The Chapin Sisters interview

Posted on 9 June 2011
By Matt Barden
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Liverpool vintage specialists and folk promoters Dandelion Girl brought a special treat in the shape of The Chapin Sisters for the first stop of their UK tour after their critically acclaimed second album Two hit the UK.

Purple Revolver caught up with Abigail and Lily before their set to talk about the new album, family and the ’93 New York Knicks amongst other things.

How would you describe your sound and the new album to people in the UK who aren’t as familiar with you yet?

Lily: Our first record was three part harmony based and that only came out in the States. This record we kind of let ourselves off the leash a little bit, first of all it’s our first record as a duet act and we recorded it out in the woods in New Jersey. The sound is rooted in vocal harmonies and in our song writing.

Abigail: It explores emotion; we get a lot of people telling us that our music is sad; I don’t think that it is. I think you just express the most extreme of those emotions. You’re not going to write a song like, ‘It’s just another day/everything’s the same.’

Did where you record the album affect the final outcome?

Abigail: It definitely affected the emotion and the feeling in the sound.

Lily: And the tempos that we chose, and which songs we chose because we both brought a lot of songs to the table and we didn’t get to work on every one. There was definitely this integral relationship between the space and the time restraints.

Abigail: We only had certain instruments because we flew everything over from California.

What was the idea behind starting your own record label?

Lily: We just wanted to make a record that felt like an experience, it wasn’t made for radio. It really is a record from start to finish.

You grew up in a very musical family, was there pressure to go into the music industry? Or even stay away from it?

Abigail: Kind of both! There was pressure to just play music and our Dad was like, ‘You’re just so talented, you’re amazing, just do it.’ And we kind of felt that we wanted to do other things, we kind of shied away from it because who wants to do what their Dad does?

Lily: And it might seem very easy when your twelve and you can sing the songs that you’re taught in school. Putting yourself up on stage in front of people all the time is an intense decision to make. As much as I kept saying I’m not going to do it, it kept coming back to me, at the end of the day it’s just who you are rather than what you do.

If you had children would you encourage them to be musicians?

Lily: Yes and no!

Abigail: I think it would be hard if they were talented to not be like, ‘But you’re so amazing!’ The best thing to do would be to just encourage them to do what they want to do and I think our parents did that.

Did you ever rebel against it?

Abigail: Oh absolutely! We both fully did.

Lily: For a long time. We both pushed it away.

Abigail: Our Dad was always trying to pull us up on stage and we’d be like, ‘We’ll come to your show but you have to promise not to embarrass us.’ Then in the middle of the last song he’d ask the audience if they’d like us to get on stage with him, but maybe I’ll do that to my kids.

Is it tough working and touring as siblings?

Abigail: I don’t know, I’ve never been in a band with anyone other than Lily.

Lily: I think because we are siblings we know a lot about each other and we have to forget what we know, because this is its own thing. I think it has challenged us as sisters and strengthened us.

There’s a stereotypical image that comes along with the genre of folk-pop, that everyone’s a ‘good girl’, with long flowing dresses and flowers in their hair. Is that a true reflection of yourselves?

Abigail: I think that nobody likes to think they’re in a stereotype but I don’t think we
are. When we first started out we really played a round with it though, wearing long dresses.

Lily: But we’d play rock clubs in the middle of the night and sing songs called Kill Me Now, we were very macabre.

Abigail: We’re good people, I don’t know if we’re good girls.

If you recorded the perfect album, could you then go and bury it in the woods, knowing that no one would ever hear it and still be artistically satisfied?

Abigail: Probably. I think the point of art is you always think you can do better. If you think that you’ve made the best album that can ever be made, why would you need to keep going on? You might as well die right there.

Lily: When the art makes it out and gets an audience, even if it’s just to your band mates, that’s when you know if it’s good or not and a lot of art is communication and you need that to see if it’s working or not.

What are your memories from the early 90s, ’93 in particular? Any music, movies or cultural highlights that have influenced you?

Abigail: I was in sixth grade. Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, Onyx, I think the Aerosmith video with Alicia Silverstone, washed out blue jeans and Nirvana.

Lily: I was listening to Madonna: The Immaculate Collection.

Abigail: And the ’93 Knicks!

Purple Revolver are into predicting the future, what is your vision for the future?

Abigail: In 18 years I see Queen Latifah coming back! I hope the world gets more loving and a more peaceful place.

Finally, do you think Phil Collins gets a bad rap for his music?

Abigail: I think he does, but I do prefer Peter Gabriel.

Lily: I’ve met some die hard Phil Collins fans; I’m kind of ambivalent towards him.

Abigail: But I’m always pleasantly surprised when he comes on the radio.

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