Interview

The Secret Sisters Taking a Magic Red Carpet Ride to Grammy Awards

The Secret Sisters (from left): Lydia and Laura Rogers

The Secret Sisters are going to the Grammys in New York this weekend, and they plan to make their first visit to the music awards show a memorable occasion. But one artist in particular better watch his back.

“They may regret inviting us rednecks to such a classy event, but we’re gonna make them remember us,” said a jovial Laura Rogers, the older, less reserved of the two northern Alabama-raised sisters who are nominated for Best Folk Album for their exquisite work on You Don't Own Me Anymore. “I’m planning on kidnapping Bruno Mars to bring him back to Alabama with me.”

Of course, her hearty laugh during a phone interview was a dead giveaway that this was all in fun. And Laura and Lydia Rogers expect to thoroughly enjoy themselves from the time they arrive Friday (Jan. 26) until they hit the sack either late Sunday or early Monday.

With Aimee Mann, Laura Marling and Yusuf/Cat Stevens providing stiff competition in the folk album category, the Secret Sisters don’t expect to win the award that will be announced before the prime-time telecast of the 60th Grammys airs on CBS (7:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 28), but they have plenty of other reasons to celebrate.

You Don't Own Me Anymore is a saving grace of sorts for the Secret Sisters, who were struggling to make ends meets after being dropped by their first label and declaring bankruptcy despite the success of their first two albums.

Luckily, they found a guardian angel in Brandi Carlile, the splendid folks-roots singer songwriter who swooped down and rescued them, serving as a friend, confidante and mentor who encouraged them to make a third album, which she agreed to produce. It was released by New West Records in June, following a successful PledgeMusic campaign and a journey to Seattle, where they were invited to stay at Carlile’s house during the recording sessions.

“Just so much generosity and complete selflessness,” Laura said of Carlile during their “magical” collaboration. Lydia, who echoed those sentiments, added, “We could go on and on about how much we love her.”

So now that they’re heading to the Grammys, how many secrets were the Secret Sisters willing to reveal about their first nomination and what they will do before, during and after Music’s Biggest Night? Quite a few, actually.

For our Jan. 9 phone interview, the day after the University of Alabama football team won the national championship, Lydia was on the line from her home in Birmingham, a two-hour drive south of Florence, Ala., where the Rogers sisters grew up; Laura chatted from Killen, Ala., where she now owns the place her grandparents built in the 1950s.

Neither admittedly are either football or sports fans but supported the Crimson Tide because otherwise “we’d probably be disowned,” Laura said. Added Lydia, “I was really into [the game] the whole time, so … maybe I’m turning a new leaf.”

Regardless, there will be a cheering section of family members back home in Alabama rooting for them on Grammy night. The Secret Sisters reveal their game plan. 

 Photo by Abraham Rowe

The nomination

Lydia was just waking up when her husband Mark Slagle, who was out walking their dog, called with the news shortly after the nominations were announced in November.

“It wasn’t even on our radar,” she said, pointing out there were more than 100 submissions in their category. “I wasn’t really coherent [when the phone rang], but it was one of the more exciting moments of my life. Just never in a million years could have imagined something like this. … We’re gonna be a couple fish out of water. But we’re looking forward to being fancy for one night.”

Laura, who was blow-drying her hair while getting ready to leave for a series of final 2017 tour dates, said, “It was just so astonishing how many bands were trying for it. … They all have something really incredible that they bring to the table. And I remember voting and thinking, ‘This is ridiculous. We are not even gonna come close.’ … I just wrote it off in my mind. I thought it’s just too much of a long shot for us right now. It’s not our turn.”

Laura noticed that Lydia had called earlier that morning but didn’t respond, then checked her phone later to discover all the messages and missed calls she had received.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no, something terrible has happened. World War III has started and I’m missing out on it.’ And I called Lydia back and she told me. I screamed, and my dogs were absolutely terrified. (laughs) It still doesn’t seem real.”

Where will they perform?

The Secret Sisters are relieved that they weren’t invited to sing at the Grammys, where Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Pink and U2 are among the acts that will share the spotlight at Madison Square Garden. “I think that would be really scary,” said Laura, who did share one of her favorite Grammy moments after their career began.

“We’re not even in the same realm as her but I remember a few years ago watching the Grammys [on TV], and as a musician, you watch it just to see kind of what the climate is and who’s getting all the recognition,” she explained. “And I remember thinking that so much of the Grammys was just this really big spectacle, you know. Just these over-the-top performances and theatrics, and it was really incredible to see such a thing be put on. And then, all of a sudden, Adele walks up on stage and she stands in front of a microphone and sings a song  so simply and so perfectly. … I remember thinking, like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s what it comes down to is: Can you take a song and can you communicate that in a way that touches people?’

