Volume 78 - Number 37 / February 18 - 24 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


The Watson Twins
With Ben Kweller
Wed., Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.
Town Hall
123 W. 43rd Street
$26; 212-840-2824; the-townhall-nyc.org

Photo by Pamela Litky

This month, Leigh and Chandra Watson will take the stage at Town Hall.

Harmonious twinspeak

Leigh and Chandra Watson have their own alt-country sound

By Lee Ann Westover

The Watson Twins made a name for themselves singing backup for Jenny Lewis on the critically acclaimed album “Rabbit Fur Coat.” On February 25, they are stepping out of the background and onto the main stage at Manhattan’s Town Hall. As a stand-alone alt-country act, the twins fill out somber ballads, like in their intimate cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” and sparkle around the ambling, poppy original tune “How am I to be.” Each woman sings with the timbre of a Sandy Denny or Helen Reddy. For all the comparison, though, the women have spent their lives cultivating a voice of their own, and the chance to share their music with the world.

For close to a decade, Louisville, Kentucky natives Leigh and Chandra Watson have lived in Los Angeles, where they have found the road to success. In all that time, however, they are still influenced daily by their roots.

“I don’t think you can take the Midwest out of somebody after they’ve lived the majority of their life there,” says Leigh. “You don’t lose that mentality about you.”

That mentality has informed the twins’ gentle sound – from their silky harmonies to the honest emotional notes of their music.

“We started singing at church choir, and through that realized that singing can elevate your spirit and mood,” Leigh Watson continues. “Singing with my sister elevates my soul in a way…my own personal spiritual way. Having come from that background and knowing what it feels like to have 50 people singing praise songs together, it’s almost like a high. Although we sing secular music and we aren’t in religious choirs now, that’s something that we continue to carry with us.”

After the big move, and before stepping out with Lewis, the women sang backup in a local L.A. band, Slydell. “We would sell out shows all the time in L.A.,” says Watson, “but we couldn’t get out of our zip code because there were eight of us to coordinate. For five years and three records we put everything of ourselves into that band. I feel like we needed that experience to get comfortable with being on stage and comfortable with what we do. It was kind of like going to college. It put us into the right mental space for us to collaborate with Jenny.”

The collaboration with Lewis continues today, though not in such a formal fashion. She and her sister recently spent an evening at Lewis’ house “jamming on cover tunes.” It seems, in talking to Watson, that she and Chandra value the experience of connection above almost anything else one can garner from a career in music.

When asked about the future that she envisions for The Watson Twins, Leigh hesitates a moment. “Playing Madison Square Garden, I would not say that’s my main goal, even though it would be awesome if that happens. The stadium thing is hard for me. We did a tour opening up for Death Cab for Cutie with Jenny. You’re in a locker room before the show…you’re separated from your fans. I like to play shows where I feel like they’re there and we’re all in one place together.”

Although the twins spend nearly every waking moment in each other’s company – be it in their shared home in Silverlake or out on the road – Watson insists that they’ve “never been competitive with each other, ever. It’s really bizarre. The only tension bubbles from both of us being passionate about things. Sometimes our emotions get in the way of the path we should be on – we nitpick about stupid stuff.” Of the intimacy that comes with performing together, she adds, “Musically, I have written a song about my sister. It’s on our first record [Southern Manners]. It’s called “Darlin’ Song.” Singing it with her – it’s an emotional thing. Ninety percent of the songs she writes, she doesn’t have to tell me what she’s writing about. I know what she’s writing about. I feel like that sort of closeness…I am part of those songs regardless of whether it’s about me or not. It’s emotional, our lives are so intertwined. The songs are all patchwork quilts of our experience of life.”

Only now, in preparation for their third full-length album, the twins are beginning to write songs together. Of the experience, Watson ways, “It’s a trust and a way for us to grow while we’re still writing songs on our own. I think it’s good for us at this point to collaborate on some things and other things to leave just for ourselves.” As they further the process, surely The Watson Twins will continue this slow burn that they started so many years ago in Louisville, leaving all of us the beneficiaries of their inspiration and hard work.

For more on The Watson Twins, check out thewatsontwins.com.

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