Aly Westrin from WLUW sat down with the Oracle Sisters before their show at Schubas Tavern. We talk about their introductions to music, how the Oracle Sisters came to be, their song writing process, and what their last meals would be. Grab a snack and read about it below!
Aly: Alrighty, well I’m Aly Westrin from WLUW Chicago and I am here with the Oracle Sisters. Would y’all mind introducing yourselves?
Chris: I’m Chris from Oracle sisters.
Julia: I am Julia from Oracle sisters.
Chris: And we are backstage at schubas Tavern.
Aly: Sweet, so the last time I saw you guys was at South by Southwest back in March. Since then you’ve released your album and you’ve been touring, can you share a little bit of some of the highlights from the past six months.
Chris: I mean, it’s been wonderful to go on the road with songs that are out now, we were touring with these songs for like a year before as well. So it’s been great that they’re out in the world now. And we’re arriving in cities where people can sing along, so it’s great. We were touring in Europe, and then festival season an and now we’re over here. So it’s been wonderful.
Aly: Well that’s great. I want to start going way back to the beginning. If you remember, what were both of your introductions into music? Was it early on or later in life?
Julia: I went to a music conservatory when I was a kid. I played classical guitar for five years. And then I got tired of the theory classes and thought I’d start playing electric guitar. And so I was in high school bands with boys playing kind of like heavy metal / rock and roll.
Chris: Julia’s from Finland. There’s a big hard rock heavy metal scene up there. So it’s kind of inevitable, I guess. Yeah. And now she’s singing lullabies with us.
Julia: But I started playing drums when I moved to Paris, I kind of got this idea that drums is the next thing.
Chris: My sister had a guitar that she didn’t play and it was kind of laying around the house. So I just picked it up and started playing around with it. I had a guitar teacher for a minute. I was really small, so there were just four strings on the guitar. He taught me how to play like one string at a time kind of thing. And would show me like Beach Boys songs and The Eagles. He was big into the Eagles and was showing me all these eagles songs back in the day. Then I just started playing in bands when I was a teenager. I think that’s when I started getting really excited. When I’d end up in a basement with a friend and he’s on the drums and I plug in and just coming up with ideas all day. That was what really got me going. Was that I could make up songs and create things that that was the start of it, for me really.
Aly: Very cool starts to music. Then how did Oracle Sisters come to be? I know Chris and Lewis were childhood friends, but how did the three of y’all come together?
Chris: yes, Lewis and I were at school together. And then [after school] when I was living in Scotland and Lewis was in New York, we’d always kind of kept in touch and written songs from a distance. We would take time when we could to make some songs together. But then, in 2016, we both wanted to leave where we were. We decided to finally honor this songwriting connection we’ve had for a long time and and we decided to move to Paris. Because we just met some people from there when we were working in Italy at an artist residency. There we met a bunch of Parisian people and it seemed like there was a really exciting scene going on there. So we moved out there and that’s where we met Julia. We started by being offered a job in a cabaret like right near the Moulin Rouge and the kind of like sex shop cabaret district in Paris, but the cabaret closed down, like about five days after we got there. So we just had loads of time on our hands to write songs.
Julia: I had moved to Paris a year before you guys I think, from Australia. I came to act in a sci fi film as an avatar extra and ended up in this beautiful house with two roommates and I decided to stay and I met Lewis one night at a book signing of Alejandro Jodorowsky. We got talking and I had started playing drums like seven months before I met Lewis, so that was interesting. And he told me about Chris and him playing their little songs in the bedroom for about a year making songs and we decided to have a band.
Aly: And then what inspired the name ‘Oracle Sisters’?
Chris: We had a lot of names flying around, I think there was definitely a feminine element to the music. We were started singing in these very high voices, and there was something a little bit ethereal and mystical about it. It felt like it fit. I think that the Oracle element was honoring the intuition you have to believe in when you’re songwriting as well. Like, the Oracles were people listening to their intuition, who had messages coming to them. And they would just channel those. I think it’s about giving up also to whatever you’re receiving, whatever you’re feeling, and just allowing yourself to process that project and share it with people. So we kind of like that side of it as well. Songs can maybe come to you like visions or images or ideas out of nowhere.
