
Sophia: We were listening to Ella Fitzgerald, too, early on.
Hulda: They really did curate and introduce us to people. Like Sherry was the one that pulled out the Mills Brothers and was like, “You would like this.”
Sophia: They burned off CDs and they would give us. Now I know-
Hulda: We’re not supposed to do that.
Sophia: Well, just you know, as good-
Hulda: They did, they would rip records, and take records that’s like recordings that you can’t find, or you know, this is also early 2000s, so stuff wasn’t as accessible.
Sophia: Well, when I mean burned off CDs, I’m saying like, take, make compilation CDs of like, this is the best of George Jones, or this is the best of like, you know, the Sons of the Pioneers, or, Fair and Young. And so, we got you know, a catalog of music as young musicians just learning, soaking things in, that really I think set us up for just developing your ear, and I think it’s also really important to listen to kind of, really try to listen to kind of the highest quality of whatever music is available in that genre that you’re interested in. Because, whatever you listen to really does… It seeps into you, and it’s going to come out in your playing. So it’s just sort of like…
Hulda: It’s building your taste.
Sophia: It’s building your taste. It’s really important just to build good taste, and i think that’s what you were saying, you know? They really introduced us to a lot of great music, and that still-
Grace: That shaped us.
Christopher: That’s so interesting to hear, and I love that you mentioned the Beatles there. We did a series of episodes on this show earlier this year all about the Beatles, where I interviewed like the world’s top experts on the Beatles to try and figure out, like, where did these aliens come from? And how were they so incredible?
Christopher: And I think you’d be pleased to hear, like if I had to sum up in one line, the conclusion of that series, it was, they spent five years exposing themselves to all kinds of different music, and getting incredible ears, and everything kind of followed from there. And it sounds like you had a similar experience there, where you weren’t just… Because Joey, I believe, was like a champion, multi time champion fiddle player, right? World champion. So it wasn’t just that you had an amazing teacher, it was also that they were exposing you in this way, to a much broader range than just the style you knew you wanted to do.
Hulda: And then, once you know, once the internet entered our home, and our… We had a computer, and then it was like, “Oh, well, let’s start what we really do.” And honestly, literally this is what I do today. Whenever I get into an artist, we all three do this, is you get into somebody, you hear a song, and then you’re like, “Oh, I love this.”
Hulda: Well I go to Wikipedia, and I read who are their influences, who do they talk about. And then it’s just backtracking, because that’s how we found the Boswell Sisters. I remember we were listening to Ella Fitzgerald, and I Googled her, and she said one of her favorite vocalists was Connie Boswell. Which, the Boswell Sisters, for your listeners and viewers, they were also a three sister sibling act. And they were really early in the days of early jazz, and so… But their arranging was very progressive. So-
Sophia: Vocal wise for sure.
Hulda: Vocal wise for sure. And they were great vocalists. So anyways, Connie Boswell was a huge influence on Ella. So I was like, “Well of course, I’m going to go listen to Connie.” So, that’s what we did, and I still do that to this day. I’m… Yeah. It’s… That’s the never ending fun of the internet.
Christopher: That is awesome. The Quebe Sisters were how I discovered the Andrews Sisters, was how I discovered the Boswell Sisters, so that’s awesome.
Sophia: Wow cool. See? Yeah.
Christopher: I’d love to talk a bit about your style then. So you were immersed in this world of Texas style fiddling, and being exposed to all kinds of different music. And these days, I believe you would describe your style as progressive western swing. Can you explain for the listener, what that means? What kind of music are we talking about? Because I’m sure by this point, if they haven’t already run off to QuebeSisters.com to hear, they’re wondering, like, well what does this all sound like?
Grace: Well, the reason we give that moniker to what we do, is because I feel like what we’re doing in our band, is really keeping alive the tradition that was really started by Bob Wills, and that is he took everything that was presently around him, and all of his influences, and put them together. And, so today, if we’re really going to be authentic to western swing, you have to keep bringing in. And we’ve spent many years listening, and working to play stylistically correct, but then, we want to not just play those old songs exactly in the same way, or only play those old songs, because that’s not stylistically what they were doing. That makes the style into a museum piece, and, if we want it to be alive in the future, which, we love western swing, we do. So we want to keep bringing stuff in, we want to keep… We want to be just like they were, which is, where are we right now, and what are our influences?
