INTERVIEW: Sweetback Sisters head to Rockwood Music Hall to celebrate new album

The Sweetback Sisters consists of Emily Miller and Zara Bode, and their new album is King of Killing Time. Photo courtesy of Anja Schutz.

The Sweetback Sisters, consisting of Emily Miller and Zara Bode, combine classic country sounds with a 2017 vibe on their new album, King of Killing Time. The band will celebrate the recent release of the studio effort with a special New York City concert Thursday, Sept. 28 at Rockwood Music Hall.

The new album, featuring 10 tracks, is billed as a wonderful mixture of George Jones-esque country with a little Gram Parsons thrown in. Both Miller and Bode handle the infectious harmonies, resulting in music that honors the tradition of country and rockabilly, while also simultaneously reinventing the genres.

The Sweetback Sisters have been going strong for a decade, ever since their 2007 EP debut, Bang! Throughout the intervening years, they received critical acclaim and built a loyal fan base. It has been a while sine they entered the studio and toured the nation, but now they are ready for a renaissance with King of Killing Time.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Miller about the upcoming concert and new album. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What can your fans expect on the new album King of Killing Time?

Our favorite Sweetback musical elements are absolutely there: close harmony singing, tight grooves and all-in lead parts. But this new record also has a drive and a darkness that we’ve never achieved in the studio before. It’s always hard to pin down exactly what makes each studio session special, but this time we managed to find an energy and inventiveness together that felt perfect for these songs.

When do you know it’s time to get back in the studio and start recording? When does it feel right?

We had been champing at the bit to get in the studio for a while — probably two years or more — but life threw a few obstacles in our path. Some of the original tunes on this record were ones we’d been playing and tweaking in live shows for several years. There was never any question that we had to make a record for these songs, but some health issues and several baby arrivals kept us off the road and out of the studio until late 2016.

How influential has classic country been on your careers?

Musically, I’d say we have a lot of influence from classic country. Country in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s was overwhelmingly driven by boot-scooting or buckle-polishing grooves and personal storytelling. We embrace both of those elements in our original tunes, even as we’re writing and playing with a modern-day slant. I personally find great inspiration from the live footage that’s available to watch these days of Kitty Wells, George Jones, Faron Young, Buck Owens and other classic country masters. God bless YouTube for letting us watch seemingly endless hours of old TV variety shows, right?

When was the first time you picked up a guitar and started singing? Does this love for music go back to when you were children?

My parents are both musicians and taught me and my brothers to sing from the get-go. We even had a little family band, so I became comfortable singing in front of people from almost the very beginning. I also picked up the fiddle at age 3, but singing was always my passion. When I was about 16, my mom told me that I was not allowed to be a ‘chick singer’ and had to learn how to play the guitar to accompany myself. So I did. Always mind your mother!

What does the rest of 2017 and 2018 look like for the band?

We are about to head out on our second run of CD release shows this year and are in the midst of planning more legs of our tour for 2018. In the meantime, we’re gearing up for our ninth-annual Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular. The title kind of speaks for itself, but basically that’s our big holiday extravaganza tour at the end of the year. We’re definitely looking forward to that and then also to bringing King of Killing Time to [our] fans far and wide in the coming year.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

The Sweetback Sisters will play Thursday, Sept. 28 at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. They are supporting their new album, King of Killing Time. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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