You can hear Andrew Vait and Emily Westman's beaming grins in every effervescent note of their band, Sisters. The Seattle pop duo has spent the past few years crafting relentlessly positive and buoyant tunes that make the most of their extensive musical talents (they met at University of Miami's Frost School of Music before separately moving to the Northwest).
Today marks the release of the group's first LP, Drink Champagne. Recorded with producer Ryan Hadlock (the Lumineers, Brandi Carlile, Ra Ra Riot) at Bear Creek Studios, the record features 11 lushly layered songs that meld Vait's crisp vocals and flourishing synth lines, Westman's booming drums and sweet harmonies (and occasional lead singing), and array of other instrumental sounds at the duo's disposal to create a sugary sweet pop album.
To mark Drink Champagne's arrival, Sisters hosts two sold out nights of atypical release shows at Sole Repair this Thursday and Friday (February 16 and 17). Instead of a traditional show setup, the band has invited local music pals like Pickwick's Galen Disson, Porter Ray, Thunderpussy's Molly Sides, Manatee Commune, and Bryan John Appleby to partake in unique collaborative performances. If you weren't able to snag a ticket to one of the release shows, Sisters is also playing at the Bake Sale 4 ACLU benefit on Saturday night at Fred Wildlife Refuge.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Vait and Westman about the abundance of instrumentation of Drink Champagne, employing jazz principle in pop, and smile saturation.
What are your favorite aspects about Drink Champagne?
Andrew: Ah man… there are so many moments, and they’re captured across an array of approximately 27 instruments that we play. It was really nice for me to get my ass kicked by Emily—like across a couple football fields—to play the saxophone. [Laughs]
Emily: You were like, “I should just play the flute.” You’re gonna play the goddamn saxophone on this record.
Andrew: [Laughs] So for me, that was a nice full circle—all the way back to fifth grade—moment.
Emily: We actually both got to reach back to our roots, because I got to play marimba on a lot of the tracks, even though it’s sort of a textural thing that’s buried in the mix. But I got to play a really beautiful marimba, which was my main instrument in school. This one was the size of a small whale.
How do you feel each of your non-pop music backgrounds in classical and jazz music filter into Sisters?
Emily: I have more of a classical background and Andrew has more of a jazz background. To this day, I’m an orchestral arranger. So I kind of have a special awareness of how things interact in a way because I’m always arranging for a full orchestra. I think that helps with my ear.
Andrew: I look to Emily for all of my orchestrating and arrangement ideas. I studied jazz theory and performance pretty extensively in college. I wouldn’t say that I’m a jazz player, but I certainly learned some of the talking points of the language, and that’s been helpful for making certain harmonic decisions. Emily says she has a classical background, but she will play jazz piano just as beautifully as anybody I’ve ever heard. So I think the jazz component really informs our melody writing and…
Emily: Our harmonic understanding.
Andrew: The classic pop that really sticks out is the pop that is informed by jazz. You listen to a Paul Simon record and you’re gonna hear jazz players and jazz harmony all over it. If you listen to a Toto record, you’re gonna hear jazz all over the sucker.
Emily: It’s just intelligent music. It’s sophisticated sophistication.
Andrew: When you’re in the world of jazz and classical—high-level proficiency in music—you see where you fall short. So I think for us, the carrot lies in trying to uncover the next level of our own personal writing.
The new record has a very distinctive sonic pallet. Were there any musical touchstones that you looked toward when deciding what you wanted the album to sound like?
Emily: There are some eras that we wanted it to sound like. And we kept telling our producer Ryan Hadlock that we wanted our record to sound like a classic record; like a Fleetwood Mac record or something.
Andrew: We talked about Fleetwood Mac a lot in the studio.
Emily: The way the drums sound. The way everything sounds warm. Like we want even a CD of our record to sound like a vinyl of our record.
Andrew: We put together a playlist of all kinds of bands that inspire us before we went into the studio. At the time, we were both discovering our friend’s band from college, Hiatus Kaiyote. And we were just like, “How can we fuck up our record? How can we fuck it up and make it sound twisted?” And that’s something that we’re continuing to strive for as we write and work on recording our second record.
How do you feel like Seattle has influenced your music?
Andrew: Well there are endless talented artists across all mediums here, and we’re starting to draw influence from our friends who are in bands and across mediums too. The artist who designed our portraits for the cover of the record is named Tom DesLongchamp and his wife Jessica Phoenix did all the layout. And they inspired us to [focus on] our whole aesthetic, and it undoubtedly changed the sound that we carry into our next record. They helped us with some core branding aesthetic points.
What should people expect at the Drink Champagne release shows?
Andrew: Oh, just a smorgasbord of insanity.
Emily: We shied away from the typical venue and three band-bill format for this because we’re more interested in putting on a show. A real show. There’s no opening bands or headliner for these shows. We’re all playing together the whole time as a unit, and collaborating, and putting on a spectacular.
How would you characterize your collaborative relationship while creating music?
Emily: Like a petri dish of amoebas.
Andrew: It feels like we’re getting the best of each of our worlds. We’re mitigating the kind of habits that aren’t…
Emily: We’re learning how to lovingly shoot each other down.
Both (simultaneously): And build each other up.
Andrew: We both have like endless ideas. and We’re actually fairly efficient because the bad ideas just get shot down. We just keep the ideas coming until we arrive at something that makes us both giddy.
You’re certainly the most smiley band in Seattle…
Andrew: Even if we’re down, we come off as smiley.
Emily: We have more teeth than other people.
Andrew: Yeah we have more teeth than other bands. You can quote us on that.
To that point, do you ever worry about coming off as to saccharine? Like, “Oh, we need to turn down the sweetness one dial?” Or do you just want to lean into it as far as you can?
Emily: I think when there’s something that’s actually genuine, you can’t be too much. Like Paul McCartney is never too much. Even “Silly Love Songs” wasn’t too much, because it was so genuine.
Andrew: I’ve actually thought about this. You wonder sometimes if it’s too much, and honestly, if we could help it, maybe we would have a conversation about it. But the truth of the matter is that we can’t help it.
Emily: We just have a good time.
Andrew: We just have a really good time.
Emily: The us that everybody sees is the real us. We’re just not cool enough to hide it.
Andrew: We’re definitely not cool enough to hide it. But for every project that I’ve ever been in before this band, I’ve always thought, “How should I be?” Other than “Should I maybe try to smile less?” I’ve never thought to myself “How should I be?” in this band.
Emily: Because we just are.
Sisters: Drink Champagne Release Shows
Feb 16 & 17, Sole Repair Shop, Sold Out
Bake Sale 4 ACLU
Feb 18, Fred Wildlife Refuge, $10