Hulda: We want to be relatable today.
Grace: Play from our roots, and then bring stuff in, and that’s why it was popular then, it was pop music of it’s time. And so, I mean, I think the way to keep it alive is it should be, you know, flourishing right now. So we want to be exactly like them. And, because there is a lot of, I would say a lot of recordings out there in the western swing category, we just want to kind of give ourselves a bit of differentiation, or a bit of a explanation, for folks that might think western swing, and just think, “Oh I’m only going to hear Bob Wills arrangements, or something.” To kind of give them a heads up. Hey, you are going to hear that, I mean obviously we play triple fiddles. But-
Grace: You’re also going to hear us bringing in new stuff, and keeping it, trying to keep it fresh.
Sophia: New songs, yeah.
Christopher: Gotcha. And for the death metal fans, in out audience, who’ve never heard western swing, what does western swing mean? Like what kind of music are we talking about here? It’s something related to country, clearly, but what would define it?
Hulda: Oh, man.
Sophia: I would say, western swing is… It’s an amalgamation of the blues, folk, for lack of… For like the most broad term, like old time string band.
Hulda: Like early folk. Yeah.
Sophia: Where you… It was just like banjos, and guitars, and that sort of thing. Not bluegrass. Like early, early string band.
Hulda: Like Jimmy Rogers.
Sophia: Early string band kind of music. And then, western swing brought in drums, because it was extremely influenced by the pop music of the day, which was like, swing. It was the big band era, it was like Benny Goodman, and so, they were like the country version of Benny Goodman. Everybody’s… Bob Wills actually wanted to call it country jazz, and it got dubbed western swing, and that name has stuck.
Sophia: But, it was basically swing music played on country instruments, and it was a mixture between hard percussion like the big bands had, acoustic string instruments and electrified instruments. Which, was something that had never really been blended together. So like the steel guitar kind of got its…
Hulda: Hawaiian music got it… Was brought in-
Hulda: Because they were musicians that went to war, and they traveled across different places, and they found the steel guitar, and you know, stationed in Hawaii and different things like that. And so they brought that back. Guitar players started playing steel guitar. So that’s a huge… And one day, we would love to have a steel guitar in our band. It’s kind of… That might be a next step for us, but…
Grace: But back to western swing, there’s a couple of genres she missed. So, there’s also western music.
Sophia: That’s true.
Grace: You mentioned swing music. I feel like that a big influence-
Sophia: Dixieland. Blues, I did mention blues.
Grace: A big influence on western swing is just geographically where it’s located. There’s a lot of cool Spanish tunes in the music, too, and there’s a lot influence, so you hear like Spanish two-step…
Sophia: Mariachi tunes, like-
Grace: Like Jesse Polka. All of those are… They’re in Texas style fiddling, and they’re also in western swing. So there’s a big influence of that, as well. So they took their regional, and then they took whatever they heard on records, and just stuffed it all in there.
Hulda: Mm-hmm. It’s really truly like a melting pot. Which is kind of funny, because rock and roll did kind of kill western swing, as far as the popularity of it, because everyone heard rock and roll, and they went into that, and the dance style changed, because western swing is basically, at the end of the day-
Grace: It’s dance music.
Hulda: It’s dance music. Just like all the other styles that they were mentioning, are all dance styles. So, but, that’s kind of, the dance style changed, and I was actually talking to a friend of mine, his name is Ray Bingham, he’s booked, he’s a booker, and he books tons of people. But-
Sophia: Booking agent.
Hulda: Yeah, he’s a booking agent. Not a booker. That sounds like a… Gambling. But, no, we were just… I was just talking to him, and he goes, “Yeah, you know, when western swing kind of got killed off by rock and roll…” And he kind of lived it, because he’s a little bit older, and so, I just thought that was interesting way of describing like, why it kind of isn’t as popular now. But I feel like we’re… Especially with the way acoustic music is going, it’s a really cool time for us to be a band, because so many people in their own way are kind of… Because everyone has access to everything now, because of the internet, everyone’s kind of throwing different things into their style.
