I had the privilege of sitting down with Erika, Rachel and Chloe Tietjen from the T Sisters (tsisters.com) for a short interview before their set at the Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver, CO. The “sassy sister folk” these ladies produce (with upright bassist Steve Height and mandolinist/guitar player Andrew Allen Fahlander) is crisp, and I can see why they are gaining momentum in the bluegrass scene. Insightful yet playful songwriting is realized by a full sound complete with harmonies that only sisters can accomplish. We talked about songwriting inspirations, family, as well as how they cope with living, working, and performing in such close quarters. I also developed a theory that musical compatibility and breakfast preferences are inextricably linked...
GW: Tonight you all are going to be playing back to back with the Shook Twins, a Portland band comprised of identical twin sisters. One thing I am excited about is this theme of sisterhood. Could you all talk a little bit about how you went from being just sisters to actually performing in your own band?
TS: When we were little, we wrote plays at our grandparents’ house and we started to perform very casually, in a silly manner. We spent a lot of summers doing musical theater as kids. Near the end of college, we decided to do an open mic, and that was our first time performing original music together. We got a good response and we kind of casually, organically started to follow that path.
GW: You all decided to make music full time in 2014. Since then, you have produced a well received album, Kindred Lines, as well as an EP called Ready for Love. How did you all make the leap from part time to full time musicians?
TS: Well we planned a lot in advance to take time off from our day jobs, and eventually told our bosses we were going to take a year off. Well, that was two years ago and no one’s going back! So we have been full time for about two years.
GW: What a dream! How are you liking being on the road?
TS: It’s pretty cool. Its been a pretty wild lifestyle; a lot of ups and downs but we feel pretty grateful we get to do this and see all these places.
GW: I have a sister, and we certainly annoy each other from time to time. What’s it like being in such close quarters?
TS: Well we never fight, obviously [laughs]! Sarcasm there… we fight every day...but just to release some pressure. We were able to get through our problems I think because we don’t let anything fester and we put everything out in the open. If someone’s feeling a certain way, then we will all probably know about it. We spend a lot of time together. We live together in Oakland, so we also run a household together. Trash, recycling, walking the dog…Recycling is the biggest problem. Sometimes each of us doesn’t do the best job on our chores, depending on who isn’t in town. We just had a house meeting to encourage everyone to do a better job with chores [laughs]...
GW: It's always good to be on the same page! Chores might seem trivial, but they can certainly add up. You all explore some of these issues through songs about kinship and family ties. I’d like to ask you about the song Molasses. It’s one of the deeper tracks on your album Kindred Lines, and it delves into how struggles can have a ripple effect on such a cohesive family. Can you talk about your inspiration for this song?
Chloe: I wrote that song, and it came about in a difficult family time. It was inspired by that overwhelming feeling of wanting to distance myself and protect myself, but not really being able to do that when it’s people who are so close. It’s about that inextricable link with family. When they are having a hard time, it’s easy to feel like you are experiencing their struggles first hand. We experience that with each other all the time with different moods and all. It’s hard to separate when it’s family because it infuses your own experience.
GW: I think a lot of people can relate to that, how your family is a system and so one person going through something can influence how others feel.
Chloe: Yeah, we have such a close family. And people definitely seem to relate to that sentiment.
GW: It’s really cool to see musicians who can take an emotion like that and be able to turn it into something other people can experience. Could you talk a little about how that process was for you all? The process of taking something in your life and turning it into your art?
TS: It’s sort of unavoidable to a certain extent because we take a lot from our own lives, but it’s also art. It’s not necessarily autobiographical, although often times, that’s where the inspiration comes from. Sometimes though, people interpret things musically, and they think, “oh gosh! you guys really need to meet some nicer guys!” but that's not really the point of the music. The point is to find this personal expression, that may or may not be influenced by your personal experiences and create these emotions that a lot of people can relate to. Like if you write a song that not a lot of people can relate to, then that’s probably not a very good song. It’s not going to be a hit.
GW: Yeah, because it’s about the listeners too.
TS: Right. It’s about how they take it and relate it to themselves. That’s big.
GW: Wow, this has been so great. I feel like I need to ask you all a non-serious question. What is your favorite breakfast food?
TS: Bacon. Bacon and eggs with cheese, maybe a little toast…
GW: So you all like the exact same thing?
Rachel: Well it’s just such a good way to start the day, you know? I mean that was the last meal I had. Bacon, eggs, a lot of mushrooms and kale, some bread, cheese and butter. I’m getting hungry but it lasted me a really long time...How we like our eggs, maybe there is some distinction there…
GW: How do you guys like your eggs?
Rachel: Soft scramble...
Erica: Over easy...
GW: You guys are sooo different.
TS: [Laughter] We cook a lot together too and we share a lot of our food so our food tastes are definitely very similar.
GW: Well you all have the same genes I guess, the same parents. Maybe that’s what makes you all work so well together: same overall tastes but slight variations in style…? Well, it really has been a pleasure speaking with you all! Thank you!
TS: Thank you!