Sometimes the only difference between the good and the best is having the courage and persistence to take the next step. With their new release Sisters and Brothers, young veterans The Vespers have done just that. Not content to conform to expectations, the album’s spirit of originality is avowed from its first notes: “Break the Cycle” turns the traditional folk/Americana sound you’d expect from a banjo and upright bass into something modern, raw, and muscular.
The album is a powerful celebration of individuality. Sisters and Brothers is a statement about who they are and how far they’ve come. What makes the album consistent isn’t a bunch of songs that sound the same, but the vision that carries them forward together.
The Vespers are a testimony to the value of companionship and taking care of each other. Sisters and Brothers demonstrates what amazing things you can do together when you give each other the support needed to do your best.
NYMM: Sisters and Brothers sounds a little different from what you’ve done in the past. Where do those differences come from?
Callie: The first thing is that these songs were written by adults, not teenagers. We were older when we wrote these songs, so the content is a little more mature, relatable, relevant, and not so imaginary.
Bruno: I think we’ve grown as writers, musicians, and singers. There’s a greater sense of authenticity on this album, as well.
NYMM: How did you decide which songs to put on the album?
Phoebe: We put a lot of thought into the song selection. We had about 20 songs to choose from when we went into the studio with our producer, Paul Moak. We ended up taking a blind vote on which songs would go on the record. We had an unbiased person review the votes, so we wouldn’t know who voted for what.
Taylor: It was like Survivor.
Callie: We discussed each one quite a bit before taking a vote and tried to make sure the songs fit, but we also had the sense that we were going to put what we wanted on there, no matter what.
Bruno: We didn’t have a manager, booking agent, or anyone but ourselves pushing this to sound one way or another. All we had were the songs and a studio. We didn’t have pressure from someone else telling us that a song had to sound a certain way or had to be a fit for radio.
NYMM: How much songwriting took place in the studio?
Phoebe: The studio was a big part of the creative process for this album. This project was the first time we could record all of the parts at once and feed off the energy of playing it together.
Callie: We actually had to rehearse quite a bit. Some of the songs were written, but we hadn’t worked out each individual part. Sometimes we had to make time to learn the songs. If Phoebe writes a song, she can write enough to put it together, but then the rest of us have to learn it and add our parts.
Taylor: That’s how we write. One or more of us will have an idea, but it’s not complete until all of us add our parts to it. The hardest test for a song is to have all of us agree on it. Our identity depends on all of us working together.
Callie: It’s harder to give everyone a say in what we write, but it wouldn’t be as good if we didn’t.
Phoebe: It wouldn’t be as much fun either.
NYMM: Was there a particular song that changed a lot in the studio?
Phoebe: I think “Cynical Soul” was like that. We had an idea of what it would be when we went in, but then we added so many things to it that it turned into something else.
Taylor: It’s kind of like when you go to Sweet CeCe’s for some ice cream, and the next thing you know, you’re piling all this other stuff on it that you didn’t expect [laughs]. That’s how the studio can be. You start adding things, and it becomes something else.
NYMM: How did it help to have a producer on this album?
Callie: He really helped coach us, and he was a lot of fun. If he thought Taylor wasn’t playing the drums hard enough, he would say something like, “The ‘49er’s suck!,” and that would get him going.
Phoebe: He was good at motivating us.
Callie: There was one song that he really wanted me to sing and play guitar live in the studio. I didn’t want to. I was worried about messing up, so I kept my lyric sheets in front of me.
After a few takes, he ran into the booth, while we were recording and took my lyrics away. He could tell I was reading them, and that forced me to focus on the feeling the words had when they were written.
Taylor: “Not Enough” wouldn’t have made the record without his direction. When we got in the studio, he told us that he needed to hear any other songs we had right away because sometimes a band will be nearly done recording an album before they bring in a new song that should have been included.
Taylor: At that point, we had already gone through voting on 20 other songs, and I didn’t want to listen to any more. I was ready to move on. That just goes to show how important it is to be patient and to try different things even if you don’t feel like it. When you don’t feel like it, that’s generally when you’re at risk for a missed opportunity.
NYMM: Tell me about the title track, “Sisters and Brothers.”
Bruno: Our story is in that song. It’s about how we’ve taken care of each other. We’ve learned over our time together that we have to take care of one another, and we believe people should do that in general.
NYMM: What has been one of the more interesting experiences you’ve had as a band?
Callie: We got to fly on a private jet one time. A festival wanted us to play two nights, and we couldn’t get there in time, so they sent a private jet to pick us up.
Taylor: That sort of thing is nuts. Besides being a musician, I work at a Dairy King and cut grass for money, so that sort of thing makes me feel really special. I don’t see it as something I am entitled to.
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