Hulda: So you know, like bluegrass has gotten really progressive. So for us to say we’re a progressive western swing band, is… It’s fun. And I feel like at a lot of festivals and stuff, are being really open-minded, having us, you know, bluegrass festivals are now hiring, get this western swing band to come play. And so, and we fit in at folk festivals, and you know, all kinds of different things. And we played a blues cruise, we played Delbert McClinton’s cruise.
Sophia: That was so fun.
Hulda: And that was so fun, and we’re not like a… We’re not a blues band. So, you know, for them to have us, it just kind of felt like a good validation, that what we’re trying to aspire to do, you know, people are getting excited about, which is cool.
Christopher: It’s so cool to hear about that, and, to me, like country as a genre, where the artists of today are particularly respectful of everyone that’s gone before them, like much more so than you’d see in rock and roll, or pop. Like there’s a real reverence I feel, for the traditions of country, and rightly so. But, it’s so cool to hear that actually that progressive nature, and that melting pot that you guys are bringing to the table, is actually right there in the roots. It’s not that you’re going against the tradition, you’re very much keeping to it.
Sophia: Yeah, they were writing songs, and they weren’t just like, “Oh this is our little pool of repertoire and we’re only going to play out of that.” They were writing songs, and, you know, throwing in new instruments, and shaking things up.
Hulda: I mean Bob Wills was the first person to bring drums on the Grand Ole Opry.
Hulda: And if anyone knows the history of the Grand Ole Opry, it’s like the mother radio show of all country music. And it’s like, wow, so.
Hulda: That kind of sums it up.
Christopher: Awesome, well, I want to hear, maybe some of the specifics or examples of what you guys are bringing to the mix now, when we talk in a moment about your new album. But before we do, I’d love to talk a little bit more about harmony, because we’ve touched on the fact that you guys started out with Joey, your teacher, arranging them with you, arranging the songs, and the harmony parts. But you also made reference to how, you know, at a festival, you might just get together with another fiddle player and figure out some harmony. And I think what our audience would be most curious to know is, how do you guys think about harmony? Are you coming at it, for example, from a very music theory perspective, where you’re thinking about what the chord is, and what the progressions are allowed to be? Are you thinking in terms of intervals? Are you just trusting your ear, and experimenting? What does it look like for you guys to put together a new arrangement?
Hulda: I’m going to let Sophia answer this.
Hulda: Me personally, I am… I do everything by ear. I’m not that educated when it comes to chords and things. I’m actually in the process of learning more about that. It’s not an element of music that comes easily to me, if we’re being real honest. But, all the harmony and chords and stuff, I do, especially because we have been exposed to so much of music, that I just kind of naturally think, and I’m starting now to learn, like, oh, where are my ear naturally goes in arranging. It’s like, “Oh, that’s a common thing in western swing.” Like, we have six chords, and all that stuff. So, that’s me. But they, Sophia and Grace too, can talk more about it. And I’m learning, so I just kind of take a second step to them on this one.
Sophia: Well, so about our harmonies, Hulda kind of gave me the foundation there. We have always just done everything by ear. But over the past few years, I’ve started to like, teach myself some piano, and guitar chords and stuff, so that I can… I think that it’s really important to start to get a grasp of like, the chords that you’re working with, just because it can start to open up new ways to stack harmonies, you know? With, you know, if you put the lead in the middle, which is what we typically do with our vocals, at least, and then have a third above, you know, and maybe a fifth below, that’s often how we stack things, but we’re experimenting now with other ways to stack things.
Sophia: We’re experimenting with harmonies that aren’t necessarily parallel. I call it parallel, I don’t know if that’s the, you know, the textbook term, but it’s basically like, the harmonies follow exactly where the melody is going. But, some songs, you know, just for diversity, we’re doing harmonies that sort of weave in and out of each other. And that’s really beautiful.
