Interview: He’s My Brother She’s My Sister (Los Angeles)

I’ll put it this way: if you haven’t heard of He’s My Brother She’s My Sister -you’re missing out, hard. The Los Angeles based band features a brother-sister singing duo and a tap-dancing percussionist. Need more? Their members, not only are super talented musically but excel in the theatrical arts as well making their shows an incredible sight to see. Blending folk with vaudville pop, rockabilly, and blues what more could you possibly ask for?

I was lucky enough to speak with Rachel and Robert Kolar a few days before the band hits the road to Las Vegas for the first show of their latest tour (something they are constantly doing). They are currently making their way to their first headlining show in Chicago. Then heading back to CA before they head out on the road again for a string of shows leading to their SXSW showcase. You can currently help them raise money for a much needed tour van by donating to their PledgeMusic for some amazing things in return. Anything from an exclusive song written about you, a private concert in your living room, to possibly skydiving with the band, naked.

For those of you in or near Chicagoland don’t miss the opportunity to see He’s My Brother She’s My Sister January 14th at the Empty Bottle.  They’re going to blow your brains!

How is the PledgeMusic campaign coming along? I’ve heard you guys have reached 100%.

Robert: We did, hooray! [laughs] Of course, PledgeMusic decides the amount, so it was lower than we were hoping to raise but what works out is once you reach 100% you’re guaranteed the money to get the financing. Now we’re pushing to reach you know, something closer to 200% which would actually allow us to buy the van outright. What we’re doing to kinda excite people and make it even more fun for those who just pledged is: if you pledged already or pledge you know in the upcoming days, you have access to all sorts of footage and photographs and even live performances that we’re gonna be uploading in this tour that we’re about to go on. Also, the album will include an extra song that won’t be available on the CD or the digital download. It will be an exclusive song only for those who pledged.

Oh fancy! So there’s definitely a bit of incentive for that.

Robert: Yeah! I mean we think. You also get it before it’s released so we think it’s just, it’s almost like, what it’s really like is just like pre-ordering our album or you can get all sorts of other fun stuff like: vinyl and t-shirts and everything but it’s like pre-ordering the record which will in turn help us finance what makes the band succeed, which is the touring. You know that’s what can sustain a band. So the van is like an incredibly important tool as much as an album or anything else to allow us to come and visit all the cities across the country, bring the music to them and you know put on a fun night and so everyone can be entertained and escape the daily routine you know?

Yeah, definitely. One of the last times I looked on the band’s Facebook page the band had done a call out to all your local LA fans to help you guys with your “Lazy Daze” video.

Robert: Oh yeah, that was a while back. We kinda threw it out there, we didn’t necessarily expect that many people to come out but we had a good 20 people show up and throw on makeup and get wildly colorful in their outfits and everyone was really into it. It was a real big variety, like an eclectic mix of people and you can see most of them in the video dancing around at the end. We had a fun time that afternoon, we all ordered pizza for everyone and hung out, put on makeup -it was a good day in Elysian Park.

Elysian Park is way nice. Something else that’s nice is the band agreeing to go skydiving with whoever pledges $100,00 towards your tour van…

Robert: Naked [laughs]

Rachel: I had been wanting to go skydiving for a long long time.  My boyfriend had promised he’d take me but then he sorta chickened out last minute last year.

 Robert: We thought we’d put a really extravagant amount and something fun and funny, you know?  Just in case there was some millionaire that really wanted to skydive naked with us cause we would definitely have a good time. 

 Rachel: Can you imagine what that would do to a man’s genitals?

 Robert: That would be probably pretty awkward and painful but you know we’d have to live up to the pledge.

 Rachel: We’d have $100,000 dollars!

 Robert: Yeah I suppose we, the rule would be maybe we’re allowed to tape a couple things but you know naked is naked. 

 [laughs] Right. You folks are willing to go pretty far. Is the band a new breed of super talented artists  willing to go as far as it takes?

 Robert: [laughs] I don’t know if we think of ourselves that way.  We just…

 Rachel: I do, I think we’re all totally super talented and I think it becomes like that, it’s like, what was that guy “Earth, Wind, Fire,” what was that? Remember that cartoon? You guys know what I’m talkin’ about? And then all the elements came together cap…

 Captain Planet?

 Rachel: CAPTAIN PLANET! Captain Planet. 

 Robert: Uh, I don’t think we’re like Captain Planet but Rachel can think that if she likes. [laughs]

 Rachel: We all come together to create something, it’s really special.

