The Secret Sisters 2024

Exclusive: The Secret Sisters Talk Going Home and Letting Loose on their New Album, ‘Mind, Man, Medicine’

March 26, 2024 7:54 pm GMT
Last Edited March 27, 2024 3:46 pm GMT

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When Mind, Man, Medicine found Alabama-bred sisters Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle, it was at a time of transformation, a moment of newfound composure and self-assurance for the pair of folk stalwarts. This time around, they had nothing to prove and nothing to chase, so they went back to the beginning, back to the place that raised them, to settle in and make the record that had, in reality, been a long time coming.

Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in their hometown of Muscle Shoals, Mind, Man, Medicine came together with a kind of peace that comes easily when in a familiar setting. There, the songs flowed, the sisters at home in the studio and with themselves.

“I think the thing about songwriting and artistry is that, a lot of times, you just kind of have to write the words and let them be,” Laura told Holler of the record’s creation. “Sitting and nitpicking and analyzing every single thing that you say can be good in certain moments, but for the most part, you write the words, and it's like, ‘Alright, that feels sincere. It feels like what I wanted to say. Now, on to the next one.’”

She adds, “You want the words to mean something, and you want them to have weight. There are certain songs where we do pour over a lyric or find a really clever way to say what we were trying to say. But I feel like for me, at least, I just kind of have to learn to trust and not overanalyze every single thing.”

With several years and a pandemic between their last effort – the 2020 Grammy-nominated Saturn Return – Mind, Man, Medicine found The Secret Sisters reflecting, ruminating on motherhood, relationships and the complexities that come with it all. They tackle heart-gripping subjects with empathy and care, with the unyielding conviction of a mother, sister, daughter and friend.

What results is a dreamy, meditative and patient collection of 11 songs that, ultimately, offer calm amidst the chaos. Hypnotic soundscapes, smoldering grooves, cinematic arias and heady rock numbers all meld into one singular release, the songwriting of which feels like a hand to hold.

“One thing I learned from Chris Thile [mandolinist and singer-songwriter of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers] that really stuck with me is that when you’re making a record, that’s exactly what it is,” Lydia shared. “You’re recording not just the song and the sound, but who you were as a person at that time.”

She continued, “I think that we’re still learning, and I feel like we’re getting better at being at peace with how we say what we want to say.”

In addition to touching on the creation of Mind, Man, Medicine, Laura and Lydia offered an intimate glimpse into their working relationship, discussed collaborating with folk master Ray LaMontange, explained how they take songs from the studio to the stage and more:

On the secret to working with your sibling:

Laura Rogers: “Historically, musical siblings who make a living together don't really get along very well, and a lot of times, they are very much at odds with one another. But for the two of us, I think the thing that has kept us going for as long as we have is that we are related to one another, so there's kind of this holding each other accountable. When one of us is weary, the other one kind of pulls them up again.

“We always joke about like, ‘We can't really break up because we're sisters,’ like our band can't ever really dissolve because we are still sisters at the end of the day. But it takes a lot of patience, and sometimes, I think it just takes time for you to get along with your sibling.

“I can say for sure that, in our 20s, there was a lot more disagreement, fighting and mean words to each other, mostly from me. I was probably the aggressor in the relationship in our 20s. It has leveled out since we've become moms and been married for a while. I guess just with age, we've gotten better about tempering our strong emotions. I mean, we still certainly don't always get along, and we have moments where tempers flare, but it has gotten better.

“I think for us, the secret is just that we really don't know what else we would do with our lives if we weren't making music. We can't envision another career path or starting from scratch in our late 30s, so it's like, ‘Well, this is just what we do, so gotta make it happen.’”

Lydia Slagle: “I think a lot of it we can attribute to the pandemic,being two hours away from each other and being moms. Sometimes you need the distance and the time away to realize what you had and realize the value of it.

“I think we meet in the middle a lot more often than we used to, thankfully. I can't say that will always be the case because we're about to get back on the road, and when you're with anybody for a significant amount of time, you're bound to butt heads, especially when it's someone you're related to and you have a history with. But we've definitely calmed down on that front. We just don't care as much anymore.”

Rogers: “Ultimately, I didn't want to say anything about it because it's cheesy, but we only have each other. We don't have any other siblings, and our parents really raised us to love family and have family as a priority. There's really nothing earthly that is more important than that. It's easy to lose sight of that, but I think that we have had a really good foundation with how our parents taught us.”

On going home to record Mind, Man Medicine:

Slagle: “It was a really long time coming for us to make this record because we grew up in that area and it does have such a musically rich history. We just had never really had an opportunity to record there, which sounds ridiculous, but we always recorded in Seattle, Nashville, LA or New York. But this time around – and I think, most of it, we can say is because we're moms, and we had our parents around to take care of our kids – we just felt like it was time for us to make a record at home. Luckily, we were friends with all these people who agreed to play with us and produce the record. It just felt like just a good moment for us to settle in. I feel like that contributed to how this record turned out sound-wise too. It's just very earthy and grounded, and I think we accomplished that.”