Hulda: Playing with octaves, too. Like sometimes-
Hulda: Taking a second harmony, and since Grace and I are trying to switch parts, actually what I’ve been doing in order to kind of take our sound and make it a little less high sounding, because we’re all three with the… Kind a… I guess we all have what you would say soprano voices.
Hulda: So what I’ve done recently on, especially some of our old arrangements, is just take my second harmony, and sing a lower octave of it. And you know, like some of the notes are a little too low, but you know, for a live show, you can ghost one or two notes. But of course, you know, in recordings you can’t do that. But, that’s kind of been a fun thing that I’ve been doing recently.
Sophia: But I think now, it’s… When we’re working on arrangements now, I think what we generally do first is, you know, if we want to do it, let’s say if we want to kind of follow the way we have done it, as far as where our strengths lie, Hulda’s really fast with hearing the high harmony part. You can grab those real quick. Grace is really fast with grabbing the low harmony part. I feel like my ear hears harmony really well, but I’ve sung tons of lead, but one thing I always did, was I always followed everything that my sisters were doing, and kind of like, memorized it along with them, just because I wanted to know, and hear what was going on.
Hulda: Yeah. We can play each other’s parts.
Sophia: Yeah. And so, that you know, that just develops your ears. I think now, when we’re trying to branch out from sort of like, the way we used to always stack our harmonies, sandwich harmony with the lead in the middle, and sort of like the parallel, you know, sometimes it does… Most of the time, we can just let our ears tell us what we want, you know, what we need to do. But sometimes, you run into a spot where there’s several different chord inversions that you could try, and so, our bass player Daniel Parr, and our guitar, Simon Step, you know, they’ll sit there, and they’ll be… They’ll try all kinds of different chords, and when we get to a place with the song, that where, we’re satisfied, and they’re satisfied as the rhythm section, with the chord voicings that they’re using, and choices for the song, then we’ll go, “Okay. Now in this one spot where, there’s several different ways you could do the harmony, now we’ve got the chord nailed down, and, then usually, we just hear what it is. You know, Simon will play, or Dan will play on the piano. He’s a good piano player.
Hulda: Yeah, he is.
Sophia: And if we get stumped though, Dan is actually… He’s a very-
Hulda: He’s real fast at it.
Sophia: Good musician. And he’ll go to the piano, and he’ll be like, “You know, maybe one of you try this note or that note.” But a lot of times we can hear it, even though we might not technically know all the theory behind it.
Sophia: But we’re getting to a point where, just writing off our ears, is holding us back a little bit. So that’s why we’re all trying to learn some theory, and that sort of thing. Because it just can kind of… Ears are the most important thing when it comes to hearing harmony. But the second thing is just a little bit of knowledge-
Hulda: Knowledge is helpful.
Sophia: Of what’s going on, can help just open up more different ways to approach your harmony.
Sophia: And different…
Hulda: Well it was fun for the album.
Sophia: Voice leading and stuff.
Hulda: We did a song called, well Sophia and Dan wrote, and we were kind of all involved with you know, just listening and bouncing back ideas, but it’s called, song called “Load at 7 (Leave at 8)”. It’s an instrumental tune, it’s just fun. And, the inspiration for that song originally was we were just listening to a lot of steel guitar players. And we were like, “Oh it’d be fun to do something that had…” You know, maybe a sound that, you know, we can kind of echo a little bit what a steel guitar would sound like, in the way that we write the song, and in the way that we arrange the harmonies in the parts over it.
Hulda: So, I mean, we had some… We just were… It was basically just riff based arranging. So, we were just kind of playing and coming up with ideas, and we would listen to some recordings, and you know, there’s so many great… That’s a subgenre, of a subgenre, but, instrumental steel guitar music, is really cool.
Grace: It’s cool.
Sophia: That tune was more of like, we wanted to write, Dan and I were like, “Let’s write a western swing instrumental.” So we went and listened to a bunch of stuff, and then we were like, “Well blues form is probably one of the easiest forms to just start humming ideas over.” So we started just like, you know humming things, and you know, just noodling around on our instruments and stuff. And then recording licks and ideas and putting it together. And then we did steel… Some steel guitar stuff.
