By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Sister Wife
They’ve only been releasing music for a little over a year, but Selena and Serena Vernon, aka Sister Wife, share a connection that transcends most collaborative boundaries. The twin-sisters from Riverside, Calif. have been charming audiences with their enchanting vocal harmonies while releasing a steady online stream of original material in anticipation of their first full length album.
Their soft and haunting textures have attracted a sizeable following—all the more remarkable considering how young the Vernon sisters are. With college looming on the horizon, and the appetizing prospect of band expansion on the mind, BTR catches up with Selena to hear a little bit about their connection and what’s in store for this year.
You two are sisters. Did you discover music together?
We didn’t always play music together. I took on music a little earlier than she did; when Sister Wife came together, I had already been writing, recording, and performing for about a year. Serena is a writer and I was always intrigued by her writing so she did co-write a few songs with me in my solo project. I think working together on that really showed us that we were compatible.
We’re twins, so the bond is unmistakably there. And when we finally sat down and played together, everything just fell into place.
That level of intimacy must really influence the songwriting process.
I can feel Serena’s energy really well and she can feel mine really well too. Our relationship only feeds the songwriting process, because we feel strongly about almost all the same things, and when one idea is put on the table, one of us will just run with it until the other one picks it up.
It’s kind of like a domino effect, if you want to imagine it visually. We just build on what each other say. It makes the songwriting process quite smooth, but also intense and very enjoyable.
How about musical influences? Your sound feels so unified; do you draw on a similar pool of inspiration?
For the most part our music tastes don’t stray too far from one another’s. But there are some instances where we banter about what artists sound good and what artists don’t. I like to listen to R&B, soul, and trip-hop; so, naturally, I want to experiment with those elements during the songwriting process. Serena tends to enjoy guitar bands and killer harmonies, so sometimes our influences clash, but I think we do a good job and meeting in the middle when it comes to inspiration.
Your songs have a certain airiness to them, an atmosphere distant and beautiful yet almost haunting at times. How do you achieve that ambience, and what is your recording process like?
We’ve faced a lot of criticism with our use of reverb, but I think that’s what makes Sister Wife Sister Wife. It really gives the airy quality that we want and like. I think I grew up learning about all types of art and what I see in all arts is that silence is really beautiful. On a canvas, white space is powerful, while in a song silence sometimes evokes emotion more than words can. In our newer material, we’ve been writing lyrics that are sparser, so the music can tell the story and our voices can float above it as reinforcements.
The harmonies in your songs are great too. Do you write them beforehand, or are they more spontaneous?
Harmonies are my favorite part of the recording process because they are completely spontaneous. It’s fun mostly because it challenges me to creatively think on my feet and come up with a harmony on the spot. I also like being surprised. I used to plan harmonies, but they’re never as raw as when I spontaneously come up with something.
What’s the songwriting process like for you? Where did you get the inspiration for writing a song like “Anum”?
Most Sister Wife songs are written in one sitting, with Serena and I both throwing lines in the air, not really knowing what theme or meaning or story we’re coming up with. Then weeks later, reading the lyrics, we realize they’re actually pretty cohesive and we find what the song means to us.
“Anum” is a song we wrote for our best friend’s birthday. She is the only other girl I’m really close to besides my sister. We wrote the song initially just as a present, but it became more than that. It really means a lot to us because we’re all going our separate ways for college, and I think the song infinitely bonded us to Anum.
So far your output has mainly consisted of demo releases and individual songs. Can audiences expect a full-length album of material at some point in the future?
Some point in the future? Yes. When exactly in the future? That’s still up for discussion.
At the same time it’s really nice to have the track-by-track releases. Releasing “Womb” in honor of Mother’s Day was touching, and I’m sure that was the best gift for your mother. She must be really proud to have two such talented daughters.
Thank you. My mother loved the song (thank God). Writing her a song is just a little thing we do for her every Mother’s Day, it’s just the first time we actually recorded it.
What are your plans for this year?
We want to really solidify the band; maybe change the duo into a full band. We’re moving to LA this fall for college so we’re excited to use the resources and connections the City of Angels has to offer. Above that, we plan to write more material and begin working on an official release.