“I don’t think we’ll ever get invited to perform on the Grammys, but if we did, I would channel her.”

There are a couple of Grammy-related events Saturday in New York where those gorgeous two-part sisterly harmonies can be heard, though. At 1 p.m. ET at Joe’s Pub, Folk Alliance International will honor past and present Best Folk Album nominees and other roots artists during a show emceed by Rose Cousins, with performances by the Secret Sisters and the fifth nominee in their category, Olivia Chaney of Offa Rex.

Then at 8 p.m. ET, Laura and Lydia will be among the special guests appearing at City Winery for A Salute to Emmylou Harris, the Americana Music Association’s star-studded tribute that also will include performances by Carlile, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Valerie June and more.

What are they wearing?

Walking the red carpet “gives me terrible anxiety,” Laura admitted, even if their arrival is hours before the prime-time players make an entrance.

“We’ve been warned that sometimes when you’re a lowly folk artist on the red carpet, someone will be interviewing you and then all of a sudden, someone much [more famous] will come along and [the interviewers] just like completely walk away from you to go pay attention to Beyonce or whoever,” she added. “So I’m preparing myself mentally to be the non-center of attention.” (laughs)

So what are they wearing?

Lydia, who admits this was the first time anyone had asked that now-obligatory question, said: “I’m bad because I don’t even know the brand name of my dress. But I know I got it at Nordstrom. We don’t place too much weight on that kind of stuff, although we probably should.”

Laura, who was having a fitting the day after this interview, offered: “I had this fantasy about showing up to the Grammys and being interviewed on television and then people being like, ‘What are you wearing tonight?’ And I get to say, ‘I got my outfit from Target or something terrible.’ … I told myself I didn’t really want to wear a dress and so I have the opportunity to work with a really incredible fashion designer named Billy Reid. His flagship store is in our hometown (Florence). I feel really ritzy.”    

Who are they bringing?

Allowed only a plus-1, Lydia’s choice is obvious — her husband. “I’m making him buy a suit for once,” she said with determined glee.

Laura would have taken her husband Kyle, but he is deployed with his National Guard unit until this summer. “That stinks not to be able to celebrate with him,” she said of the man she married in April 2016. “But I’m bringing Brandi Carlile as my date. Not a bad Plan B.”

What if they win?

Though neither Laura nor Lydia said they had prepared an acceptance speech before this Jan. 9 interview, they did start thinking about what they might say. Just in case, of course.

“I actually asked yesterday, I asked our management how long of a speech they want if you do win, which we’re not expecting to win but we’ve never had to write an acceptance speech before,” said Laura, when asked what they had in mind. “So, I don’t know, I guess express gratitude to everyone who helped you get there and then you cry a little bit.” (laughs)

Not letting her sister get too carried away, Lydia teased: “Well, I think that if by chance we do win, it needs to be written down because Laura’s mouth tends to get away from her sometimes …”

After a perfunctory thank you/you’re welcome exchange between the two, Laura continued.

“I just feel like they should let you know ahead of time if you won,” she said half-seriously. “That way you can kind of like get over yourself a little bit and if you need to cry or throw up, you can get that out of the way and then you can calmly accept your award. But, yeah, we’ll just speak from the heart. Maybe that will be enough.”

Special thank-yous would go out to their husbands and family, “particularly our parents because they raised us in a really musical environment,” Lydia said. “Definitely our management (Olivia Management in Nashville), they’ve been a huge part of it. Everybody on our team has just been amazing. And so it’s gonna be hard to fit everyone we need to thank into one little 30-second speech.”

They would make sure to make time for Carlile, though.

“We would not be here if it wasn’t for her,” Lydia added of the woman who befriended them on tour in 2011. “We don’t even know if we would be continuing our career if it weren’t for her.”

Who do they want to meet (besides Bruno Mars)?

Laura: “Oh, wow. I know this is maybe like unexpected but I would like to meet all the other people that are nominated alongside us in the Folk Album category just because, I mean, for one thing, we’re fans of those artists. And we listened to a lot of Cat Stevens music growing up. I would just really love to meet him and kind of tell him how much his music has meant to me over the years.”

Acknowledging that Stevens’ The Laughing Apple is his first Grammy nomination, just like the Secret Sisters, Laura admitted, “It feels kind of awful to go up against him. It feels kind of wrong.”

