Though they’d already been active in the Los Angeles music scene for nearly a decade previous, indie/alt-country duo the Watson Twins made a big splash in the music world in 2006 with a pair of major releases. Alongside their debut EP Southern Manners, the Twins provided magnificent backing vocals on Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis‘ first solo record, Rabbit Fur Coat. A high-profile project like that surely warrants some serious attention, and since ’06 the Twins have continued to bestow records on a loving fanbase, knocking out the full-length Fire Songs and Talking to You, Talking to Me in the next four years.
Cover Me’s discussed the Watson Twins before (check out this write-up of their beautiful rendition of “Just Like Heaven” from Fire Songs), but their latest release has them on our radar big-time. On April 18, they’ll self-distribute a six-song covers EP, appropriately titled Night Covers, that sees them interpreting artists from the Black Keys to Sade (we premiere the full tracklist below). Leigh and Chandra Watson graciously took the time to chat with us via Skype about their impending release.
What inspired you to take a covers turn for this release?
Leigh Watson: Chandra and I have been playing covers in our set for a long time. When we released our first record, Southern Manners, we covered Spoon, and then after that we’d always be introducing new covers. As of late we’ve been doing more and more of them; our favorite songs poke their head in here and there and make appearances in different shows. We have a lot of fans asking for recordings of those covers, so we figured we might as well just do them all at one time. We didn’t want to get too overzealous, though, so we only did six songs.
What songs made the cut?
Leigh: The first track is the free track we’ve been giving away, the Turtles‘ “You Showed Me.” The second track is PJ Harvey‘s “Angeline,” the third is “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, the fourth track is “Here Comes the Rain Again” by Eurythmics, the fifth track is Sade‘s “The Sweetest Taboo,” and the last track on the record is “Tighten Up” by the Black Keys.
Night Covers Tracklist [Cover Me Premiere]
1. You Showed Me (The Turtles cover)
2. Angeline (PJ Harvey cover)
3. Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers cover)
4. Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurythmics cover)
5. The Sweetest Taboo (Sade cover)
6. Tighten Up (The Black Keys cover)
How did you pick what songs made it? Is it just what you’ve been playing live?
Leigh: When our record Talking to You, Talking to Me came out, we really wanted to do something that was more soulful, because we felt like that record was really centered around the rhythm section. We wanted a cover that would really be an extension of that, and Sade is a total guilty pleasure; we both love her. She was releasing a record the same day we were last year, so we thought that connected us to Sade in some way.
Chandra Watson: It’s like having the same birthday as someone. I know how that is personally because I have a twin, but, you know…
Leigh: It was something we were doing live and we loved playing it so much. The band, who are a bunch of amazing musicians, were like “you want us to cover who?”
Chandra: I think that, with the other covers, like PJ Harvey…we had been listening to some old CDs and Leigh rediscovered “Angeline.” When she played it I was like “Oh my God, this song is so amazing.” It has that PJ Harvey sentiment of heartbreak and this great visual darkness, and our music is semi-dark as well so we gravitated towards that right away.
As far as doing the Eurythmics cover, Leigh and I had been talking about it, and we went to visit our nephew in Nashville. He’s 17, and he said, totally out of the blue, “You know, I really think you guys should do a cover of Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’.” And we were like “oh my gosh, we’ve been talking about that for the last three weeks.” That one was a definite “we have to give this a shot.” Our nephew who wasn’t even born when that song came out is telling us we should do it.
I think the Black Keys track…we of course are fans of their music, but it was more of just “how do you make a Black Keys song a Watson Twins song,” and it was probably one of the more challenging songs we did just simply because they are so specific and it is out of our genre. It was fun to do, and I don’t know that anyone will even recognize it because it sounds so different.
Leigh: It’s one of my favorites though.
Do you have other personal favorites on the record, one you’re just really drawn to?
Leigh: When we first started the recording, I was really drawn to “Angeline.” We had our friend Bo Koster, from My Morning Jacket, play keys on the record, and during the breaks he started playing this old pump organ. It just had this eerie, haunting, amazing sound that I was really drawn to. Now, though, “Ain’t No Sunshine” continues to be one of my favorites even though we’ve been playing it live for probably the last year and a half. I still love singing it.