Sophia: And threw it in there, and, you know, you can just draw. Steel guitar has really weird harmony. Now that, Load at 7 doesn’t have that much weird harmony. But, we did…
Hulda: That was the original idea-
Sophia: Get the inspiration. That’s true.
Hulda: And then it kind of led in to… And it morphed in, which I mean, that’s how all writing and arranging goes.
Sophia: A lot of it is editing. Editing out what doesn’t work. You know? You have to be willing… I love this quote from Paul McCartney, where he was like, “Having a co-writer,” He was talking about John Lennon, he’s like, “You just need somebody to tell you when it’s rubbish.” And I was like, what a great way to look at it. That’s just so true, you know, with your band mates or whatever. So.
Christopher: That is so cool to get an insight into how you guys approach your arranging. And that Wretched Singing Tape Series, sticking in my head, because you said, you know, the ears are the most important thing. And clearly at that point you had an ear for harmony, from playing fiddle, where, you know, the tuning of each note is 100% up to you, and, you know, literally one of my happiest memories in my 20s, is when I first started doing ear training, and my ears started waking up. And I would listen to that Timeless album, and a track like Georgia On My Mind, and I would just be like, “Wow.” But, it was really challenging, because, there are moments where your voices blend so beautifully it can be hard to pick apart the three notes, and to follow just one of them. Or to understand, what’s the relationship between them.
Christopher: And that makes me want to ask like, clearly at that time, you had the ear to be singing the right notes, and getting them in tune, like in a technical sense. But, something we talk about a lot here on the show, is that, you know, music, like really great music making, isn’t just about hitting the right notes at the right time. There’s a lot more to it, and a lot more to the difference between a good performance, and an amazing one. And, I wonder if you can think back, or even think about it now, and the transition you’ve all gone through in terms of your style. What do you listen for? And what have you improved in to go from those earliest days, where you were probably technically correct, but not happy with how it was sounding, to how you sound now?
Hulda: Grace, you got to talk about Duffy.
Grace: Making our recent record, we really wanted to have a great dance feel, and we feel like we’re still striving for that as a band. But, we wanted to find, you know, we wanted to really… We want to be authentic in that respect, because that’s where western swing is, that’s its bedrock, is dance music. And so, we felt like, because people aren’t going out and dancing to music you know, we play you know, concert.
Hulda: Yeah, it’s turned into a concert hall type music.
Grace: And so, it’s not… It’s not the same thing anymore. It’s not the same venues, and so, for us, we’re kind of fish out of water, trying to learn it. It’s not like we just get on bandstand with older musicians and they show us, and we learn, and you know. So we were really fortunate that our bass player, Daniel Parr, like you mentioned, he was doing some research and came across a YouTube comment, mentioning this great drummer named Duffy Jackson. So he started looking him up and found these amazing videos of him playing with Count Basie, and then, we started trying to find where he was, and Dan got in touch with him.
Grace: He lives in Nashville, and, we’ve made several trips out there over the past year to see him. And we sat down with him, and, just learned a wealth of information from him, and to hear him play, he’s still playing amazing, and to hear him play, and to hear his stories about scatting with Ella Fitzgerald, is… It’s amazing. And then, really, but to feel him play, is what… You start to feel, this is what dance music is supposed to feel like when it’s live. And, so that has been a huge influence on our rhythm section, and ourselves as well. We studied it all together just as much. And, but having, like the whole band focusing on that same thing, has been really revolutionary, and we’re still on that road. We feel like we got some of that feel, and like a happiness in our new album. But, it’s not like, pure raging swing music. But, one of these days, hopefully, that people will just get up and start dancing at our shows, because they can’t help it.
Hulda: Yeah, that’s honestly our goal.
Hulda: But, you know what Grace was saying, and what you were asking, you know, talking about, you were saying you know, harmony is more than just notes, and intonation. And for us, with our new arranging, with the songs that we picked, just everything, this kind of shift for us, with this new album, started with us, with the feel thing. And I know it sounds kind of… It’s hard to kind of explain a little bit, but, we’re approaching everything from a feel based mindset, so all of the way that we sing together. We used to be… We used to say things like, “Well, we need to be tight. Well we need to be together, or-”
Sophia: Or you’re dragging-
Hulda: Or you’re dragging, or you’re rushing. And so different things like that. Well, you know the typical things that you would think of that you would need to work on when you’re singing close harmony, of different forms and shapes.
