It’s around noon. Rays of midday sunlight kiss the old wooden porch outside Cottonwood Restaurant overlooking the town of Truckee. Brilliant warmth bounces off the tin roof casting light on the T Sisters who’ve come to play for us. But who are these three really? Erika, Rachel, and Chloe Tietjen sure do make up the band, comprised of a big sister and a set of twins. But what they have is rarer than just a set of three good voices and some luck joining them together at birth.
The T Sisters were raised in music, and music was born in their blood. For it can be only that thirsty life force that would drive them to be so excellent, with intricately close harmonies so well-rehearsed that three voices sound as one. The timing of each song is so perfectly executed that it’s as if a silent drum keeps time somewhere, each pause meaningful, each beat more like the heartbeat that joins these three. It’s a rhythmic discourse where the meaning of life, and the pauses in between each moment, are perfectly articulated in song by the T Sisters.
At this point, after hearing them play, especially live, it’s no surprise that anyone would want to get inside those brilliant minds. But don’t be fooled. These musicians three, apt to express their individuality, are also fiercely loyal to one another. Where one ends off a sentence, the other may be quick to finish. But, if you can look past the three-headed siren tempting you to fall into the depths of gorgeous melodies with its intrigue and intellect, the veil will lift and you will see once again, three individuals; three brilliant, powerful, eclectic, passionate women. Erika. Rachel. Chloe. And here is their story.
Le’a Gleason: How and why did you go from being just three sisters who love music to really becoming the T Sisters, and what keeps you going today?
Chloe Tietjen: Before we went full time, we were all doing other professions. We started playing gigs, and the gigs just kept coming. It felt like we had to get out of the way for our own destinies. We couldn’t be making excuses for not doing the thing that was clearly some higher calling.
[Now], a lot of people look at what we do and say, ‘oh, how much fun’ and yes, we do have fun but it’s also like sometimes we’re driving 10 hours a day, and there are many challenges … But overall, we do feel really grateful to have the opportunity to be really doing what we love.
Erika Tietjen: When we were younger and started in musical theater, we did a few projects and there wasn’t really a competitiveness; we were each adding a different element. I think we all get that each role is important as the other.
LG: Your sound is so dreamy, and you’re so connected to each other when you play. It’s hard to put a finger on that. So, who are you musically?
ET: We use a few different descriptors: sassy sister/indie folk … we like to use Americana roots styles, well, a lot of different roots styles like blues, folk, rock, and pop, and kind of make our own combination of those things. We like to have a little bit of fun sassy attitude and not be too sweet and wholesome …
Rachel Tietjen: I think the thing that puts it all together is the three-part harmony that we infuse into all of our music. That’s the connecting factor.
LG: You are well known for these harmonies. How do you refine them?
RT: Once we decided to go full time with music, we have spent thousands of hours practicing our harmonies and our music. Working on your craft is the way that you get better. I think it takes a lot of hard work and we still always feel like we have a lot to work on.
The biggest part of harmony is listening around you and connecting to the other voices. Losing some of your individualism for the whole to sound more cohesive.
ET: We try to create a three-headed creature, I think. We try to make our voices sound similar and they’re actually pretty different. We think they used to be more alike, and as we developed as singers they became more different and we had to re-learn how to blend our voices. So there’s been a lot of intention behind it.
LG: How as three separate musicians have you stayed connected to one singular goal?
ET: I think because we’re sisters we have a much greater reason and need to find the unity and the connection. Because we’re family and we love each other and at the end of the day we’ll always be sisters [it’s] a priority for us to just keep working on it.
RT: The whole is greater than the sum of our parts. Personally, I wouldn’t be on this path if it weren’t for this band. I think we all are united in our strength together, being a big part of what’s compelling about our sound.
LG: You are also three empowered women. Do you think you have a responsibility to be an example for others?
ET: Something we’ve been interested in in recent years is a consideration of gender and how it factors in to public speaking and power dynamics in the music industry. And being on stage as a woman, [examining] how to use that special position to embody confidence and something that’s a good example for young women in particular. I think every woman struggles with how to raise her voice … and be heard. It’s very deliberate [for us] now, and we really think about that.
CT: We were asking the same question in these workshops we did with young women. As we’ve developed as songwriters, our subject matter has broadened to talk about things outside ourselves.
LG: What experience do your followers get at your shows?
CT: We’d like to bathe them in something that’s kind of, maybe, taking them to church a little bit, in a way. There’s something about harmony that brings people to a transcendent space. We like to take advantage of that tool and try to bring people into that space. Really get them to appreciate the act of listening.
LG: Speaking of shows, tell us more about the tour you’re embarking on.
CT: We feel pretty comfortable touring on the West Coast. It’s nice to come back and reconnect with audiences in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. We’re also playing some festivals … [then] we’re going to Alaska, which is incredibly exciting because we’ve never been there, and the Southwest, which we love!
ET: Summer is great. The sun is shining! In a summer tour, the sun is fueling you in this powerful way. We [also] have a new EP out, We Are Bound, and we’re excited to introduce that to more people. We recorded it with Oliver Wood from the Wood Brothers in Nashville last May and just released it in March.
LG: Thinking about the tour, and the hard work that goes into being in a band, does “making it” matter to you and what does that even mean?
RT: Making it means sustainability for us. Being able to continue on this profession. We all live in the Bay Area and it’s a struggle to live in such an expensive place. Making it has to do with sustainability and finding fans that really appreciate your music. I think if you’re at it for long enough, you can find your fans. Our goal is sustainability, longevity, and musical growth. The more we do it, the more ideas and sounds we can explore, and our songwriting gets better. We really want to be a part of something that we can be proud of.