The Rogers Sisters
By Alexander Laurence
The Rogers Sisters started out in New York City four years ago. They got caught up in the Williamsburg media craze. They opened for cool new bands like Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Soon they took their act over to Europe and caused a buzz internationally. But the real story starts in Williamsburg. This unique band was formed by Detroit-born scene veterans Jennifer Rogers (Vocals/Guitar) and Laura Rogers (Drums/Vocals). I had met Laura Rogers years before in the East Village before all the Williamsburg hype began. At some point they met Baltimore transplant Miyuki Furtado (Vocals/Bass) and soon formed the band. Their music was intense, fun, and unlike anyone. They are good looking and charismatic.
Their first album, Purely Evil, came out in early 2003. They set out on some of their first tours. They also played with some of their heroes like ESG, The Fall, and Mission of Burma. The band spent much of last year touring the U.S. and England, Germany and Scandinavia before returning to the studio last fall to work on Three Fingers with producer Tim Barnes. This is the record fans have been waiting for. Live, The Rogers Sisters are a dynamic band. I got to talk with them during their short tour with The Gossip. They are having a record release party at CBGB's on August 14th. Definitely check them out for yourself. Jennifer and Laura started a bar in Williamsburg called Daddy's (435 Graham Avenue), a FREEwilliamsburg favorite.
photo by Danna Kinsky
AL: Did you play in bands before?
Jennifer: I came to New York to play in a band. We were in a bunch of different bands. Miyuki was probably in the most eclectic bands.
Miyuki: I was in a bunch of bands in Baltimore. I play everything from Power Pop to Polka bands. We played some Klezmer music. We soon broke up.
AL: How long have you played together?
Laura: We started about four and a half years ago in Williamsburg.
Jennifer: I started writing some songs. I was going to play a party for a friend. It was a casual thing. We got the band together really fast. At first we played a lot of cover songs. We were doing what we thought nobody else was doing. That's what we wanted to do. After the course of a year, we discovered that there were several other bands doing similar things. We started writing more original songs.
AL: I left New York City for a few months, and came back at the end of 2000, and there seemed like there were a lot of new bands starting.
Laura: It was cool. Some of our first shows were at the bar Enid's. We played with a Fall cover band. It was fun. People were just playing fun music that we all wanted to play but never did because we were trying to be too serious in the 1990s.
AL: You played a Cure song early on.
Jennifer: "Object" was a b-side on our first single. We recorded it at the same time as our first album. It just ended up being a b-side. It was just one of the cover songs we did back then. We did a lot of covers.
AL: Like what?
Laura: Irma Thomas. We did a Hank Williams cover for someone's birthday.
Jennifer: We did a lot of soul cover. We did a lot of new wave songs. We did a song by The Buzzcocks. We did a Ramones medley.
AL: Did y the Northern Soul stuff go over everyone's head?
Laura: They loved it. It's party music.
Miyuki: We did a song by The Zombies. Some songs are fun to learn.
Jennifer: People wanted to dance. They were tired of that shoegazing stuff.
AL: What were some other places you played in Williamsburg?
photo by Danna Kinsky
Jennifer: Midnight Motion. We played at this Italian Social Club on Lorimer Street. This guy Sandy Gordon somehow finagled his way in. It was where old Italian dudes hung out. They were excited because they were making money. It was really wild. It was in the basement of some guy's house.
AL: I saw some shows at Rubulad and all over Williamsburg. There was a sense of experimentation back then.
Laura: There was a lot of puppet shows. That was the sort of environment that we started in. We weren't interested in being a career musician. We were going to a party so we thought we would do something funny.
AL: When I first came to New York, nobody would ever come to Williamsburg if they didn't live there. Then there were articles in the newspapers and magazines every year after 1998 saying that Williamsburg is the new hip place.
Jennifer: Now they move to New York just to live in Williamsburg. I heard about someone who found a place in Soho because it was cheaper than Williamsburg.
AL: In 2002, New York Magazine did an article about all the happening bands in NYC. It was something like "These are the twenty bands that you should check out." They were Interpol, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Rogers Sisters, and most of the bands that we associated with NYC in the past few years. Did that help?
Laura: Sure. There was a blurb in Rolling Stone Magazine. There was a write up in Time Out. That was the third article that came out on us. We got a lot more attention from people in the business after that.
AL: New York Magazine did a similar article the next year but most of the bands turned out to be lousy. I guess that The Star Spangles were in one of those articles. They turned out to be horrible.