Aly: I Love that. So, as a trio what’s kind of the writing process when it comes to creating a song and album is it really collaborative? or is the process kind of split up amongst the three of you?
Julia: When I met the guys, they had like 60 songs written already. And I had my own thing going, but it’s always a challenge when you enter a new dynamic, especially old friends, who have been writing together for a long time. I think Chris and Lewis always had this great chemistry, writing chemistry and composing chemistry, but now we collaborate more.
Chris: Yeah, I think it’s more open. I think it’s like when Lewis and I arrived in Paris, it was the two of us, we went there together and we’d spend all day together. From the morning until the afternoon, then I go work in a bar, come home after the bar shift at like two in the morning, work on the downloads, we’ve been working on it, it was just like that every single day. We didn’t go out and meet people. We were really focused on just wanting to craft as many songs as possible. We got really used to that. And now Julia brings a whole other vibe to the situation. And there are songs that that Lewis and Julia might write together, or the three of us might write together, or Julia will come with a song and then we’ll have some ideas for it. It can take on many forms. That’s the fun of it, I guess.
Aly: For sure, who have your biggest musical influences been throughout your career and have they shifted at all since when you first started to music?
Chris: As a kid, I was always, I think really obsessed with melodies. So that’s kind of why I look at The Eagles now. And I’m like, The Eagles. Hmm that’s weird. I’d never listened to them. But when I was like seven, there was something about those big harmonies, the melodies, the simplicity of the songs really spoke to me at that age. As I get older, I think I started getting really into, like more narrative songwriting. So Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Harry Nelson–the people who are kind of telling stories and getting the lyrics really specific or something. I got into that a little while I was in Edinburgh. And then I think moving to Paris, it all became more about getting back to the the melodies. Lewis is very vision oriented when he write lyrics. He’s a painter, I think he paints quite broad pictures. So it was fun to maybe go less into past experiences or describing characters and maybe trying to make broader strokes, you know, with the images we were writing. And then the way Lewis plays guitar opens up way more possibilities for me in terms of songwriting, because there’s a whole melodic element to that and the production that you can bring to the table as well.
Julia: I think growing up I kind of was listening to a variety of different types of music but my dad was always listening to jazz at home and I think that stuck with me until I moved to Paris and I had been listening to a lot of Brazilian music and kind of got obsessed with Brazilian and bossa nova. Yeah, so I think big influences for me have been a lot of the tropicália artists in Brazil and The Beatles.
Chris: Lewis has arrived.
Aly: Hi, we’re talking about biggest musical influences throughout your career.
Lewis: Chris, have you answered?
Chris: I have answered. I have been the biggest musical influence on Lewis’ career.
Lewis: That is exactly what I was about to say.
Lewis: When we started, we were listening to a lot of Beatles and Velvet Underground, the sort of early Velvet Underground for the harmonies. We like Simon and Garfunkel. I like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen lyrically. And sort of a lot of arranged music, I was always paying attention to that. So there’s a few I mean, there’s the lyrical elements, and there’s the arrangement elements and the melodic elements. There’s a couple of dimensions that have different influences.
Aly: Beautiful answers. So, I’m also a huge fan of your aesthetic, like all together, your merch, your music videos. I just find it to all be very creative. I was wondering, what are your inspirations when it comes to that side of your career? Like, do you have a like a vision in mind, when you’re writing a song about, oh, we want this visual to kind of tie it all together.
Chris: I don’t think we’re ever trying to craft an ‘identity.’ I think one thing leads to another and you kind of sculpt something about something, you know, like, music videos, or we use a lot of film. But that’s also because you can get a really good aesthetic from film. Especially when you don’t have a huge budget, you don’t have to hire a lighting crew to make digital look good. You can just have a few rolls of film and head out into a beautiful place with beautiful natural light and that provides a whole bunch of creative ideas.
