He’s My Brother She’s My Sister is a band of artists, passionate about their art, eclectic in their style, spinning tales and tapping tambourines like the gypsies of Eastern Europe. They aren’t really similar to Roma nomads, except in their scattered and compelling way of telling stories. In fact, this indie group isn’t really similar to anyone. They have their influences, but as the brother and sister say, their sound is “integrated,” a varied “mélange.” This is clearly conveyed through layers of tones of their music — the definite slaps of tap shoes, the twang of a Southern-tinged voice belonging to a half-British singer, a slide guitar, and otherworldly harmonies that grow until six voices hum to you from all directions. Rachel and Rob Kolar, who share vocal duties, tap dancer Lauren Brown, upright bassist Oliver Newell, and slide-guitarist Aaron Robinson make up the band. No matter how you look at He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, you can’t call them ordinary, and they’d prefer it that way. Maybe they are leaders of the counterculture, arty hipsters who want to be heard, but as Rob explains it, they’re just trying to take the “idea of a pop song [and turn it] on its head, doing something with a memorable melody and progression that takes it somewhere else.”
Traversing the southern United States via tour van, the band is currently on a musical transformation journey of sorts. (They cruise through S.B. — and play SOhO — this Wednesday, October 26.) The past months have brought two new full-time members into their family, Newell and Robinson. Newell says he has noticed a change in the band since their first recording, a self-titled EP that they released in 2010, saying their sound has been “getting a little more audacious and rock in some fields. It’s still very colorful and gentle music — it’s not punk rock or anything — but it’s stepped up a lot, and I think the recording embodies what the band was like in its more rootsy stages, more melodic and I guess softer than what it is now.”
“Flamboyant folk, glam-a-billy, vaudeville pop, cabaret blues,” their Web site declares. The point is, it’s impossible to pin them down to just one genre. Both Kolars were flustered when I asked them to limit a description of the band to just one word. Rob simply expressed that he preferred to just leave it up to interpretation.
In the band’s exploration, they take into account history, politics, magic, and science as they try to form their emotions and experiences into the sort of music you can sing along to. I asked Rachel about her experiences creating music, to which she replied that “the whole process [of creating music] up until this very moment has been a discovery … through my voice and through singing. It’s become a real sort of physical experience; it’s almost a body high.”
Onstage, the band successfully conveys the “body high” that Rachel describes. Whether it’s the spirited (and dance-party ready) “How’m I Gonna Get Back Home,” or the hypnotism of “The House That Isn’t Mine” and “Lazy Daze,” there is a certain pull to the music, a combination of back rhythms and bouncing melodies that will make you feel exactly what they are feeling.
Since music is by definition about the tones, textures, and patterns of sound, it shocked me to hear Rachel say she didn’t think of herself as a musician, but a performance artist. But it makes sense. She is a former actress, Brown is a dancer and actress, and Rob calls their work a “musical soup.” The band draws inspiration from artistic expression anywhere they can find it. Brown brings her childhood habit of listening only to the drum beat of a song to the band and provides percussion by way of tap dancing. She also plays the hand drum as she dances, which she says “strips down what I’m doing with tap dancing. … It opens my world.” This open quality is something that runs throughout the band’s songwriting process. Rachel says that an integral part of their music is about exposure, telling an honest story, compromising your ego for the sake of art.
“I write for my spirit, for nature,” she continued. “You’re writing for your friends, or you’re writing to release things … sometimes you’re writing for people that you may never even see again.”
It seems every member of He’s My Brother She’s My Sister had some quip or quirky wisdom to impart in regard to their music. That is, everyone except for Robinson, who I’m told was passed out in the back of the van when we spoke. Though I’m sure he’s got plenty to say, as well.
He’s My Brother She’s My Sister play an all-ages show at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, October 26, at 8 p.m. with The Mumlers and Amanda Jo Williams. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.