Working in harmony

The Baltimore Sun

Identical twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson started singing together at age 9.

By 16, they were learning how to play guitar and writing their own music. And a few years later, they moved to Los Angeles and joined the band Slydell. But it would be nearly 10 years before they started getting noticed for their tight harmonies.

The twins toured and performed with Rilo Kiley's lead singer Jenny Lewis in 2006. And late last month, the Watson Twins released their debut full-length album Fire Songs. They're currently on tour supporting it, and come to the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington on Wednesday.

The twins are hard to tell apart in person. They look a lot alike, their voices are nearly identical, and they frequently finish each other's sentences. Here's what they collectively had to say.

Were most of the tracks on this album written recently?

I guess they started maybe a year or so ago. We had been on tour with Jenny on the Rabbit Fur Coat record and had been touring a year on and off. The breaks when we were home we wanted to write some music. During that period of time is when a lot of the songs started coming together. We started recording it July of last year. So, about a year ago.

Have you had much time to play these songs live?

No, this is the first little bit. They're still really, really new, and it's still really exciting. We've been playing with a lot of different musicians. It's just been fun to dig back into the songs and be playing them for people. To see people responding to your songs is really amazing.

How did you write most of the songs for this album?

We both write separately, and then we come in together to work out the songs. ... The arrangement stuff we do together. But for the most part we write separately. In the beginning of the summer last year we got back from a tour and we just sat down, the two of us, and we played all the songs we had written over the past year. We ended up with like 40 songs. We'd each written like 22 songs. We were like, 'OK, we can't do a 40-song record.' We had to cut the fat. So we sat down, and the songs we both gravitated toward the most were what we recorded. We took 17 songs into the studio. The record is our choices from those recordings. Honestly, there was not a lot of decision-making. It felt like a lot of the songs that are on the record are cohesive, so that's why we chose them.

Why'd you decide to cover the Cure song "Just Like Heaven"?

We were back home in Louisville, [Ky.], for Christmas, and they were doing the Top 100 of all time. It was so nostalgic for me. I love the Cure. I was like, 'What if we totally did this exactly opposite of the way Robert [Smith] does it?' We just started playing along, and it totally just came together. There wasn't much thought about 'Oh, let's put a harmonica on here.' It just kind of all came together. ... It's such a great song, and I love the lyrics of it, and it's nice to be able to hear it sung so slowly.

Why did you decide to record the album with analog equipment instead of digitally?

That's how we did the EP. We really liked the warm sound and the roominess of it. ... It just kind of felt like the right thing to do - especially for these songs. They were organic, and the record was coming together so organically and so naturally it felt like, 'We don't need to be doing 85 takes of one song. Let's get that take and definitely embrace the mistakes and the happy accidents that occur.'

You moved to Los Angeles in 1997, and you played in the group Slydell. But it took 10 years before you started to get serious international recognition for your music as the Watson Twins. Was that frustrating?

I don't think it was. It was an experience. We were growing as musicians and evolving. We just let it naturally happen. I don't think we would have been ready for touring and writing this kind of material 10 years ago. It's definitely happened for us at the right pace and the right time.

Now that you're getting the attention as the Watson Twins, are you being asked a lot of questions about being twin sisters and the gimmick?

People, I think, initially are like, 'Oh wow, you actually are twins; it's not just a gimmick.' We've been called that since we were little kids. For us, it just seems natural.

The Watson Twins perform at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Wednesday. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the music starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $13. The club is at 1353 H St. N.E. in Washington. Call 202-388-7625 or go to

No nightlife column

Sam Sessa is on vacation. His nightlife column does not appear today.

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