 Robert: It’s absolutely a lot of fun.  I think we just like exploring so many different things, you know we’re in a world of such variety so it’s fun to dabble into film and theater and music, anything that really inspires us to explore. 

So, how long have you two been writing together?

 Robert: Not all that long in the grand scheme of things.  About what would you say Rach, about 5 or 6 years?

 Rachel: Yeah, I accept that time.

 Robert: Yeah, Rachel wrote the song “Wilted Rose” and I liked the sense of humor.  There was a carbon to the words and the way she played with the words. Kind of like a darkness but also a tongue in cheek

 Rachel: I had been trying to impress Rob for years and I finally achieved success after 23 years of age and now I’m an enlightened being, I don’t need to do anything else in this lifetime.

 Robert: [laughs] That song was the beginning and then we started writing songs for fun. It was really just an acoustic duo at first and then Lauren came onto the scene and tap danced in the dining room while we were jamming one day and we decided she sounded better than the drummers we tried out and people loved it live.  We tried it as an experiment and it went over really well and since then she’s adopted a tom, a snare, and a crash as part of her set up. She literally drums and tap dances at the same time which wowed us all that she was able to do that.  We didn’t know it was possible. 

 Yeah, I saw the band back in February when you guys were support for Bobby Long at the Troubadour and that’s what hit me too, I said something like, “I’ve never seen a tap dancer being used as percussion, this is crazy!”

 Robert: Oh! That show was a lot of fun.  That was shortly before Lauren decided to take up the drums, so you caught one of the final tap dance only shows and now it’s since evolved a little bit.  That was a fun show, I liked that one. 

As a group, what’s the one piece you are most proud of so far? 

 Robert: You know, I think this new album that’s coming out.  We haven’t quite finished it but it’s really getting close.  I’m thrilled with the way its come along and I’m so exceed to finish it and go back in the studio because I’m so happy with what we’ve captured.  But I think that’s really gonna be a proper debut of what we’ve been trying to express on record.

 Rachel: Yeah and we’ve debated this EP a couple of years ago because we were playing this film festival and we needed to create something to sell to pay for our plane tickets so that’s sort of where the EP came about.  You know, it wasn’t necessarily a concept album or you know we didn’t have to. We were messing around in studio and then we had to rush it at the end. It came out to be something really great. But this is our first opportunity to show what we’ve been doing and where we’re going. It’s been such a long time for us since that EP came out.  We’re really excited to finally get what we’re really about out there.

 Robert: Two of the members who are currently in the band aren’t on the EP, but they play big roles in the album. Oliver is playing the upright bass and he’s an amazing bass player.  He’s also helped with you know a range of suggestions.  He works with a lot of great bands in LA and  Johnathan Wilson, he composes all his string arrangements and then Aaron is an amazing slide guitarist and he’s played with bands like Sea Wolf and he is the musical director for Linda Perhacs, who is a big LA folk legend and so he adds. Both of them add such a huge flair to the music and that’s gonna be captured on the record, so we’re excited about that.

 Cool! So do you feel like your stage dynamic is going to change at all, cause I think when I saw the band there was only I think maybe 4 people on stage so now if you’re adding…

Rachel: Was the Bobby Long show with Satya? Rob, do you remember?

 Robert: Oh yeah it must have been.  So it’s changed quite a bit since you’ve seen it. There’s definitely the energy in a way the core of the band being Lauren, Rachel, and I are still there, so there’s that element.  And it’s almost as if you can imagine wings changing. We put on different wings or a different overcoat or something.  It’s a livelier sound and fuller sound.  It seems to inspire people to dance more and get a little bit wilder. So I think it’s got a little bit more grit and little bit more bite, but it’s also a fuller and bigger sound.

 That sounds fun.  So for your record, demos of two songs: “Touch the Lightning” and “Awake Your Heart” have been released.  You mentioned that the band has really come into its own and you all are finally expressing yourselves on this album, what can fans expect?

 Rachel: This time we have an upright bass and slide guitarist, so right off the bat we have these two new very distinct sounds because before we were just doing the cello.  So it’s like we almost split the cello in half and created the low end and the high end out of the slide guitar and this upright bass.  Then Rob’s and my voice are progressing along you know because this was all sort of a very beautiful accidental unflowering. And Lauren is playing the majority of the drums on this record too. We’re all growing as musicians, which is really cool-especially Lauren and I. It’s not something we really first saw as our destiny but it’s definitely become that. It’s like a coming out party!

