Rather unwittingly, the O Music Awards Unboxed has booked the DUMBO Summer Friday event to be a family affair — there’s Prince Rama (a band composed of two sisters), Javelin (two dudes who are cousins), father/daughter hack duo the Lameres, and, finally, Zambri, which is made up of sisters Jessica and Cristi Jo.
Zambri‘s music is kind of an electro siren song. It’s pop music laid over some kind of jagged, pleasantly uneven soundscape, the sisters’ clear strong voices cutting through it all like some kind of modern version of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters — especially on pulsating tracks like the single “Heather,” which was a standout track on 2011′s EP Glossolalia. In 2012, they followed up the promising EP with an equally promising LP, House of Baasa.
We caught up with one half of the sisterly duo — Jessica — before tomorrow’s event to chat music, inspiration and what it’s like to make music with your kin.
So you guys are sisters — like Prince Rama — how did you start playing together?
I think basically the short story is, around third grade we started writing music. We were performing when we were really young — like from ages five and six. Singing at mainly family events. Then for whatever reason we started writing. I don’t even really know how or why, it just happened. So we’ve kind of been doing this stuff since we were really young and I guess taking it more and more seriously as we got older. By the time we were in high school we were traveling into the city — New York City, because we grew up on Long Island — and doing our own little gigs. It kind of flourished from there.
Is it easy to be in a band with your sister?
I think it’s easier than it is hard. I think we’re a lot more comfortable around each other — there’s never really a moment that’s not fully honest. For that reason, we skip a bunch of the bullsh*t, because we don’t worry about hurting each other’s feelings. But because of that also there’s definitely times when we have to remind ourselves, ‘You know what? Just because she understands what I’m saying doesn’t mean that I should say it to her like that.’ It’s all I know, really, because I’ve never been in other bands, but it seems like it probably would be easier.
Has the style of music that you’ve made changed over the years?
I think for sure. Honestly, the music that we’re making now — which is kind of the music that we consider to be most on-point to what we intend to do — seems like it’s kind of the same vibe as the music that we started to write together from a really, really young age. The style is different, but the vibe of it is the same. I think it’s because we did a lot of it on our own. We went off to college and we had bands playing our music and sometimes it would get interpreted in a different way, because we didn’t really know how to voice our thoughts as strongly as we do now. I think now it’s the most intentional it’s ever been, which is sort of what we innately did when we began.
So what did you listen to as kids?
I think for Cristi and I, it’s different. I remember having some of my first memories of music being like, ‘Holy sh*t! It’s making me feel awesome,’ when I started to listen to stuff like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston and that kind of thing. A lot of the straight-ahead pop music.
For Cristi, she totally listened to all that stuff, but she would also, I think, feel the same kind of feeling for something like ‘Adagio for Strings.’ She kind of showed me that it was OK to stray from the middle sometimes. As we grew up, we started to listen to more and more electronic music, like Aphex Twin and a lot of the Warp bands, like Broadcast and Squarepusher. That love of pop music has been engrained in us.
So how do you write songs together? How does that work?
I think it’s going to change, because we’re kind of in the mood to switch it up a little, but for Glossolalia, the EP, and for House Of Baasa, our first album, we basically write by ourselves. So there’s generally a Cristi song and a Jessica song. She’ll send it over my way and I’ll add to it or produce it more fully, or visa versa. All of it starts individually. In the future I think we’re going to try, just for the fun of it really, to get into the same room together and see what happens when we do that from the start.
So for you, personally, what’s your writing process like?
I think — this goes for both of us — usually it’s literally everything at once. Lyrics sometimes will come after. But it’s not usually lyrics then music — if anything’s going to start first, it’s always going to be music, a melody usually, and then what I’ll usually do is maybe go to a bass guitar or keyboard and try to minimally figure out what chords might work with the melody and try to let the melody take me through that process. Melody is important.
For whatever reason — and I don’t know why because I love lyrics — that’s not usually what comes to me first. I write down a lot of thoughts and a lot of words and stuff, but I don’t necessarily have a purpose for them until after I have music.
And you guys just had a video come out as well? Made up of car wash footage?
Yeah, we just had this awesome video for ‘From An Angle’ — it’s one of the deeper cuts of the album. The director is a guy who goes under the name Chareth Cutestory. I watched it for the first time and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I haven’t been inside a car in a while.’ It brought me right back to that really childlike place, which was cool because I think that with a lot of the music we have created, Cristi and I often would go back to that childlike state of mind.
Image courtesy of Facebook, Zambri