Lydia: “Like Laura, I’d like to meet the other nominees in our category, but especially Laura Marling. I’m a big fan of her. I’ve got all her records. I love her most recent record (2017’s Semper Femina) with Blake Mills. She does a podcast (Reversal of the Muse) that I really like. So she’s kind of a hero of mine and someone I really look up to.”

Who’ll get the afterparty started?

Saying “we really love early bedtime … I know that makes us sound really, really cool but we turn into pumpkins after a certain time,” Laura isn’t keen on staying up too late but figures, “Brandi will drag us kicking and screaming to the afterparties. We’re not particularly social butterflies and so I’m sure Brandi will want all of us to kind of make an appearance, which we will do because we should.”

Photo by Abraham Rowe

Where do they go from there?

There’s no stopping the Secret Sisters after New York. They fly to Glasgow to begin a prestigious series of shows called the Transatlantic Sessions led by musical directors Jerry Douglas and  Aly Bain. Suzy Bogguss and some of the best musicians from Ireland and Scotland will join them on a bus that winds through the United Kingdom during the first two weeks of February. Laura and Lydia will have a brief break and a few dates in the States before going back across the pond in March and early April.

The trips might help ease the pain after a rough holiday season when Laura and Lydia lost both grandmothers — Mable Evelyn Parker, 83; and Marcie Lou Rogers, 87, whose photo as a 14-year-old (above) is on the cover of You Don't Own Me Anymore — to cancer during a one-week period after Christmas.

Even if they can’t go professionally by their last name, that legacy will be remembered, honored and cherished by the two who remain “super, super family oriented.”

The Secret Sisters, who adopted the moniker after finding out that using the Rogers Sisters “was gonna cost us a lot of money to get the rights” because another band beat them to it, like the mystery associated with the name and the fact that they live separate lives in separate towns when not performing together.

Both were tempted at different times to put down roots in Nashville, but couldn’t stray too far from home.

Laura lived in Nashville until finding her way back to Killen in the summer of 2010. She shops at the local Walmart (“very glamorous”) and spends time with her six dogs, while hoping one day to raise goats, chickens, cows and donkeys on a “hobby” farm.

Preferring the simple life, she kids about becoming a “hermit with too many pets” in a home where her mom and four aunts were raised.

“So there’s a spiritual kind of connection that I have to the house that I live in,” Laura said. “I can’t leave it, you know? It influences the music and it influences my growth as a person, and I just think I would be really lost if I had to just transplant myself in a place that didn’t hold any sentiment for me.”

Meanwhile, Lydia, who studied graphic design in college and now enjoys taking classes in ceramics and jazz singing, ended a three-year stay in the Music City to move to Birmingham in 2016 with her husband, a Nashville native and filmmaker.

So what happens when Laura and Lydia begin seeing each other constantly during a long winter tour that stretches into spring and summer?

They conceded that they do argue, like any normal siblings. “Usually when we’re hungry or homesick or tired, we argue about what songs we’e gonna play during our show, we argue about our blend in the microphones or the monitors at soundcheck,” Laura said. “We argue about where we’re gonna eat lunch (laughs), pretty much everything that you could argue over.”

Lydia agreed, adding, “We really don’t ever have those knockdown, drag-out fights. We have those petty little arguments that can make each other cry, and then five minutes later, we’re fine.”

Declaring a winner in a minor family feud might be futile but it often depends on whether Laura has decided to go vegan that day. Yet sometimes, kid sister does get the last word.

To settle a disagreement, Lydia maintained they “just get really quiet and let the time pass.”

The sounds of silence don’t last long.

“I think that’s the glory of being sisters,” Laura said. “It’s hard to understand if you don’t have a close relationship with your sibling but we can say some of the most heartless and cruel things to one another but we know we don’t mean it and we know that it’s just a bad moment where we lose control of our temper and at the end of the day, there’s nobody that I would rather be making music with. And I would never want to do any of this by myself, so …"

Before she completed the thought, Lydia skillfully interrupted, knowing precisely when to jump in.

“Did you record that?” she asked. “Write it down.”

Laughing in tandem, they obviously enjoy trading jabs as much as sharing lead vocal turns. 

With timing like that, in addition to a Grammy nod that puts their name smack-dab on the world stage, Laura and Lydia just might become the worst-kept Secret Sister act in the business.

Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including No Depression. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas

Publicity photos by Abraham Rowe.

Enjoyed the interview immensely Michael...it may not win, but it's a really good record...

Thanks, Jim. Laura and Lydia were a lot of fun. Yeah, I'd say they're a definite long shot, considering the competition that includes my favorite album of the year, Aimee Mann's Mental Illness, but they should have a great year regardless.