"It's very personal and vulnerable, which isn’t new territory for us..." - The Secret Sisters talk new album Saturn Return
Alabama duo The Secret Sisters return this week with their fourth full-length effort, Saturn Return.
The pair, who, unsurprisingly, are sisters Laura and Lydia Rodgers, and were formed in 2010 after Laura went to audition for record executive Andrew Brightman and producer Dave Cobb as part of a panel looking to create a new singing group.
After being asked back to sing again, she asked the group if she could bring her sister along and the formation of a group occurred right there and then.
Three studio albums have followed, each building the pair's reputation for gorgeous harmonies steeped in the traditional country sonics of Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette.
Saturn Return also marks the second collaboration for the duo with singer Brandi Carlile, who has produced the album along with her bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth.
Carlile has played a key role in the band's career. After they were dropped by Republic Universal Records in 2015 and facing financial ruin as well as a lawsuit with a former manager, the singer invited to open shows for her,
While sound-checking, the pair played a new song, Carlile had been listening from the auditorium seats and demanded the duo share the rest of the songs they had recently written.
Soon, Carlile was producing their new album, a collaboration which continued for its follow-up, Saturn Return.
To celebrate, we spoke to the pair about making the record and their continuing partnership with Carlile...
When did you start working on the songs for Saturn Return?
"The first few songs for album four were written in the spring of 2018, when we had a bit of a lull in touring. We rented a tiny cabin in East Alabama for a few days and ended up with five songs that made it on to the record. The remaining songs were written over the next few months."
Did you have a goal in mind of how you wanted the album to sound? How did you want to move on from You Don’t Own Me Anymore?
"We typically don’t have a sound in mind when we’re making records. When you’re too specific about what you want an album to be, you lose part of the magic and tend to get disappointed when the end product isn’t exactly that way. We try to be as open-minded as possible when entering a studio. It makes the whole process more enjoyable for everyone."
"We didn’t consciously want to move on from the sound of the third record, but it seems that this album did that on its own. We knew we wanted our songwriting to be stronger, so we just focused on that component and trusted that the songs would evolve naturally in the studio, and that’s exactly what happened."
You worked with Brandi Carlile and her bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth, why did you decide to continue that relationship?
"We have always felt that You Don’t Own Me Any More is powerful because you can hear the chemistry of every part. That happened because before we are co-workers, we are all friends. We consider Brandi, Tim and Phil part of our family, and that relationship brings magic into the studio."
"It worked for our third record, and we knew it would happen again if we just got in the same space with some new songs and a way to record them. Working with them is very low pressure, and we truly have fun making music alongside them. Because we know this to be true, it made the decision to work with them again a very easy one."
What did they give you as producers?
"There are so many things, but the main ones: confidence in our artistry and our voices, an outside perspective on very personal, intrinsic songwriting, and the knowledge of how to raise a song to its highest potential."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"Lyrically, it is still very personal and vulnerable, which isn’t new territory for us. Thematically, it’s a coming of age album that documents our transition into adult womanhood and all the beauty and pain that accompanies this season of life. We write about motherhood, grief, trauma, power abuse, infertility, children, societal pressures, career struggles, relationships. The songs are wide-ranging and diverse, and encompass all the things that weigh on our mind as women."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"We spent an entire day working on 'Hand Over My Heart', which is a very long time. It required many, many takes, and we honestly wanted to just give up on it, but Brandi had a specific vision that we all chased, and the result is what you hear on the album."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Nowhere, Baby' took the least amount of studio work to get right. That was because we had done a lot of development on the front end with making sure the song was powerful in its structure. 'Hold You Dear' was written most quickly, in about 15 minutes."
When did you decide on Saturn Return for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"We decided on the title after the songs were recorded and we had an idea of the energy of the record. We searched through the songs to try to find a lyrical title, but the songs were so thematically different that we felt a more summary-type title would be best. There were never any other strong contenders, and when we started considering Saturn Return, it just felt right."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"Our plan is to tour with several additional instrumentalists for this record to help recapture the spirit of the recordings."
You’ve got four records now, how will you decide what makes your live set?
"It’s likely that our set will feature most of the newest songs, but by now we have a pretty good grasp on what our crowds really respond to at our shows. We also entertain requests occasionally, and having a band will hopefully widen our list of song choices to include some from each record!"