Laura: We got in a fight with Star Spangles at Mighty Robot. They said that their mother died, so they wanted to go on before us. Another time they made some other excuse. But it made us play so much better because we were so mad.
AL: I met The Star Spangles when they first moved to New York.
Laura: Last time I heard they were playing at Sin-é during the middle of the week. I don't think that they are playing big venues.
AL: Nobody has heard of them outside of New York.
Jennifer: In every bad review, if people don't like your record, they compare it to The Star Spangles. It's embarrassing.
AL: Who else have you played with?
Laura: We played with The Datsuns. We have played with The Sightings. There is a local band called Cause Commotion that is a lot like The Television Personalities. They are American. Blood on The Wall is another local band. They are brother and sister. They are bringing grunge back.
Jennifer: We have played a lot. We have played big shows and some underground shows. We played with The Raveonettes before. We are getting ready to play with them for a few more weeks.
AL: When you record, do you do live takes?
Miyuki: The first one, Purely Evil, was like that. It was done in one or two takes.
Jennifer: We were on a time schedule. The guy we wanted to record with had one day open. He was leaving for five months. We did the album in thirty-six hours. Mixing, recording, everything. His name is Nicolas Vernhes. We recorded it at Rare Book Room in Williamsburg.
AL: That is where Fiery Furnaces recorded their albums.
Jennifer: With our second record we decided to take more time and do more production. The basic tracks are live. But we did a lot more producing and overdubbing. It was a creative experiment. We are really happy with it. Our friend Tim Barnes produced it. It was the first time we used a producer and let him change stuff. It was like having a new member of the band to inspire us and help us do things in new ways.
AL: What is the Rare Book Room Like?
Laura: It's really nice. It's in the basement of his house. It's a big garage that he turned into a studio.
Miyuki: He has a good live room. He has a good collection of vintage amps and keyboards.
AL: Did you use some of that gear on your record?
Miyuki: No. When we recorded there it was more like a live show. But on this recent record we have strings and a sax on it. Our friend Rob Hall plays sax on the record. We were listening to a lot of hiphop, reggae and dub music, so we spoke to Tim about doing something like that and exchanging ideas.
AL: Did you use a drum machine on the song "Five Months?"
Laura: No. It's more like a sample of a sample.
AL: You were playing along to the sample?
Laura: It doesn't sound anything like hiphop. We were just using the production value. We were inspired by that music, but we still sound like us.
AL: Did that song start with the drum sample?
Jennifer: It's actually an old song. It's one of the first songs we learned and played at a party. I wrote it in my bedroom. We rearranged it into something new and totally stripped it down to the basics. Tim got really creative on it. He really wanted us to write a new song in the studio. Instead of doing that we deconstructed a song we already had and made a new song out of it. I was listening to a lot of Bauhaus that week.
AL: How do most of your songs get written?
Jennifer: It starts with bass and drumbeats. Sometimes someone will bring in a whole song. If we write together usually they will come up with a beat and a general idea for a song. The lyrics come last. Miyuki can ad lib the lyrics. He can do that fast. For me, it takes a while.
Miyuki: Usually I will expunge all these things that are in my head. I will write ten songs at once. We will read through it and edit through it and pick out the best parts.
AL: You like to write it down or tape it?
Jennifer: Miyuki is really prolific. Like when he sits down to write a song, he will come back to us with eight songs where he will be playing every instrument.
AL: You get to pick the best songs?
Laura: They are all good songs. We think about which songs feel good when we play them together. Some songs are more happening and they excite us.
Miyuki: We will try anything once.
AL: You are going to make an arty record one day?
Miyuki: We are going to do a Justin Timberlake type of record.
AL: With the Matrix producing?
Jennifer: It will be our Matrix Christmas Voodoo Album.
AL: You used Pro Tools?
Laura: We recorded this on tape and then dumped it on Pro Tools.
Jennifer: We got to use a lot of different guitars and amps. We used a lot of weird effects that we never used before.
AL: Do you have really expensive guitars and amps?
Jennifer: We use only the most expensive guitar and amps.
AL: Some of your songs are about Freight Elevators and Riding A Bike. The songs take mundane activities and make them into songs.
Jennifer: Like Seinfeld?
AL: You don't have any love songs or songs about tortured souls.
Laura: We don't really think like that.
Miyuki: There are already enough amazing slow jams out there that I don't really have anything to add to the love song genre.
AL: You never play something and think "Let's sex it up!"
Jennifer: We are too uptight to reveal anything that intimate. It's all code. If you listen hard to our music the sexuality will come through.
