Interview

The Assured, Authentic Americana of The Keller Sisters

Since releasing their debut CD Shine in 2013, The Keller Sisters have quickly taken their place at the top of the Americana and Folk Charts and the San Francisco songwriting community for their warm harmonies, keen perspective and sense of humor.  Following up Shine up with 2014's equally assured House of Cards, the success of siblings Sheryl and Kerry is well deserved: They bring an easy grace forged by a strong family bond, and a lifetime of musical experience to any stage they take.  The two discussed their life in music as they prepared to perform at the American River Music Festival.  

Deborah Crooks: Did you have similar tastes growing up? Did you go through any sibling rivalry or rebellion?

Keller Sisters: We have been singing together as long as we can remember. We shared a room and our mother dressed us alike so a strong bond was formed early on. We can not remember a time that either one of us was jealous of the other. We still finish each other’s sentences. One of our songs has the line "Two peas in a pod two nuts in one shell"...pretty much sums it up.

How does (or doesn't!) your first teen duo project reflect your current sound?

Back then, we played the music we were listening to: Music rooted in harmony and lyrics with strong melody.  Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles. Over the years, we have developed a love for every genre but our music definitely has these early influences.


Can you describe events that led to you forming officially as The Keller Sisters and recording Shine?

Our cover band, Blue Tuesday was playing a lot — local clubs and some festivals — and while it was and is very fun, we started missing the stripped-down sound and the music that we played when we were young. In 2011, we were asked to play a fundraiser and decided to do a few songs, just the two of us.  We played some of the old songs and one original tune. It went well and we really enjoyed it. The first time playing the original song in public was an “Ah Hah” moment and we realized we wanted to do more of that.  After writing more songs, we decided to record them just to have for us and our family. We found a wonderful producer and during the process decided that we would release a CD to have something to share when we played live. It all came together quickly, and we did a residency at a local venue to fine tune the songs and try out new ones. One of our first rehearsals we thought of all kinds of clever names for our duo, then gave up and decided to go with who we are.

Your mother was a singer and actress and you've been exposed to music for most of your life: was there ever a time you weren't doing music or wanted to do something else?

Our mother was a huge influence on us. She had an incredible voice with gorgeous tone and perfect pitch. She moved the family from San Francisco to Los Angeles after our older brother was born. We lived our early lives in Hollywood while she worked in films and did local television. Dad taught the movie stars kids at a private school. His father asked him to join the family insurance business back in SF and the decision was made to come back home. Mom decided that she would go back to her first love which was musical theater. She toured extensively and when she was home was constantly rehearsing. This exposed us to a world of music and wonderful training. We grew up watching her perform and meeting her on tour. We were fortunate to do summer stock with her which was a real education. We both sang in the school Glee Club and did lavish productions in our bedroom. We worked out all the harmony parts to Beatles songs and aspired to be the next Simon and Garfunkel.  We are having so much fun right now, but those moments where our voices become one still bring us the most joy.

How do you write? Do you write together or individually bring songs to the table?

So far, Sheryl does all of the songwriting. The ideas come from personal experience reading and observing life.  Kerry is the editor and sounding board. When a song is close, we work together on the details and fine-tune, tweaking the melody to highlight the harmonies which is so important to us.

Who are you listening to or reading now? Any sounds you're especially loving?

We recently saw the amazing Ruthie Foster and had our first Steve Poltz experience. We see as much live music as we can and always come away completely inspired... It is thrilling to discover new music. Currently we are listening to Jason Isbell and Gretchen Peters.


What's next? Anything new audiences can expect at the American River Music Fest in September?

We have a collection of new songs and only one of them has been performed live. We will be spending the next few months fine-tuning them and are hoping to record another CD early in 2016. We are so excited to play the American River Music Festival and are looking forward to hearing all of the music... We will surely discover and become fans of someone we have never heard before and what a thrill that is!

The Keller Sisters perform this Friday, September 18 at The American River Music Festival 950 Lotus Road Coloma, California