Sisters have made a name for themselves in the highly competitive Seattle scene with their ambitious events and athletic approach to music, and their brand new album Drink Champagne is poised to make them break out on a larger level. Impeccably arranged and produced, the lavish album mixes the band’s impressive technical chops with Hall & Oates pop sheen. I had the chance to talk to Andrew Vait and Emily Westman about their background as music school nerds, their affection for the Seattle hip hop scene, why you should drink more champagne and more.
Nick Hanover for Loser City: I’ve been following Sisters since your first EP Diamonds of Gold and something that stands out to me about your new album Drink Champagne is how consistent the style and sound is on this compared to Diamonds of Gold, which I felt was a little more ambitious in terms of trying out different aesthetics. What went into narrowing your sonic approach for this album? Why did you choose to focus on a more ‘80s synth pop style this time around?
Andrew Vait: You know, I think it’s what you would probably anticipate. We just made the decision to go that route. After recording and releasing Diamonds of Gold, we had a limited arsenal of material, and over the course of the ensuing year—we really started honing on the full length after we released Diamonds of Gold—we had amassed a pretty strong collection of songs we had written together. We recorded the “Queer Life” single with [Seattle hip hop artist] Sol’s producers Zillas and they helped with the remix and basically we made the decision to keep toying with the synth pop style of writing and recording, to go with the roots that brought us together, which is a more esoteric ‘80s synth, I don’t know, New Wave vibe.
LC: Yeah, definitely, to me it sounds like you’re working in elements of things like Hall and Oates, Phil Collins, Squeeze, as well as stuff like Human League. Was that an era of music you were always drawn to? Or did it more clearly emerge while you were writing and dabbling in it? I don’t think I picked up on it as an influence as much on Diamonds of Gold.
AV: I think probably the finished product for the full length is probably Emily and I influencing each other more.
Emily Westman: With Diamonds of Gold, we were still at a point where we were bringing our own tunes to the band because we hadn’t written anything together yet. Drink Champagne we wrote almost fully all together, so it feels like one idea rather than scattered, various influences like the first EP.
LC: Right, and you had an interesting trajectory in terms of coming together as collaborators. You both lived out in Miami and gone to music school there together but from what I understand, it took a while before you worked on this project specifically together. I saw that you had previously done things together with the Seattle Rock Orchestra. Did working with such a large ensemble like that influence your own songwriting?
EW: No, I don’t think so because it’s…
AV: We’re playing parts in Seattle Rock Orchestra.
EW: Yeah, it’s not as creative, it’s not a creative project.
AV: Right. Emily is reading a drum chart, I’m reciting somebody else’s song from a vocal standpoint.
EW: It’s like a cover band, but pretty epic.
AV: I would say, even separate from Seattle Rock Orchestra, Emily is an orchestrator of her own volition.
EW: That’s what I studied at school. Being in that world definitely influenced my personal songwriting.
LC: Something I haven’t gotten to personally experience with your band since I live in Austin and you’re in Seattle is that you seem to go all out for your events and do a lot of elaborate performances. For your album release show, for instance, you brought together a bunch of different people from various corners of the Seattle music scene. It’s been fun to watch your social media and see all the collaborations, and things like having champagne drinking parties and epic photoshoots. Where does that aspect of the band come from? When you work on an album are you also strategizing your release plans? Or is more spontaneous?
AV: My wife helps a lot with some of the planning with the promotional rollout because she works in marketing, she works for a big media company.
EW: She’s full of ideas.
AV: Yeah, she has really interesting marketing ideas. You know, one of the things that we decided around the time we were planning to release the record was to choose the direction we wanted to go in for the release and really focus internally on making calculated decisions within our team, which is really just Emily and I and then our manager. We have a team that extends down to LA, like a publishing coordinator and technically a booking agent and some other people, but the core of the team is the three of us here in Seattle. It’s a lot of consultations, a lot of meetings. We got here because we tried a lot of other things that weren’t as focused and didn’t have as clear a vision…
EW: Or were out of our hands…
AV: Right. When we made the decision to control the things we know we can control, we found ourselves with a clearer focus and a clearer vision.
LC: That makes sense. Your music also has what I would say is an opulence to it, both in terms of the music itself and the way you present it, from the sounds to the titles. You utilize a lot of fine art references as well. Is that a deliberate move to stand out from what some people associate with Seattle music, which is a grunginess and working class aesthetic, both with grunge itself and also more modern groups like, say, Fleet Foxes, which has the whole going out to the woods and looking like lumberjacks vibe? Or is it a natural style for you?
EW: That’s also a combination of things, I would say. But on Seattle’s grunge history, that can’t be the only thing we’re known for [laughs]. I like it to be like “We’re here too!” We don’t wear plaid every day.
AV: And we want you to have a really good time.
EW: Yeah, and we want you to drink really good champagne. Even if you can’t afford it.
AV: Treat yourself, it’s okay to treat yourself. Let’s maybe do that together.
EW: We just have this obsession with high quality, which is an aesthetic in some way in Seattle in particular. There’s the scene where everybody is drinking cheap beer and wearing shitty clothes and the music reflects that. And that’s one thing…
AV: There’s a pretty strong dichotomy. We’re now in our thirties and married and we can afford to treat ourselves and the lesson we’ve learned is that you can choose that path at any point. You can choose to kind of splurge on yourself. And that was the impetus behind the name of the record.
