Music Interviews
5:04 am
Sat April 27, 2013

Singing Sisters Reconsider The Everly Brothers

Originally published on Sat April 27, 2013 3:57 pm

The Chapin Sisters are a critically acclaimed duo, with tinges of folk, country and pop in their songs. For their latest project, Lily and Abigail Chapin looked to another famous set of singing siblings: Don and Phil, The Everly Brothers.

Lily Chapin says the genesis of their new tribute album, A Date with The Everly Brothers, was a creative workaround of sorts. The duo was once a trio featuring another Chapin sister, Jessica; the three siblings grew up singing three-part harmonies together. Several years ago, Jessica left the group to start a family.

"With two-part harmony, you kind of are playing with elimination," Lily Chapin says. "Which of the three notes in a chord are you removing? Obviously there are chords that have more than three notes in them, but the basic structure of a major or a minor chord is in those three. With The Everly Brothers, for some reason — whether it was the songwriters they were working with, whether it was their ears, whether it was the many, many years that they sang together — they were masters at just choosing the perfect two notes in almost every situation. You never miss the third voice."

Lily and Abigail Chapin spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about the challenge of making the Everlys' songs — some of America's most enduring — work for them. To hear more of their conversation, click the audio link on this page.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THE CHAPIN SISTERS: (Singing) (unintelligible) in the end...

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I'd like to introduce you now to a set of singing siblings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SISTERS: (Singing) Sweet, sweet lies in the end...

LILY CHAPIN: My name is Lily Chapin. I am one of the Chapin Sisters. I'm here with my sister Abigail.

ABIGAIL CHAPIN: That's me. I'm Abigail Chapin.

SIMON: The Chapin Sisters, critically acclaimed duo with tinges of folk, country and pop in their songs. But when they went looking for a new project, the sisters decided to go on a double-date of sorts with another set of famous set of singing siblings. Don and Phil - the Everly Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WILL I BE LOVED")

SISTERS: (Singing) I've been made blue, I've been lied to, when will I be loved?

SIMON: "A Date With the Everly Brothers" is a tribute album and the latest release by the Chapin Sisters. So, is one of you Don and one of you Phil?

CHAPIN: I'm Don. Abigail's Phil. Abigail has the high, beautiful tambour of Phil.

CHAPIN: I'm taller. What can I say?

CHAPIN: She's taller.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN WILL I BE LOVED")

SISTERS: (Singing) When I meet a new girl that I want for mine, she always breaks my heart in two, it happens every time. I've been cheated, been...

SIMON: So, what intrigued you about the Everly Brothers? Abigail, why don't you begin with that?

CHAPIN: Well, we started out as a trio. We have another sister named Jessica. And we always, because we grew up as three sisters, we naturally always sang three-part harmony up until a couple of years ago when Jessica had her daughter, Myra Jean, and Lily and I were left as a duo.

CHAPIN: And with the two-part harmony, you kind of are playing with elimination. You're playing with which of the three notes in a chord are you removing. And, obviously, there are chords that have more than three notes in them, but the basic structure of a major or minor chord is in those three. And with the Everly Brothers, you know, for some reason, I don't know where it came from, whether it was the songwriters they were working with, whether it was their ears, whether it was the many, many years that they sang together, they were masters at just choosing the perfect two notes in almost every situation. You never miss the third voice. You never think, oh, I will there was another Everly, meaning the third part.

SIMON: Let me ask you to take us in the process a bit, because one of the challenges of a project like this, I imagine, would be to take essentially somebody else's signature song and make it work for you. So, let's begin. Perhaps the Everly Brothers' best-known song: "All I Have to Do is Dream."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM")

EVERLY BROTHERS: (Singing) Dream, dream, dream, dream. Dream, dream, dream, dream. When I want you in my arms, when you want you and all your charms, whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream...

SIMON: So, you heard that. What did you say to each other?

CHAPIN: Well, we didn't grow up knowing every single Everly Brothers' song, contrary to what we like to lead people to believe. But we did know that very well. So, when we were picking songs, it was kind of the chopping block. Like is this too popular? Did too many people know this song? Does everyone have it, like, emblazoned in their minds completely or should we do it anyway? But it is an amazing song. I mean, it's perfect. And it's probably the only song in the history of the world that uses the phrase gee-whiz so poetically. So, we decided we would do it. And when we were in the studio recording songs, which we did live all in one day, it was kind of at the end of the day. And that's one that we strayed almost the most from its original version.

SIMON: Well, let's listen to what you came up with.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM")

SISTERS: (Singing) I need you so that I could die. I love you so and that is why, whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream, dream, dream, dream, dream.

SIMON: Boy, that's haunting. There are other cuts that you do where you almost sound like members of the Everly family. Let's listen to "Cathy's Clown."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CATHY'S CLOWN")

SISTERS: (Singing) Don't want your love anymore. Don't want your kisses, that's for sure. I die each time I hear this sound, here he comes, that's Cathy's clown...

SIMON: What is there about siblings' voices that gets to us?

CHAPIN: You know, that's something that we get asked a lot. We don't know. I think partially, I guess, genetics that you have similar facial structure, which leads to tambour. But I think more it's just that you've been singing together your whole lives. So, there's a familiarity with each other's voices and tendencies and you know exactly what she's going to do next.

SIMON: And you - this is something you avert to earlier - why did you record all the songs at once?

CHAPIN: Actually, that was part of the, I guess, the tribute or the emulation. You know, in the old days, you didn't have the luxuries of digital recording that we have now. So, you know, everybody who played on the record had to be able to get in the studio and execute it all at once. So, we wanted to feel what that was like. And Abigail and I were in one...

CHAPIN: Stairwell. Yeah, like...

CHAPIN: ...in the stairwell. We had the rest of the band in the main recording room and then it just kind of worked, so we were thrilled.

SIMON: The phrase you just tossed off I think would strike a lot of people at home. So, you rented a studio so you could sing in a stairwell? I'm not sure I understand that.

CHAPIN: Well, OK, so...

SIMON: I mean, the people who recorded in the Motown garage, that was, like, what they had.

CHAPIN: Yeah.

CHAPIN: Right.

CHAPIN: Well, OK. So, we rented the studio for the studio.

CHAPIN: And since not everyone records like that anymore, not everyone's always playing live. In fact, it's, you know, it's not common anymore. So, there wasn't room for us besides in the stairwell.

CHAPIN: Yeah, they didn't have enough isolation booths. And we gave the isolation booth to the piano player and so we took the stairwell. But, you know, stairwells are underrated places.

CHAPIN: And they have nice, yeah, reverb. And it's the acoustics.

CHAPIN: The acoustics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL DO MY CRYING IN THE RAIN")

SISTERS: (Singing) I'll never let you see, the way my broken heart is hurting me. I've got my pride and I know how to hide, but my sorrow and pain. I'll do my crying in the rain.

SIMON: Abigail and Lily, the Chapin Sisters. Their latest album, "A Date with the Everly Brothers," was released this week. They joined us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHAPIN: Thank you so much.

CHAPIN: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.