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Indie pop meets virtuosity: SISTERS will bring its 'crazy big noise' to 2 Alaska shows

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: June 1, 2017
  • Published May 30, 2017

Emily Westman, left, and Andrew Vait are the musical forces behind SISTERS, an indie-pop band performing this week in Homer and Anchorage. (Stanton J. Stephens)

Andrew Vait and Emily Westman made a promise to each other when they formed SISTERS.

Although a band composed of two classically trained musicians might be viewed skeptically in indie scenes, they weren't going to hide their chops.

And in the few years since the band formed, Vait and Westman have used their range as both composers and instrumentalists to produce a string of engaging songs.

"That's the first thing we agreed on, we'd put our musicianship on full display," said Vait, a Homer native. "In the last 10-15 years there was almost an industry pressure to hide your musicianship for cute and hip arrangements of songs. Largely musicianship in those hip music communities, I don't know, it seems like it's frowned upon."

With the release of their debut "Drink Champagne" earlier this year, the duo now has a showcase for those songs. The album features a glossy but not overly slick brand of indie pop and a glut of some of the Pacific Northwest's most talented artists in guest spots.

Vait grew up in Homer in an environment that promoted learning and creativity — his mother worked as a teacher and his dad as a sculptor and painter.

He said he became almost obsessed with learning instruments before graduating from Homer High School in 2003.

"In Alaska, you are either an outdoors person or an indoors person. I wasn't much of an outdoors person, but Magic the Gathering didn't hold me," Vait said. "I'd stay in and learn Black Sabbath covers. I learned flute and clarinet and trumpet at some point. I thought, if there's another instrument, I can learn it before I graduate from high school. It turned into a game for me. I realized there wasn't anything that was going to be as interesting to me as music."

Despite the fact that Vait is a native Alaskan and the band is based in Seattle, the pair met in south Florida.

On the recommendation of his musical mentor Howard Hedges, Vait attended the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, where he studied jazz saxophone and vocal performance. At the same time, Westman was at the school, focusing on orchestral percussion and classical composition.

"The jazz programs are very insular," Vait said. "They tend to siphon themselves off. As soon as I ventured off into the world and started to interact with people outside of the jazz community, I started finding really meaningful relationships."

His partnership with Westman didn't fully blossom until they had both relocated to Seattle after college.

Both moved to the Northwest by 2008, and Vait said Westman contacted him on Facebook. He was working in a disco cover band when she recommended that he audition for a spot with the Seattle Rock Orchestra, which puts on tribute concerts performing the music of various rock artists.

Westman had played with the orchestra and Vait joined for a performance of Queen music. At that point, the pair started considering their own musical project.

Vait and his wife had Westman and her wife over for dinner, and the seed of a possible project was planted. At the time, Westman was self-producing music, but it hadn't gone any further than being circulated through a group of friends.

"I was appalled that Emily had these singing and writing chops and nobody knew anything about it," Vait said. "I was in a band at a time and I thought that's where my career was going, but I remember saying, that I said, 'I'd be in a band with her.' "

Vait immediately landed on the name SISTERS, and went to Westman with a proposal.

"I want to be in a band with you, and it's called SISTERS, and we will play all the instruments we know how to play, and we're going to make a crazy big noise," he recalled.

Soon the duo was finding success in the notoriously competitive and talented Seattle music scene.

"We started getting bizarre show offers immediately. The relationships we forged in Seattle were quick and meaningful," Vait said.

Vait said he generally describes the band's sound as indie pop, but that progressive pop may be even more accurate, representing both the level of instrumentation and the group's politics.

"There's also an activist element to what we do," Vait said. "We wrote the song 'Queer Life' the day before the marriage equality decision. It was the first song we wrote. Especially with the country being in the divided state it's in today, we stand behind our principles and ideology.

"We want to use whatever platform we're afforded to communicate a message of equality."

"Drink Champagne" was self-released and self-funded, and helped the group land a gig last week at Sasquatch music festival before Vait's return trip home.

"I'm really excited (to play back in Alaska)," he said. "It's a real treat."

SISTERS

Wednesday, May 31
8 p.m. at Alice's Champagne Palace in Homer
With The Forest That Never Sleeps
Tickets: homerbookstore.com

Friday, June 2
8 p.m. at Chilkoot Charlie's in Anchorage
With The Forest That Never Sleeps and Asteroid
Tickets: $15 at koots.com/events/sisters

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