While a band containing a set of siblings isn't exactly a new thing, one containing two sets of siblings certainly is. The Vespers are made up of two sisters (Callie and Phoebe Cryar) and two brothers (Bruno and Taylor Jones) and the familial bonds are wonderfully apparent in the way they interact, write, perform, and even do interviews. The Vespers are getting set to release their brand new album, the aptly named Sisters and Brothers, on February 10 and to prime the pump a bit, they've compiled Sisters and Brothers Primer - an engaging sampler of new songs, live cuts, and a couple tracks from their widely-praised last album, The Fourth Wall.
I recently spoke with the Nashville-based folksy foursome about their expanded sound on Sisters and Brothers, what it was like to record the album with Paul Moak, and why it's important for them to keep it all in the family when it comes to their career.
NoiseTrade: Your new album Sisters and Brothers showcases an eclectic musical evolution that builds upon your previous folk and bluegrass sounds. Were their specific influences that fed into your new songs or do you feel it’s just a natural progression of playing and writing together for the last five years?
Phoebe: I think it's a combination of both. My tastes as a music lover and listener have evolved a lot in the last few years and naturally that changed the way I write. I want to make music that I like and so the songs that came out and ended up on Sisters and Brothers were a result of my love for the latest projects from John Mark McMillan, Arcade Fire, Wild Cub and many others.
NT: Your Sisters and Brothers Primer features two studio tracks from Sisters and Brothers (“New Kids” and “Break the Cycle”) and two live versions of songs (“Sisters and Brothers” and “Out West”) that will appear on the new album as well. What made you pick these specific tracks to introduce the record?
Bruno: Keeping in mind that Noisetrade is a huge platform for discovery, we choose to introduce the album version of “New Kids” for the first time here and have it kick off our NoiseTrade sampler. As a pretty upbeat song with a sweet-pop flavor or two mixed in, we thought some folks who might just be discovering the band may jump in a canoe and paddle out a little further with us after we broke the ice with something a little more mass friendly.
“Break The Cycle” showcases a rock/jam side of the band, which is new, and the live cuts are there to showcase what the band sounds like live to encourage folks to maybe think about experiencing the record in a live setting. We also put two previously released tracks up to showcase our roots.
NT: In true indie artist fashion, you guys don’t rely on many outside voices or hands in your creative process or day-to-day career logistics. What’s behind your staunch DIY ethic and what advice would you give to other bands thinking about taking the same approach.
Bruno: Our goal as a band has always been authenticity. So, on the creative side we’ve just focused our energy and made decisions based on what felt would assist in creating the most authentic music. Our DIY ethic to get that music out there comes from the vision we had to develop our sound and brand first, before exploring outside voices and hands in the day to day.
We’ve always had mentors and a couple of team members around us, but up until right around the five-year mark last year, we never had an official manager, or felt like we were “next level” ready. My advice from an authenticity point of view would be to carve out your sound, show some growth, and then seek professional help to assist in scaling that.
NT: How did working with producer Paul Moak influence the performances on Sisters and Brothers?
Phoebe: Paul was our muse and motivation for this record! Paul's name actually means good vibes (look it up, it's Greek) so anytime we were discouraged or mechanical in our performance, he needed only to walk into the room and flick his fiery dreadlocks and all was well. I remember Callie was tracking vocals on “The Curtain” and Paul cut her off, ran into the vocal booth, snatched her lyric sheet, and cried indignantly "I can TELL you're reading the LYRICS!"
NT: Having successfully navigated around the sophomore slump trap with your last album The Fourth Wall, were there any differences in the way you approached going into the studio this time around?
Taylor: This time working with Moak at the Smoakstack was unique because it was the first time we recorded everything for the record in the same place. On our previous records we were a little more spread out, usually over two locations or so, while we were tracking. For instance, we'd do drums at one house & vocals at another, just depending on what was necessary and what we had access to. In this case though, Smoakstack was a one stop shop for us. Everything was there that we could possibly want or need so we didn't have to move around at all.
Musically, our approach was different this time because there were four or five songs that we had never really played together. “Not Enough,” “Curtain,” “We Win,” and “Signs” (and maybe one more I'm forgetting) were all written but not arranged yet. So, we got to listen to Paul and really get down and dirty with him to come up with the way we all wanted the song to sound. With that process came a freshness when we went to actually tracking them since those songs were so fresh to us. It made for a really fun and creative time.
The recording processes for us have been unique from album to album. Each process has been appropriate for where we were at the time on a personal and professional level and Sisters and Brothers was no exception.
NT: Finally, you can’t have a band of two sibling groups and not have some interesting road stories to tell. Cryar sisters, tell us something about tour life with the Jones brothers and fellas, please return the favor.
Phoebe: Touring with the guys is a lot of fun actually. They treat us girls like queens and let us sleep on the bunks while they do all the driving. However, they have the best (worst) senses of smell and we can't eat anything but dry crackers or they'll complain and roll down the windows. That's what's so fun about that one time we put Taylor's leftover pancake from Denny's in his seat to welcome him back from the bathroom.
Bruno: Traveling with the Cryar sisters is awesome. They are great. We grew up completely opposite on everything though. My brother Taylor and I were always in to WWE wrestling growing up, and one time we had the night off near Cleveland where Monday Night Raw was happening on that night. We thought it would be fun to check that out. We BEGGED the girls to go with us. They finally agreed. We made signs… Whole nine yards. It was a blast for my brother and I. The girls… not so much. They thought it was completely ridiculous and a total waste of time. We still owe them for that!