 Robert: Yeah, I think it’s a mixture of sounds. You know we explored a few different things on “Touch the Lightning” and a couple of tracks.  There’s an element of  psychedelia, which maybe hawks back to the late 60’s or even current bands are scoring that. There’s a few songs that are more folky rootsy, maybe a little bit more of an earnest traditional folk sound.  There’s a little bit of country rockabilly..

 Rachel: Everything goes together really well. You progress along and at the end, you feel like tasty and fat and full.

 Cool! Congratulations on getting into SXSW before the rush!

 Rachel: Thank you, thank you.

 Robert: Thanks! I know, that was a nice surprise we weren’t initially expecting it but it was nice to be in the first round. 

 Has the band started preparing for that at all?

 Robert: [laughs] Probably not enough.  We’re still not sure exactly what the showcase is, who we’re playing with, but our manager seems to feel pretty confident it’s gonna work out nicely.  We have set up a tour going to SXSW, which is exciting and it’s been dubbed “The Road to SXSW” so we go up through CA to San Francisco to Portland and then over I think to Idaho and down to…

 Rachel: Wyoming

 Robert: And to New Mexico into Austin.  We’ve kinda been preparing.  We’re definitely getting some material ready for then at the festival and we’re also working on new songs that we want to play, you know? Every show and every tour is a preparation for the next thing so we’re always somewhat prepared inadvertently.  

 Rachel: It’s a lot of work nowadays.  We’re not signed to a label and we’re all DIY. So there’s a huge amount of work that comes from most of the band members to get this going.

 Robert: True.  Lauren especially is incredible.  She’s pretty much like our PR person and…

 Rachel: Well, we’re working with Jim too!

 Robert: I mean, she’s sending out all the press releases. It’s insane seeing her do all that work as well as being like a member/musician of the band.  So yeah we, a lot spreads out you know?  I do a lot of the posters and a lot of the artwork and stuff, it’s fun.  

 Rachel: and meet and greet everybody. [laughs]

 Robert: It’s exciting to be involved in all different aspects, you know?  I’m sure that in a couple years we don’t want to be doing every element of the grittier dirty work but certainly it’s nice to feel like we built something with our hands, it’s a very rewarding feeling.

 Here’s a question one of the guys wanted to ask.  He was wondering if you would ever consider doing a poignant acoustic song using only tap dancing and cello as a melody?  Kind of like the dancing to singing in the rain if Gene Kelly was replaced by Elliott Smith or something like that. 

 Robert: [laughs]

 Rachel: [laughs] Yeah we do. We do things like that actually.  I think Lauren did some tapping too at High Sierra.  They asked Rob and I to do some acoustic songs and Lauren’s percussion, especially in an intimate setting, is such a special sound to hear in an intimate setting like that with no mic. And just on the wood. Satya went around playing the cello. We’re on a bass now, and yeah we definitely do that stuff.  We do it in the rehearsal room too. But I think what we’re going to move into as our sets and our shows start getting bigger and our sets start getting longer,  there will be moments or we’ll have more of a very intimate acoustic session for Lauren. Because what Lauren is doing is a full body physical work out so we can’t like be raucous and crazy when our sets start becoming two hours cause she’ll just die, you know?

So we’ll have to take a break and maybe start to expose more of our more intimate mellow songs. At that point, Lauren can do something a little bit less strenuous. More where you can really get the sense of the sound of the taps, because right now you get it and then sometimes it disappears and then it comes back again. There’s so many sounds going on and everything is electric, so when we move to the acoustic sound and that part of our live set where we’re gonna take it down a bit, she’s gonna be featured much more which will be cool. 

 Robert: One thing we’ve been doing live, which is been pretty exciting too..

 Rachel: [starts singing the ‘oh’ part in the Isley Brother’s famous song “Shout”] [laughs] Are you talking about when we ask people to sing with us?

 Robert: Yeah.

 Rachel: [laughs] That’s so funny.

 Robert: So we’ve been running out of songs and running out of material, but a lot of the time the audience is demanding something else. So we tried this idea one night where we said, “Okay, start a song. You guys want to hear something else…you guys start it and we’ll continue it!” and we turned it into this dialogue between us and the audience and it actually worked out quite well!  People started stomping their feet and exclaiming these melodies. We picked up on a couple of them and found the key that they were in. Oliver and I worked out the basic chords while we were playing and Lauren started with her feet and we just turned it into an impromptu jam.

 Rachel: And people come up and sing too. It’s like an open mic essentially.

 Robert: Exactly.  Anyone who feels expressive and wants to share soothing comes up and sings a verse or sings a melody.