Lewis: Limitation is the mother of invention. As we all know, I think I believe that to be true. We’ve always worked with what we have. Certainly performing and doing concerts, It’s like you’re a party planner, across the world. And so when you put on a show, you’re free to think of everything. You know, the lighting, we think about the backdrop. In a perfect world, we’d have, whales on stage, and, you know, a giant fish tank. You’re free to do anything that can stimulate the mind. And so the visual identity or visual communication, I think has always been as important to us as the musical in the sense. Some artists will write beautiful music, and then they’ll put out something quite lackluster of a video. It will almost detract from the music because it’s it’s an extension of the storytelling and it will put the music in a context that doesn’t really feed the imagination. So it’s good to make an effort in that direction so that the music has another landscape to exist. It can be interpreted in many ways, but yeah, it’s very important for us, to have that.
Aly: Do you do anything extra for live performances to kind of further that visual imagination?
Lewis: Yeah. For example, in this tour with this album, we worked with a group in Paris called Pangea, that make flags for an imaginary world and we collaborated with them to make a flag for the album, containing symbols to do with the recording of the album. That’s one example. And then we’ve worked with G. Kero, Chris’s girlfriend, who makes clothes. We collaborated with her on a video to to paint some jackets together and stuff. So, we like collaborating with other artists, basically, for a lot of stuff, because we can’t do it all.
Chris: I think when you create a world for people–like when you write a song, it’s already a world people can kind of step into. And then anything you create on top of that, videos, merch, anything, it’s all part of that world. So you’re always adding to it. Building it.
Aly: In an interview I read recently, Lewis was explaining how you gravitated towards extending your outros in songs to leave room for more spontaneity in live performances, and I saw that happen live at your South by Southwest Showcase, it was really great to see that complete jam session live. Do you find that leaving that room for spontaneity has changed your writing process at all? Or changed how you view music and releasing music or performing music?
Chris: I think from a live point of view, it’s about the fact that you want to give a bit more energy, you know. I think it allows Lewis to, like, really get into his guitar playing, and you kind of want to get your kicks onstage. And when you get your kicks, the crowd get their kicks. We want to create those moments. And I think we’ve created these very intense minimum moments. And we wanted to try and stretch this further out in the upwards direction as well with the higher energy, and I think that these outros allow for that.
Lewis: It’s a great moment, because you’re not constrained. You’re kind of trapped in this moment on stage that you have to get out of. When you’re all playing together, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And so that creates its own tension. Normally, when you have a pre conceived song, you know what’s about to happen, you just have to play it well. Even though the jam itself has a structure of sorts, anything could, in theory, happen. It could go any which way and there’s a lot of communication with the eyes and with the the way that you play to know what goes next. So it’s really fun to allow for that in the show.
Aly: It’s so interesting. So now I have a few rapid fire questions. These are just fun ones that you can answer quickly or you can expand out if you want to. The first one is what’s one song you have on repeat right now?
Lewis: “Eloïse” by Ryder the Eagle
Chris: That’s true. I mean I’ve been singing it all day long.
Julia: “Use me” by Bill Withers because I’ve been learning that on drums.
Aly: Great choices. If you could collab with one artist, who would it be?
Lewis: M.I.A. for me. I’ve always her and she’s alive.
Chris: I just want to hangout with Tom Waits. That would be nice.
Julia: Kevin Parker maybe.
Aly: Can you recommend an artist you think our audience should listen to?
Chris: Who’s in Paris right now?
Lewis: Papooz are really good. They’re from Paris and they’re going to have a new album coming out. Their first two albums are also wonderful.
Aly: Thank you, those are some great recommendations. Do you have a dream venue to play at or have you already played?
Lewis: Actually, yeah. Bowery ballroom was one of them for me. Bowery ballroom had a mythical allure to me for its history. What about you, Chris?
Chris: Webster hall. There are a few really beautiful theaters in that we’re angling to play in the near future.
Aly: All right, final question. What would your last meal be?
Lewis: What the hell. do you have to end on something so macabre?
Chris: I think it really, really depends what season it is. I mean, if we’re in the middle of summer, I just you know, fresh, you know, just whatever it is, if it’s fresh and seasonal, I’m into it. And well cooked.
Julia: A home cooked meal.
Lewis: call all our mothers and be like we’re on death row. Please cook us a home cooked meal, mom.
Aly: great choices. Well, thank you so much for talking with WLUW tonight!
Chris: Thank you for having us!