Rogers: “I think you can hear the ease in this record. There's something about being, especially a Southerner, where you are really geographically tied to your place of origin. And for us, it has always felt that way. When we come back home, there's kind of this recentering and grounding feeling of like, ‘This is who we are; this is where we're from. These are the things that matter, this is the music that runs through us and these are our priorities.’

“I think the difference with this record from all the others is that you can hear that we are at ease and relaxed and tapping into that kind of unseen source of peace that we have when we're in familiar territory. And I don't think that it's a bad thing to be in unfamiliar territory. I think that all of our previous records are the way that they are in part because of where they were recorded. But this record’s specific sound can be attributed to the fact that we were so close to the exact geographical location that brought us up as people.

“It felt like the material that we brought to the table, the song subject matter and just where we're at, it all locked in across the board. I don't think that we could have recorded these songs with these subject matters in LA or New York or even Nashville. I think that these songs were specifically meant to be recorded close to home.”

On the “full-circle moment” of working with Ray LaMontagne:

Slagle: “Our very first tour was with Ray LaMontagne in 2010, so we have a history with him. Over the years, he's been so gracious to invite us out for various tours to sing with him. This was actually all Lauren's idea, but as we were making the record, we were trying to think who would be a good voice to feature on one of the songs that made sense. And Laura was like, ‘Wouldn't it be so funny if Ray LaMontagne featured on ‘All the Ways,’’ just like not thinking in a million years it would happen.

“We just threw it out there thinking it wasn't going to happen, and he surprisingly said yes, and it just went from there. It sounds incredible. The song would be really boring without his voice, I think.”

Rogers: “I actually secretly wish he just sang the whole thing. I have loved his voice for so long. I remember the first tour that we did with him. We were not super duper familiar with his music. We knew his bigger songs. And I remember we would listen to his albums on the way to play the shows with him and just be like, ‘Oh, this songwriting and this voice is just next level, like otherworldly, generational artistry.’

“We really didn't give him any suggestions. We were like, ‘Just do what you do. Have fun!’ I'll never forget listening back to when he finally sent in the parts that he had done. We were on the road, and we were listening in the car. We were in traffic trying to concentrate, and I was like, ‘I can't even concentrate on this traffic, because I'm so distracted by how good all of the parts are.’ He did everything that we wanted to hear. And it was just, man, it was such a compliment to have him on that song.”

On loosening their grip:

Slagle: “We wrote the songs at a lot of different times and a lot of different places with a lot of different people. We had inspiration kind of coming in from all sides. And we like a lot of different kinds of music, honestly… We’ve just really been pummeled with all different kinds of styles of music since we were little. I feel like we showcase that a bit more with this record.”

Rogers: “I was worried that the songs were going to sound disjointed. Because of there being so many different styles and influences, I was worried that there would be no cohesion. But I think a lot of that is due to the fact that Ben Tanner and John Paul White were really good at just blurring the lines of all the different styles together in a way that it was like, ‘Oh, there's literally something for almost everyone here.’ But yet, they all sound like they came from the same source.

“I think, years ago, that would have really scared me. In the early days of our career, I was terrified to do anything that was not country or roots Americana. And now, again, maybe it's just getting older and realizing what really matters, but I'm not afraid of that anymore. This record really helped me loosen my grip on that feeling of like, ‘Oh, it's got to sound a certain way, or it's got to be, it's got to fit into one certain box.’ But we don't.

“We don't feel bound by genres and rules and categories in this record, and that's a nice feeling.”

On the art of readying songs for the stage:

Rogers: “I feel a little nervous about sharing these songs, just because I feel like a lot of times when we're getting ready to release a record, a good many of the songs we will road test before. And with this record, we haven't played any shows since before Christmas last year. There's been a three-month gap between playing shows,putting out the record and playing shows for the record. So I'm like, ‘Oh, I hope I remember how to deliver the songs.’

“There's always that anxiety of ‘Is my voice going to carry it the right way? Is it going to have the stamina that it needs to hit the notes?’ Every song is so nuanced in how your voice kind of delivers it… I mean, there's only so much that you can rehearse. You can make sure that the songs sound good when you perform them, but as far as the stories that you tell and the onstage interaction, you really don't know what that's going to be like until you just start doing it.

“I always enjoy the process of getting out there and not only playing the new songs but also coming up with what stories we’re going to share in between. That’s a really big part of our live show: not just playing songs but sharing stories of how the songs came to be, what we were going through at the time, or how the song was recorded. We share tidbits of the behind-the-scenes during the shows.”

Slagle: “It's really going to be interesting for us too to kind of be reworking these songs because there's no way it's going to sound exactly like the record. Sometimes we'll have a band, and sometimes we won't. So hopefully, people will still respond well to the songs, and the songs will hold up with just an acoustic guitar or just a couple of players. But maybe that's the appeal of a live show.

“There are a lot of unknowns, but we’re trying to go forward with open minds and hearts and just be excited and present.”

For more on The Secret Sisters, see below:

Written by Alli Patton
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