Growing up, Laura and Lydia Rogers always felt like outsiders, country music-loving wallflowers in a world that had forgotten its musical roots.
Today they’re known as The Secret Sisters and they’re suddenly cool. Thanks to the help of two of music’s most influential tastemakers – T Bone Burnett and Jack White – they’re the throwback belles of the ball. They released their self-titled debut earlier this fall to universal praise and have found that the insular life Laura described as “a regular ol’ country girl raisin’” growing up outside Muscle Shoals, Ala., wasn’t so bad after all.
“I think growing up it was hard to find people that were our age that we could identify with about music and the importance it played for us,” Laura said. “A lot of that was bounced off each other all these years, so now it’s kind of crazy that we’re on this huge journey that we’re sharing.”
Less than a year ago, Laura, 24, and Lydia, 22, were figuring out what they were going to do with the rest of their lives, when Laura took a big chance. Lydia was still deep in graphic design college coursework and Laura had just wrapped up her degree in music business, but couldn’t find a job.
She read about an open call for singers from producer Dave Cobb in Nashville and thought she’d give it a shot.
“I just did it to step out of my comfort zone,” Laura said. “A hidden secret about me is I had a huge issue with stage fright. Huge. I could literally throw up before I walked on stage. And I thought this would be a good opportunity to get over that.”
She sang a verse and chorus and was sent on her way. Her phone rang a few hours later, and they asked her to come back. She said she had a sister who sings, too. How about bringing her along?
Each sang separately, then got ready to leave.
“So we’re packing up the guitar and walking out the door,” Laura said, “and they’re like, ‘Wait a minute. Do you guys ever sing together?’ We said, ‘Yeah, we do, we can throw something out there for you to hear.’ So completely unrehearsed – we played a song, and you could literally watch their mouths drop as they listened.”
Burnett thinks of it as a Ralph Peer moment. Peer was on a similar sort of fishing trip when he invited musical acts to record for him on a trip to Bristol, Tenn., in 1927. That trip netted The Carter Family, and country music came to be.
When Cobb brought The Secret Sisters’ first songs to Burnett, his reaction was immediate.
“This is the music business behaving as it should and functioning as it should as well,” Burnett said. “The record industry is guilty of all sorts of offenses against humanity as far as I’m concerned, but in this case they’re doing the right thing.”
Burnett was so entranced, he teamed with Universal Republic to open his own imprint, Beladroit Records, to release their album. The sisters harmonize sweetly on two originals and 10 tasteful pop and country covers like George Jones’ “Why Baby Why,” Buck Owens’ “My Heart Skips a Beat” and Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me?”
“They are absolutely hardwired to sound the way they sound,” Burnett said. “There’s no affectation in it at all. That is absolutely the way they sound.”
That sound has kept them busy since they started recording tracks. They have recorded a two-song vinyl 45 for Jack White, landed a “Soundstage” performance that will air on PBS in February, and performed on a major tour opening for Ray LaMontagne and Levon Helm. They will join Willie Nelson’s tour next month and Loretta Lynn’s in the spring. Then they’re off to Europe with LaMontagne.
They’re caught in a whirlwind, one they never imagined existed.
“We didn’t think what we had was anything extra-special because really the people we grew up with, it seemed like to us, could do the same things,” Lydia said. “Like in our church you could probably find 50 other people that could harmonize like we do. But when we presented it, it turns out it is.”
Click here for The Secret Sisters’ website.