The T Sisters(Chloe, Rachel, and Erika Tietjen) are three sisters (two twins and one not) who make timeless folky tunes that are as sweet as they are sassy. We chatted with the Oakland-based trio about their musical upbringing, recent releases, and, most importantly, their favorite season of Downton Abbey.
The Bay Bridged:Thanks so much for chatting with us at the Bay Bridged! You released your first LP Kindred Lines last year, which we hear was produced by the Grammy-winning Laurie Lewis. How did you get into contact with Laurie, and what was the process like recording that album?
The T Sisters: Hi there! We were lucky to meet Laurie through a mutual musician friend, Michael McNevin, who invited us to come hear Laurie at a house concert in Oakland. We heard Laurie through the doors and fell in love with her voice. Inside the concert, we sang her a song and she gave us a CD, and then we ended up singing at her CD release at the Freight
[& Salvage]. After getting to know each other and collaborating over the years she was the obvious choice for producer on our first full-length album. Laurie helped connect us with some great musicians for that album, and she was incredibly helpful in honing the vocals for the songs and bringing out the style and attitude of the collection of songs.
TBB: Even more recently, you put out an EP, Ready for Love. Did you have any different approaches to making this EP, in terms of writing or recording, than your previous releases?
TTS: Our EP Ready for Love is really an addendum to our full-length CD Kindred Lines. There were a couple songs that we decided not to put out on Kindred Lines because we had 12 tunes and didn’t want to overload the album. So we took those songs and brought in James Nash to add tasty steel guitar and Marlon Aldana to add some sweet percussion and then we recorded one more song, our a cappella version of the Grateful Dead’s “Attics of my Life.”
TBB: Since you’re sisters, you probably know each other more than the average bandmate. What was your musical upbringing like? Did you write music together while you were younger?
TTS: Our childhood home was always full of music and dance. Our parents met dancing in San Francisco in their twenties. Our mom grew up singing with her sisters too. When we were little, our dad was always playing and singing his original tunes on the piano, and we grew up going to the YMCA with our mom where she was an aerobics dancer. Needless to say, there was a lot of music around, of many different types.
I (Erika) wrote little songs from a young age, and the twins and I would stage plays together in our grandparents’ barn or attic. We didn’t get more organized about it all until much later, after we had written and performed an original musical together towards the end of college. At some point we took some of our musical theater tunes to an open mic, got a good response, and gradually started writing other types of music together.
TBB: What are your favorite places to find inspiration in the Bay Area?
TSS: We love to go hiking in the Oakland and Berkeley hills with our crazy dog Pupshaw — the big trees and epic skylines are definitely inspiring.
TBB: We saw you put in an entry to the NPR Tiny Desk contest earlier this year — we think it was wonderful! What’s the story behind the concept?
TSS: Yes! The NPR concert was a fun one. We wanted to channel a youthful energy with our song “You Don’t Know” which chronicles a love that starts from a young age and eventually comes to fruition. It’s a very light, fun song and has a childlike perspective in it so we thought that school desks would be perfect. We happen to live down the street from an event rental company so we can fulfill any backdrop/scenery desires we have in combination with Rachel’s art skills. Then we found a nice brick wall in our neighborhood and got up on the desks!
TBB: On top of your work with the band, you’re also involved in theater. Can you tell us more about the project you started, Chthonic Theater?
TSS: We started this theater collective, Chthonic Theater, with our friend Melanie Patterson right after college when we were working on our original musical theater adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. In 2008 we moved into a warehouse in the Oakland neighborhood of Jingletown. We built a stage and have used the space to create and perform original works such as musicals, parades and variety shows. We have collaborated with many local and visiting artists over the last seven years. We chose the name Chthonic, which is roughly synonymous with “underground,” because it evokes the organic, local nature of our performance projects. In our work we commonly celebrate mother earth and incorporate themes from mythology and literature.
TBB: And finally, you list your interests on Facebook as, “Pickles, Harmony, Musical theater, Poetry, Oakland, Family, Art, Dancing, Puppetry, Downton Abbey!” Favorite pickle brand, poet, and Downtown Abbey season — go!
TSS: Our favorite pickle brand is Bubbies, our favorite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, and our favorite Downton Abbey season is season 2!
You can catch the sisters playing in Mill Valley this Sunday! More information below:
Hailey is a recent Cal grad and full-time cat & music lover. When she's not writing words for The Bay Bridged, you can find her spinning tunes on KALX Radio or downing copious amounts of Philz coffee. Follow her on Twitter @hailey117.