 Rachel: It’s amazing. You always find someone in the audience who’s been waiting for this moment to happen their whole lives. They just come up there and you almost can’t get them off.   You’re like “Share man, share!” [laughs] But it’s amazing. It’s really beautiful to see just the human spirit like that. It’s cool.

 Robert: It’s been really exciting. It’s almost like an actor doing improv.

 Rachel: It’s hard sometimes!

 Robert: There’s something about creating something in that moment and then it’s gone forever.  It happens then and you might have sang or found the melody of a hit song but it escapes on that night. There’s something kinda beautiful about that. 

 I would think so. How do you see yourselves in this crazy evolving music scene? What’s up for the band after all this touring? 

 Robert: We’ve explored ideas at one point doing a film or doing some kind of musical. I think I’d love to see this band evolve into something that goes beyond a band that performs in venues.  

 Rachel: Lauren and I started out where we had a theater company and we would integrate local bands into our plays.  I would write everything and then Lauren and I would perform it all. The last one we did last year was a musical rock opera. We had these really incredible musicians in the LA area take on these characters.  One was this king of the sea and the other one was air and another one was fire and integrate their live music and original compositions into theatrics.

Rob did a film last year with Monte Hellman and he’s done a lot of acting. The whole band is very theatrical so I think we’ll move into something we’ve always thought from the beginning. Lauren and I are yearning to do some more stage pieces, so I think we will start working on something ilke that for next year.  That’s what the future of all art is-an integration of everything.  I mean that’s what multimedia is, you know?  You integrate everything into this one amazing experience.   I think that’s what we’ll start to do with our music. We’re in no rush. I feel slow and steady kinda wins the race but you know I think that’s definitely something in the forefront, the future, near future anyway. 

 Side question: was it just me or did I see Robert in a Pizza Hut commercial?

 Robert: [laughs] yes. 

 Rachel: [laughs]

 Robert: Yes, I did a commercial for Pizza Hut.

 Rachel: It’s crazy, people have really seen it.  It must mean it’s doing well and they’re gonna pay you, which is great.  That’s the point.

 Robert: I debated for a while and I even asked the band if I should do it just because I felt a little self-conscious about it.  I wanted the band and the art to be what we were recognized for but then everyone was like “DO IT” [laughs] “You need the money.” At this stage with touring, it’s an expensive thing and we don’t make a lot of money on tour yet, we hope to, but at this stage we’re still building it.  So sometimes you need to take these opportunities just to keep things afloat. 

 Rachel: I think the age of your integrity being based upon whether or not you’re in a Pizza Hut commercial is kind of over.  I feel like people are moving on from that very limited view scope and moving towards a place where what you’re saying as a musician and what you’re doing is so much bigger than such a trivial thing, you know?  It’s also what happened with the music industry.  There’s a new way of existing it’s like by doing these things you have the freedom to really create what you want to create and not be tied down.  You have to find these other sources of income, everybody does, you know?  It’s no longer a state of existence where you just do your one thing because that’s not the way humans are programmed.  We have limitless capabilities and to be free and express yourself creatively, you have to do what you have to do and that sometimes means doing a Pizza Hut commercial. [laughs]

 Robert: Yeah, plus it wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be.

 Rachel: I still haven’t seen it. “It wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be!” [laughs] That’s funny, I haven’t even seen it yet, maybe I can google it. 

Robert: I get texts like every hour about it. 

 Rachel: Who’s in it? Who’s the guy? You said there was some football player?

 Robert: No, it’s just me.

 Rachel: Oh, it’s just you? Cool. 

 So you guys are heading out on the road to your first headlining show in Chicago?

Robert: We’re excited about that. 

 Rachel: I’ve had crazy dreams about Chicago, I’ve never been there yet but there was a time in my life last year where I would just dream about Chicago.  They were really strange dreams.  I would get on this glass that would just take me to Chicago in the dark or night and I was taken to this high rise building.  This happened over and over and over again and different people would be in the high rise building.  There was a room that was entirely made out of glass and it would look out over the city of Chicago with all the twinkling lights and then the room would start to expand and I would feel this like excitement but also fear at the same time. I would keep on waking up, so I’m really interested to see what Chicago is actually going to be like because I’ve never been there you know?  I’ve been dreaming about it, it’s weird.

Yeah, I think that glass room is on a skyscraper of some sort and they have that glass room.  I think it’s one of the things to definitely check out over there, I think that’s what everybody does.

Rachel: There’s an actual high rise with a glass room?