Sophia: Or playing.
Hulda: Or playing.
Hulda: But, you do need to think about some of those things, but, we’re learning, and especially working with Duffy, that, the more you understand about rhythm, that actually the better-
Sophia: The groove.
Hulda: The groove, the better you sing together. But it’s not like, it’s not where… Because we used to do things like, the lead person, we’re going to follow you, as harmony singers. I need to follow whatever Sophia leads. Well now we’re learning that, if Sophia is currently… If she’s in the right pocket, I don’t need to follow her anymore, we will automatically sync up. And so, a lot of our… Just the way that we worked on the album, everything, all of the technical elements, we have put them through the lens of feel, if that makes any sense.
Grace: Specifically the feel that Hulda is talking about, I mean we’re talking about swing feel. We’re talking about a triplet based feel. And, growing up, you know, in a non-dance environment, you know, you just… There are things that’ve been lost, and we’re trying to get those back. Because we miss, when we hear our playing, we miss that, that we feel from the old recordings. So, we… Well I remember one of the most revolutionary things Duffy’s ever told us, was, you know, that the band is syncing, you know, it’s not the one and the three, it’s the lees of a triplet. So, if a triplet’s like, “Do-di-lee”, it’s “Do-di-lee.” So, “Do-di-lee, do-di-lee, do-di-lee, do-di-lee.
Grace: Yeah, so, it’s like this moving thing, so you can have like, the low end has this continuity to it, and the one can move. It’s not a metronomic thing, so, if you’re going to try to do swing music, what the whole band is anchoring on, is like the lee.
Sophia: The and.
Grace: The and of the triplet. One and a two, and a three. So-
Sophia: So I guess for the listeners, if this sounds like gibberish, it would be like, if you have like a bar of rhythm, so like every… A quarter note would be like, one, two, three, four. If you think of the ands, but you swing them, it’s like, a one, a two, a three, a four, a one. And the inside of that, is the triplet. So, a do-di-lee, do-di-lee, do-di-lee, do-di-lee, do. And so Duffy just was giving us these basic things. We don’t feel like we have it down yet, but it just… If you go back to like, tying all of this in to like what you’re listening for, and then Grace, I didn’t want to hijack your story, you can go back to that. But, it really… Learning this stuff has changed how we listen to music.
Grace: And how we talk about it.
Sophia: Listen to each other while we’re playing with each other.
Grace: Yes. So it’s really influenced-
Hulda: It’s a lot more fun way to practice.
Grace: The vocabulary that we use, as a band.
Sophia: It’s kind of more simple.
Grace: It’s been really fun, and we’ve all done it together, which I feel like is one of the reasons why we were able to go in the studio. It was also part of the reason we did this. We had a goal to go in and record all together in one room, and we were so fortunate to find a studio where… In Austin.
Sophia: So great.
Grace: It’s an amazing place, and, they… All their gear, everything, nothing that we used in the whole session, I think is any newer than like the 40s. It’s all amazing vintage gear. And so, there… Obviously it’s going to come out sounding like an old record, but in order for it to feel like an old record-
Hulda: We had to play.
Grace: Yeah, in order for us to be able to do it all together in one room, the whole band had to be like focused on feeling stuff the same way. So we’ve all been doing this together, and growing, and that’s been really fun.
Sophia: Yeah. And as you… I feel like as you start to be more aware of feel, and when we say feel, we’re talking about, how does it make you feel when you listen to like your favorite records. One of my favorite songs that we were listening to for inspiration, on… I’ll jump back to, or you could tell them about like, the song list that we had for…
Hulda: Oh yeah, where is that?
Sophia: But, jumping back-
Hulda: I need to get that.