AL: You had George Bush on the cover of the first album "Purely Evil."
Laura: That was a great horror.
AL: The Democratic Convention starts tomorrow.
Jennifer: We have to find some TVs so we can watch it here in California.
AL: I thought you supported Bush?
Miyuki: We will be playing there at Madison Square Garden. Yeah right!
AL: Does the group have a political philosophy?
Jennifer: We are not like The Ex.
AL: You voted for Ralph Nadar last time?
Laura: We did!
Jennifer: We were just depressed. People asked us about the album cover and if we were political. We realized that we would be a lot more political if we had more time and weren't in a band. We do not have time to be culturally involved. We only put George Bush on our album cover. We didn't reach out to the people that far. It's obvious.
AL: There are benefit shows. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is playing a benefit show for Redefeat Bush.
Laura: We have played a few of those types of shows. We played a few shows for John Kerry. We are political people in our private lives and that comes across in our songwriting. There are things to think about, but it's usually vague. There are things that are challenging but they are personal and metaphorical. We are not preaching or educating people. We did start out as a party band. We just don't write love songs. It's not in us to do that, so we write about other things.
AL: But once a band gets to a certain level and travels to other countries, you might one of the first few bands a young teenager finds out about. You are shaping their ideas about what an American band is like.
Laura: It's so weird to think about that.
AL: A young person looks up to The Rogers Sisters and maybe starts to dress like you. It's very important what you say and what you write about and what political views you may have.
Jennifer: We hope that we confuse them enough that they start thinking for themselves. That is our biggest mission.
AL: I was looking at this website recently called Underexposed (www.underexposed.org.uk).
Miyuki: It was when we played in England. We played at The Spitz.
AL: I was looking at many bands on this site. The one thing I noticed about The Rogers Sisters is that you guys are always on the ground.
Laura: We are trying to get away from that now. We have a lot of bruises and rugburns. We are trying to stay upright so we can save ourselves. We were drinking and having a good time.
Jennifer: We can concentrate more on playing the notes right.
AL: What do you think of The Gossip?
Jennifer: They are great. We have played with them several times over the past years.
AL: I think that I saw them once at CBGB's.
Laura: It's funny that you mention CBGB's. Most bands we know never play there anymore. We are having a record release party for "Three Fingers" there on August 14th. We decided to have it there because it is a great sounding club with so much history. We want to bring it back. We are playing all these weird places.
AL: Who asks you to play all these random support slots?
Laura: It's usually the bands. They have a lot of control. It's something that we are learning about. Sometimes the booking agency has an influence. But usually the bands pick their supporting acts. The Gossip were looking for supporting bands and we already knew them.
AL: Did all of you grow up with a musical background?
Miyuki: I grew up with a dual recorder in my bedroom. You could dub stuff. It's like a four track but it's really a two track recorder. I wasn't very outgoing when I was growing up.
Jennifer: It was a very sad childhood.
AL: What do you play live in your set now?
Jennifer: It's a short set. It's our style to play a lot of songs fast and quick.
Miyuki: We would like to get to a point where we are like James Brown. We want to play a medley of songs without stopping.
AL: How do you figure out the set list?
Laura: We play old and new songs. It changes every night. We play what we feel like playing.
AL: Do you play new songs?
Jennifer: We play new songs all the time. We play them out and get ideas about how we would want to record them. We change things when we play in front of people.
AL: Who does your website?
Miyuki: I do it when I have some time. It's really low key right now. It's low budget.
AL: What are European audiences like?
Laura: They are the best. I don't what to insult American audiences but European audiences are incredibly supportive and enthusiastic. If they have never heard of you they go crazy. They just like going to shows. It's fun. We have fun Scandinavian.
Miyuki: The Germans are very nice but they are very honest also in critiques of your band. They require that bands play more than hour.
AL: You wrote that song about the "NME" and now the NME writes about you.
Jennifer: They loved that!
Miyuki: Somebody from the NME asked me why I wrote that line. I told them that it was easier to find something to rhyme with NME than Mojo. I think that NME is hilarious. It's like People Magazine for music. It's bizarre, trashy, and gossipy.
AL: Some of those magazines have the bonus CD.
Miyuki: They are really into the compilation over there.
AL: Have you been on one of those?
Jennifer: We have been on the Rough Trade compilations.
AL: You did a John Peel Session?
Jennifer: Yeah. We set the studio on fire. The equipment blew up.
AL: Did you do a cover song?
Jennifer: We did a Joy Division song.