Chandra: I guess at this point I still feel like they’re all so new it’s just fun to put on. Of course I don’t sit around and listen to my own music, but we’ve had to play it for people and friends who come over. I have to say that I was probably instantly drawn to “Angeline” the same way Leigh was just because it sort of surprised me; I think the band just did a beautiful job with the instrumentation and everything. And my second favorite would probably also be “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Leigh: Imagine that. We agreed on something.
Let’s talk about the name of the record: Night Covers. How did you decide on that? Full disclosure: when I was typing the notes for this interview, I kept typing Night Songs, which is a Cinderella album.
Leigh: My friend Rachel, who’s in a band called Great Northern, keeps texting me, “I can’t stop listening to Night Moves!” And I’m like, “No, that’s the Bob Seger song.” I guess it’s Night… and then we should’ve left it blank. We could’ve had fill-in-the-blank, whatever it means to you.
Chandra: They used to call people doing other people’s songs moonlighting. We started to conjure all this imagery and that’s where Night Covers came from.
Leigh: I think also with the vibe of the songs and the way that they were recorded. It’s a mellow, chill record. The idea was, this is a record where you can come home at night and hang with your friends and put it on and listen all the way through. I feel like the moonlighting and the after-hours idea of not being yourself was what really pushed us towards that name.
Chandra: We wanted to tip the hat to the history of people doing other people’s songs.
These songs developed out of live performances. Are you going to take this EP on the road?
Leigh: Yeah, the record comes out April 18, and we’re leaving on the 19th to do a short run in the Southeast with Amos Lee. We plan to be out on the west coast in June. Then hopefully this fall we’ll be back in the studio making our next record, but for right now Night Covers is an all-encompassing thing.
We’re self-releasing this record. We’ve been on a label for our last two records and we finished our contract. We’ve been wanting to do this covers record and we wanted it to be something that was our own adventure. It’s been a ton of work and it’s definitely been something that we’ve been focused on for the last few months, just trying to get it up online and spread the word about it. It’s a real grass-roots release. Our fans have been really excited about hearing the whole record, so I think we’re ready to get out there and play it for people.
So if it’s self-released is it digital distribution only, or will there be hard copies as well?
Leigh: We have hand-stamped, hand-numbered copies that we’re gonna be selling at our shows and on the website. We have a whole store that we’re putting up. My mom has her own package that she’s doing, which is an embroidered pillow case that says “Night Covers” and a candle. My sister and I are hand-making art and jewelry that’s gonna be a part of the store, so you can get a one-of-a-kind Watson Twins art piece or a piece of handmade jewelry, and those come with the CDs. So it’s something you wouldn’t be able to do on a mass level, but I think everybody operates in a digital world now anyway and that’s where most people have their music.
Chandra: And for those people who want something more unique, something that they can hold on to, we just wanted to make something that’s worth keeping as opposed to something that’s disposable, so to go along with the “Night Covers” thing, our t-shirts are glow-in-the-dark.
Something I always try to ask in these interviews: Are there any artists or songs you refuse to cover? Is there anyone on that list?
Leigh: Interesting that you should say that…
Chandra: It’s not that we refuse to do this cover, [but] we tried to do a cover in the studio that we just could not do. I’m referring to the Heart sisters; we tried to cover “Magic Man,” and let me just say we should’ve been singing it at a truck stop somewhere. We gave it everything we had and it still sounded like we were singing karaoke. At the end of the day we had to scrap one of the tunes because it was just impossible to cover these ladies.
Leigh: I hope at some point that we can release just the instrumental. Maybe we can sell it to Muzak or something. The band did an amazing kind of honky-tonk acoustic rendition of it that was pretty fly, but vocally we couldn’t go there.
Chandra: It’s not that we would refuse to do Heart; it’s just we bow down to the ladies and realize we cannot be them.
The Watson Twins’ Night Covers comes out April 18th. Watch preview videos at their website!