Sophia: To kind of what Hulda was saying, all the songs that we listened to for inspiration, particularly there’s this one tune called Moanin’. That was written by this great jazz piano player named Bobby Timmons. And, that recording is with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. And that recording of Moanin’ is so great. And we listened to that a lot, because it helped us get the feel for one of the songs that we were doing, Lullaby of the Leaves. And, we’re nowhere as good as Art Blakey and his band, but, you know, you can dream, right? You know?
Sophia: And, but we listened to that, and we would sit there, and we would just groove before we started the song. And you start to feel like… You don’t try to make your body move, you just let your body move to the music, however it wants to move to the music. And then, you pick up your instrument, and you count off the song, and you try to just keep that same feeling going. Because often, we realized, and we started to play, our attentions, and our efforts would go into trying to execute the song. You have all these desires, and you know, how you want it to sound and I’m worried I’m going to-
Hulda: You think about performance related stuff.
Sophia: Yeah. And you get away from like the pure flow of the music coming out, and you actually hinder your own groove. And so, we used a lot of these songs to try to… As a little, because we feel like we’re-
Grace: Like a springboard.
Sophia: Beginners at it.
Hulda: Like a springboard, yeah.
Sophia: It’s sort of like a little runway, to get you going. And I think, it’s not only a really fun way to practice, and it’s inspiring, but, it really helps you tap in to the real artistry of what’s going on beneath all of the mechanics of you know, just playing the song, and trying to be in tune, and stuff like that, you know.
Christopher: Fantastic. I… I’m sure our audience are already convinced to run off to QuebeSisters.com and or Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, wherever they can buy the new album, which is self titled, The Quebe Sisters. But I wonder if we can just tell them a little bit more to whet their appetite. You know, if they’re in the car driving, and they can’t do that right now, let’s get them even more excited. And it was really cool to hear a little bit of the story behind Load at 7 (Leave at 8). Are there any other kind of origin stories of the songs, or songs that demonstrate how you guys are bringing a new flare to western swing, or anything like that?
Hulda: Yeah. The album, it definitely does have a diverse kind of song list on it. One song was written by Jesse Harris, great songwriter. He’s wrote for Nora Jones, Willie Nelson supported his stuff. So he sent us some tunes, and it’s called Always Seem to Get Things Wrong. It was not a western swing tune, it was just a singer songwriter, I mean you can go pull it up on Spotify, and listen to Willie’s version of it. But, we heard it, and we said, “Yeah. This could… We could turn this into something that’s a western swing tune.” So, that was fun for us, that was new.
Hulda: Lullaby of the Leaves is a swing tune, it… So, but we-
Sophia: An old jazz tune.
Hulda: Like an old jazz tune. But we did it, you know, a little bit more western swing feel. The original… There’s, we have some originals on the album. One of them was, a tune you wrote My Love, My Life, My Friend. It’s a great song, and Sophia just wrote it, and you brought it to the table, you were playing guitar. And, it was just kind of… it sounded just like a country tune. Like maybe-
Sophia: Just a simple country tune.
Hulda: Yeah, just a simple country tune, and I… It was either me, or it might’ve been Grace, I don’t remember, but, we said, “Why don’t you turn that into a country shuffle?” Because shuffle music, we actually… Shuffle music was probably my favorite genre of as a child growing up. And I’m being for real.
Sophia: You’ve got to tell him what shuffle music is.
Hulda: Shuffle music is like Ray Price. That is, Ray Price, Night Life.
Sophia: Or country shuffle.
Hulda: Country shuffle.
Sophia: There’s jazz shuffle, and blues shuffle.
Grace: That’s a great country shuffle right there.
Hulda: Yeah, Ray Price, Night Life album, that’s a great country shuffle album. There are a lot of country shuffle artists. Ray Price being probably the pinnacle, you know, there’s Faron Young, there’s all these different artists. But we loved Johnny Paycheck. Love Paycheck. And, we listened to them a lot, because they have a lot of fiddling. There’s a great fiddle player, his name is Tommy Jackson, and, he kind of started the country shuffle fiddling. And it was this single note-
Hulda: Kind of long bow fiddling. If you’re really nerdy about styles, it’s different than Texas style. It’s different than old time.