EW: And the celebratory nature rather than the somber nature of Seattle that people think is prevalent.
LC: Your mission statement on your Bandcamp page also shows that, with its emphasis on fun and having a good time.
EW: That’s the number one thing people say after they see us live, I would say.
LC: I see you collaborating a lot with artists in the Seattle hip hop scene, and Seattle hip hop in particular seems to have that emphasis on fun as well. You have Porter Ray involved in shows, and you’ve also worked with Sol, do you have any plans to collaborate more directly with that scene in the future? Like with features and guest appearances? And do you think Seattle’s indie and hip hop scenes are more connected than other cities might be?
AV: I can’t speak as far as other cities go, but Seattle’s hip hop community is strong and tightly knit and they know how to organize. They know how to create a scene. I think that’s maybe part of hip hop culture that we’re starting to learn about. I see it every time I go to a hip hop show, there’s a specific scene happening. I think a lot of the hip hop players in Seattle participate in it to some degree or another.
I think we see a larger disorganization with the Seattle indie scene. It doesn’t feel as tightly knit. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve gravitated towards our friends in hip hop, because we want…
EW: We relate to that more artistically.
AV: We don’t really know what our scene is.
EW: It has also felt like an honor to be welcomed into that scene. And aesthetically it makes sense for us to work together.
AV: Just on the production side, on a national level you have Chance the Rapper and Solange and all of the heavies putting out the type of hip hop, like Kendrick and Kanye, that has jazz influences and you don’t hear as much of that in indie rock circles. That’s why when you come across a band like Pickwick and you’re privy to the material they’re working on for their next record, the direction they’re going in is really exciting, that’s why we wanted to work with Galen [Disston], because we shared that bedrock of soul, hip hop-influenced R&B and performance style.
LC: I’ve noticed with your live shows that you try to maintain a specific balance. I saw one writer call it “technically virtuosic,” but still very fun. There was one show review quote that stood out to me, by Jared Brannan: “It’s honestly hard to fathom the compositions these two can generate can be performed with the sum total of eight appendages and two voices.” I liked that because that’s exactly how I feel with your recordings as well. How do you maintain that balance between fun and precision? What are the things you feel makes a show technically impressive but also enjoyable?
AV: I don’t know, I think you just know it when you see it. We just play our instruments the way that we do.
EW: We don’t across a lot of people who have studied music which we did do. So we’re not shy to perform on our instruments at the level we want to be performing at so that’s the natural piece for us, and the show piece is that we’re actually having a good time together.
AV: Right. And I think you can love a band that is clearly not studied in music or music theory and they didn’t go to school, and then you can also appreciate fine musicianship when you see it. The two styles are not mutually exclusive. But from our past, we did study music, we enjoy intellectual harmony.
EW: We’re nerds.
AV: Right, we’re nerds. So when you put two nerds in a room together, you’re bound to get some of that.
LC: Do you feel that being a duo makes it a little easier to be so in sync with each other? You’ve played with larger ensembles and I was wondering how this group compares to those larger entities.
AV: Well, organization is certainly a lot easier [laughs]. Making decisions on a consistent basis is easier.
EW: And the things that make us limited as a duo are also the things that make us as creative as we are.
AV: We have to make certain decision based on the fact that there are only two of us, so that sometimes can feel like a hindrance. At any given time I might be playing bass and keyboards and singing lead at the same time that Emily might be playing bass and singing lead and I might be playing guitar. When you’re taking on the role of multiple band members, you have more freedom of expression. But at the end of the day, there are only two of us and we have to make decisions based on what we are physically able to achieve. And because physically we’re working so hard, I think maybe it comes across as more technically proficient than it actually is? But that’s hard to say, because I would go see a group like Hiatus Kaiyote and say “Those guys are playing their instruments better than I can,” so it’s all relative, it all scales.
LC: Going back to the fun aspect and to change course for a minute, you’re very connected to the queer community and you’re very outspoken. So I’m curious, what do you think the role art will be playing in the next four years? How do you see yourself and the fun, escape music you make fitting into the organized efforts in your communities?
AV: For me personally, I don’t see as art as a separate tool to express my feelings about social issues or political issues. I see it as an extension of my own personal beliefs. So when people say “Donald Trump is president, so at least there’s going to be some great art…” we wrote most of the songs from the new record where we’re dabbling with themes of inclusion and relying on ourselves and on our communities and that was a year and a half ago when Obama was president and we had just voted in gay marriage on a federal level and things were great. I think we’re gonna be champions for the things we care about regardless of the political climate.
EW: For us, what we do over the next four years isn’t going to be escape as much as support.
AV: With the coming and going of the previous election, I found myself getting more invested outside of my art/musician personality, whatever that character is that I pour into my music career. I found myself getting invested in having a voice, speaking up for women’s issues, and issues for people of color, giving myself permission to figure out what I have to say about those things. Whether it’s through art or daily discourse online and in person, I think everybody has an obligation to ask the hard questions and for each of us to find our own voice in the things we feel matter in life.
EW: I don’t think it’s necessarily even right to keep your artistic persona separate from you really think.
Sisters’ new album Drink Champagne is out now, buy it here. If you’re in Seattle, you can catch them tonight doing an in-store performance at Easy Street, but you already missed your chance to get tickets to their Crocodile shows on the 16th and 17th because they sold out. Check their site for info on upcoming tour dates.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover