If Thelma and Louise had long-lost second cousins who were just as wild but adored singing harmonies instead of robbing banks, that just might begin to paint the picture of three East Bay sisters singing in beyond-perfect harmony as they cruise the open road, eyes wide to the sunset horizon.
These are the Tietjen Sisters — or the T Sisters for short.
As a radiant landscape scrolls by in the distance, artistic, laidback, thoughtful Rachel sings the low part with a raw, jazzy, country-blues swagger. Her twin sister, Chloe, the sweet, compassionate and empathetic poet of the group, joins in effortlessly and truly on the high harmony. Stubborn, brassy, big sister Erika takes the melody on this one with an indie pop vibe that would be at home swapping songs and sipping whiskey by a campfire with Juliana Hatfield.
“I remember there was some point when we were really little, we wrote a song for one of our parents for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day,” Erika says. “Somewhere there is a cassette tape of us. It’s really silly, really basic, super squeaky little voices.”
These children of San Francisco dancers and musicians split their idyllic summers between the shelly shores Old Saybrook, Conn., and a Berkeley performing arts camp run by their mother’s friend, Russell Wright.
“It was just something we loved being a part of this wacky thing,” she says. “We weren’t thinking about it very cerebrally or profoundly. We just thought it was fun. We just wanted to do it. When you do something as kid, you don’t think about how it will affect your life later on. But looking at it now, it has had a big impact on the path we are following today.”
On long California road trips as kids, Erika undauntedly sang countermelodies along to the cassette tapes playing in the car stereo, much to the annoyance of Rachel and Chloe in the back seat.
“Some people have the ability to visualize things like creating sculptures or painting and some people hear things,” Erika says. “For me, there is something innate about hearing and reproducing sounds. From a really young age, I was able to hear harmonies.”
On reuniting after university studies and travels abroad, a few choreographed renditions from Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” at The Starry Plough just north of the Berkeley/Oakland line created a buzz that led to featured performances in and around the Bay Area. This was followed seamlessly by a string of high-profile festival gigs at High Sierra, Strawberry and Kate Wolf music festivals and one memorable turn on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Since then, they’ve performed with countless acts young and old, always bringing full-throated smiles and that special, unforgettable something to every stage they share.
“The secret if you are getting started is to find the best harmony singers, try to emulate what they are doing and copy it so it becomes a part of your language,” she says. “Then you can apply it to your own thing and create your individual palate of music. There are so many things you can do when you start playing with it.”
After producing “Kindred Lines” in 2014 with Laurie Lewis, the T Sisters came out with an eponymous follow-up in 2016 and a “Live from Tiny Telephone” EP in 2017. This summer they recorded three songs with The Wood Brothers in Nashville, Tenn., before accompanying the crossover artists on a breezy tour throughout the Northeast.
The T Sisters will play six shows in California this month before journeying out to Minnesota with their unassumingly solid backup band. They will be hosting a T Party in the Tent at Lost Sierra Hoedown on Sept. 22 at 4:30 p.m.
As the women motor along on their unscripted sibling adventure, the gently rolling scenery is surely humbling, but what you are really left with at the end of the day is the lingering, magnetic, spellbinding harmony that weaves from their sororally entwined souls like the easy, flowing country road itself.
Lost Sierra Hoedown
Johnsville Historic Ski Bowl | Plumas-Eureka State Park
“There is definitely some measure of fate that factors into it all,” says the free-spirited songstress at the wheel. “We love the weird, random, friends of friends connections we make along the way. Through it all, we lean on each other depending on the circumstances. And so far, for the most part, it’s worked out.” | lostsierrahoedown.com