Sophia: Or western swing.
Hulda: Or western swing. It is it’s own thing. We really got into that. But triple fiddles are also popular in country shuffle music. So, we also, we were, when we first started out playing, I think the… One more time?
Hulda: We played shuffles really early on. Because we’ve always liked shuffles. So when Sophia brought that tune at the table, I was like, “Do it as a shuffle.” And of course Simon and Dan laid down a shuffle beat, and that’s what it turned in to. So.
Sophia: I thought that made it, that really kind of made it a little more interesting. And then, the other… We have three originals on the record, and then the third one is one called Pierce the Blue, that I wrote. And it’s… It’s kind of… It actually is a waltz. I didn’t realize that until after it was written, and then I realized that it was actually a waltz, but, it’s more of a… It, I guess it is a country tune, but it doesn’t really fall in that vein so much. It more has a little bit of, what would y’all say?
Hulda: It’s a little more singer songwriter-y.
Sophia: Yeah, it has a little bit of that element because, you know, I probably was listening to some Bob Dylan at the time, or something like that. And it has very simple-
Hulda: We listened to a lot of Willie Nelson songs, songwriting, which is like-
Sophia: Oh yeah. We love(Willie Nelson).
Hulda: The pinnacle of country singer songwriter music. I mean, like, the IRS Tapes is one of my favorite albums. It’s just him and a guitar, and it’s devastatingly gorgeous.
Sophia: I think that that, like listening to Willie and his songwriting, really influenced like, that tune, too. That, thank you for remembering that. But then, you know, I… I wasn’t fully satisfied with all the lyrics, and so, Grace, you know, I kind of… We had a little writing sesh and she just threw me a bunch of really great ideas and we built, you know, some lyrics off of that, that finished the song out. So, that’s our… That’s what you were saying.
Grace: That’s the story of it.
Hulda: That’s the story of it.
Christopher: Fantastic. And you have videos, really great videos for My Love, My Life, My Friend, and Pierce the Blue on YouTube now, that I would definitely recommend people check out, because like I said, you know I… I was about to say “I grew up listening to your music”, I’m not sure that’s quite true, it was a bit more recent than that! But, I listened to your music mostly just pure audio, but now we have YouTube, you can go and watch the Quebe Sisters perform.
Christopher: Speaking of which, are you out on tour? I know you’re some of the busiest musicians I’ve come across in times of tour dates. Which, I’m always like kicking myself, you’re in the US, rather than Europe, or I would be there. But, what’s coming up for you apart from the very exciting album release?
Hulda: I mean, we’re touring in Texas right now. We’re going to be going to the East Coast some this fall, we’re going out to California, we actually just booked a bunch of dates in California. Just touring everywhere. New Mexico, Arizona…
Grace: We’re going to be on a cruise in January? That’ll be fun.
Hulda: January, yeah. The Cayamo? Am I saying it right?
Hulda: Cayamo Cruise, that’s going to be really fun if anybody wants to splurge and come on a cruise with us. It is going to be really fun.
Sophia: I mean there’s so many musicians on that cruise, of all genres.
Hulda: Oh, it’s going to be great.
Sophia: It’s going to be really cool.
Grace: So we’re staying busy.
Grace: And we’d love to come back over to your side of the water.
Grace: We have had so much fun touring over in England and Europe, and hopefully we’ll make it back over there.
Sophia: We would love to.
Hulda: It’s a goal. It’s probably… Hopefully within the next couple years we’ll be able to do that for sure.
Christopher: Terrific. Well I will be front and center, clearly, in the audience.
Christopher: Thank you so much, ladies. You have an album coming out tomorrow, I can’t imagine how busy you are, but you’ve made the time today and shared so generously with our audience. So, we’d just, a huge thank you, and a last recommendation for everyone to head to QuebeSisters.com, and of course we’ll have a link in the show notes tonight. To hear the new album, the Quebe Sisters, thank you so much.
Hulda: Thank you so much.
Grace: Thank you so much.
Sophia: Thank you so much.
Hulda: This was fun.
Sophia: We appreciate it, thanks Christopher.