 I think so.  I’ve only seen it in pictures.  But it’s a room and it goes out over the building, so you’re in glass but…

Rachel: Oh my god, that’s exactly my dream!

 Robert: Oh my god, I would freak out, I have vertigo but I probably should do it to overcome my fear.  I would be trembling up there, I would be on my hands and knees crawling up there.  I would have to put a finger first.

 Rachel: Oh my god, that’s so bizarre, what is it called?

 Robert: We have to do that!

 I have no idea, but I know that it exists. 

 Rachel: That’s exactly my dream, that is so weird.  I wonder who I’m going to meet there or what I”m going to hear, what’s going to happen…

 Robert: The love of your life

 Rachel: I already have one.  

 You’re going on this huge road trip, what’s on your playlist right now?

 Rachel: Oh, playlist.  I have this Pandora playstation so whenever I sit driver seat I usually put that on, or like a Buddy Holly one. But I like Pandora because you get to hear new music and new bands…but that’s what I’ll probably be listening to.  I like the new Bjork album too, I’ve been looking into that too.

 Robert: I made an effort to try getting into a  lot of the current kinda indie bands.  I actually made a van mix that we’ll be listening to.  Some of the newer bands that could probably use a little extra help and promotion that I’ve been into, there’s a band called The Fresh & Onlys. They’re playing in LA while we’re on tour or when we get back in February.  There’s a band called The War On Drugs that has some cool songs.  They don’t need much help, but Wilco‘s new record is pretty cool.  Who else is good? Blitzen Trapper has some cool songs, I’ve gotten into them recently too.

Rachel: Oliver and I sometimes listen to some electronica too.  You always find some cool stuff and we kinda geek out in the front but Rob will probably have his headphones on and playing Zelda on our videogame station.  

I’m happy to hear all about your new album, do you have any idea when you guys are going to finish that? 

 Rachel: I think we’re saying May, right?

 Robert: Yeah, the first 5 songs are already done, so we’re gonna master them. Then when we touring out to South By we’re gonna have a very limited edition CD. It’s almost like an extended single that will have two songs from the record.  It’ll have “Can’t See the Stars” and the song “Let it Live Free” and then some other tracks-maybe some live stuff that will only be available for that tour to kinda help get excitement for the record.  But I think around May we’re gonna have the digital downloads for all the PledgeMusic people in about April. We might make some videos before then that people can check out.  There’s already “Touch the LIghtning” video that we leaked a little bit and then we’ll kinda wait for the master and we’ll re-release it. 

 Rachel: We’re gonna be filming video on this tour too so we’ll film through Chicago

 Robert: Yeah I think we’re filming a couple of videos down there, “Tales That I Tell” We’re hoping to shoot that song in every city.

 Rachel: …being sung by the audience.

 Robert: Yeah, capture some of the audience from the audience’s perspective and closeups of the band and really get a feel for what we’re doing on stage and what the live show is like.  So that should be done at the end of the tour or soon shortly after.

Then you guys have a Daytrotter Session going up today, right?

 Rachel: Yeah, yeah! They’re so rad, such nice people.

 Robert: Yeah, it’s actually up right now.  I listened to it this morning and I’m really happy with it actually.

 Rachel: Yeah, it’s cool!  It’s you know, how long ago was that, like that summer right?

 Robert: 6, 7 months ago?

 Rachel: It’s cool to see, because a lot of those songs were new songs that we were just working on and they sound great so it’s wonderful to see now what they’ve become.  It’s just really cool being able to catch the progression of the song too which…

 Robert: We’ve definitely evolved some of the newer ones but in a cool way.

 Rachel: They sound great though still on these first trials it’s fun, it’s exciting, we’re pretty alright! 

 Super excited to hear that.  Thanks for taking the time to talk to Mezzic.

 Rachel: Thanks so much!  It’s like we were talking about with you, the DIY stuff, you know?  It’s you guys that are writing about us and sharing our music.  You’ve done worlds for us and we’re really genuinely appreciative of the time you take to do that for us. 

 Robert: Yeah, it’s awesome. 

 Rachel: It’s really nice.

 Thanks guys!

 Robert: It’s what keeps the music going.

 Rachel: It changes everything.  

 I’m totally looking forward to when you guys come back in February.  I’ll be at your show in Los Angeles [March 1st at The Echo] and I guess just happy touring!

Rachel: Thank you. Yeah, yeah, and Happy 2012!

 Robert: Thanks so much, I wish you guys all the best and good luck. 

Thoughts?