Twin Kennedy: Double Barrel Country

Things can become a little confusing when you’re interviewing country singing twins over the telephone. In this case it’s Carli and Julie Kennedy, the siblings that front Twin Kennedy who are calling to talk about their hot new country platter “It’s A Love Thing”. Because of the similarity of their voices we devise a method to ensure that quotes are credited to the right sister, but the system soon falls apart so apologies in advance for any incorrect attributions.

“That’s okay, sometimes our own parents can’t tell our voices apart,” Julie laughs. “If you say that I said what Carli said, I’m not concerned.”

Carli and Julie hail from the small town of Powell River, B.C., and they started working on their musical chops at a very early age, playing in a family band and making their name known throughout their small community. This was followed by years of formal classical musical training that led to Bachelor Degrees in Music Performance from the University of Victoria. Carli and Julie are master musicians on guitar and violin respectively, but their real magic comes from something that can’t be taught…their perfect vocal harmonies.

“We’re really lucky to have each other because being sisters you have a blend that can’t be planned,” says Carli. “In some ways it comes natural because we’ve been singing harmony since we were three years old. We sang in choirs for years all through high school and in vocal jazz choirs in University. We’ve been doing it for so long that we tend to just read each other’s mind.”[quote]…Sometimes our own parents can’t tell our voices apart[/quote]

“It also gives us some flexibility when it comes to the vocals for each song,” Julie chimes in. “In our live shows we often switch off on the vocals, but I don’t know if you’d notice because if one of us is singing harmony it’s hard to tell which is which. For the record it was a cool process choosing who would sing lead on which song. We would often go down to the studio and each of us would take a pass at a verse. We would decide who would sing based not on just the overall quality of our voices, but also on the voice quality on that particular day. Sometimes we don’t even remember who sang on what.”

The first thing to strike you when you play It’s A Love Thing is its fresh sound when compared to much of the hard rocking fare that dominates the country airwaves. Songs like “Secondhand Gold” and “Keep On Dancing” are driven by acoustic instruments that provide the perfect setting for the Kennedy Twin harmonies. Their album sounds like the work of a veteran outfit and it’s hard to believe that this is their first long player, although they have released two previous ep’s billed under the name Carli and Julie Kennedy. Simply stated, the new album abounds in good singin’ and good pickin’, and this is due to the prominence of the twins who co-wrote all of the numbers and play their hearts out on every track.

“We’ve played for many years as a duo so our sound comes from the acoustic guitar and violin,” Julie begins. “We definitely have a high energy show but our voices are a little softer in the grand scheme of things. Keeping that intimate feel in a lot of the tunes was definitely important to us as was staying true to our country roots. I wrote the string arrangements and I felt it was important for the record to have that real string sound, so it was just a matter of layering myself multiple times to create a one-woman symphony.”

“As far as the song writing goes, we spent a lot of years developing our skills in order to reach the point we have in terms of writing for this record,” Carli says. “We work with a bunch of co-writers in Canada and Nashville, so we were open to lots of different things. All of our music comes very much from the heart, and we just couldn’t connect with anything that wasn’t about things that we’ve been through or experienced.”

While the album has its share of heartfelt, intimate tunes, there’s no shortage of upbeat material as evidenced by the opening track “Get Back Up Again”, as well as the title track which was released as the first single. The record is full of potential chart entries and this can be partly attributed to the fact that it was co-produced by studio wiz Graham Sharkey along with Canadian county music phenomenon George Canyon. Canyon played a big role in both the song selection and the sound of the album.

“Oh yeah, George sang all over the record and it was huge having his voice on all of the background vocals“, Carli says. “We grew up listening to his music so that was a thrill for us. As far picking the songs for the album, it really was a group effort. We wrote over 100 songs so George and Graham had countless demos to choose from. They narrowed down the selection and then the four of us chose the final songs for the album.”

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While the girls may have grown up listening to George Canyon, some of their other musical influences go back as far as Hank Williams, and we’re talking Hank Senior, not Junior. This is due to the fact that Twin Kennedy was exposed to a veritable musical jukebox during their formative years.

“That’s the stuff we listened to at home, you know, like The Judds and those really heartfelt sibling harmony songs,” Carli explains. “I hope that those type of numbers make a comeback on radio. Our mom and dad have a big record collection that includes Creedence Clearwater, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell so we were exposed to a really good mix of stuff. They always had music playing and CMT was on almost non-stop so we just sang along to whatever was on.”

“As you grow as musicians you start putting different labels on genres to separate them,” Julie offers. “When you’re a kid you don’t see them as different; you just say, cool, Hank Williams, Shania Twain, and love it all. There’s a real contemporary side and a traditional classic side to the record because we wanted to encompass it all.”

The highlight of the classical side may be the inclusion of a lovely short instrumental piece called “Interlude”. Instrumentals are almost unheard of in country music outside of Willie Nelson, who has a tendency to throw in a Django Reinhardt instrumental from time to time in order to break things up. The other classical show stopper is the album’s closer, “I Never Will”, a sparse acoustic ballad with an almost confessional tone.

“Interlude is all about Carli’s classical guitar,” Julie says. “She has a beautiful hand-built guitar and we really wanted to use it on something on the record that would throw back to our classical days. She pretty much did that on the fly…it was just kind of the magic of being in the booth. I love that part and I can brag for her.”

“With I Never Will we wanted to put something on the record that was just us.” Carli says. “It’s totally acoustic and we cut it live off the floor, although we did the two parts of the song separately and then we layered the violin solo on top. We were thinking about adding more instruments but then we decided that it worked better by keeping it simple.”

Twin Kennedy will be on tour through B.C. during April and May, including a homecoming show in Powell River. Other Canadian dates follow including a prestigious gig in Toronto during Canadian Music Week, and an opening slot for Big & Rich at the Rockin’ River Fest in Merritt, B.C. Through all of the live dates and studio sessions one wonders if the twins, who are so close that they finish each other’s sentences, always see eye to eye on all matters.

“We get asked if we actually get along or if we fight,” Carli chuckles. “We’re going to put a song out that sets our sibling rivalry to music in order to answer that question.”

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