W: But what if I lose my inspiration because I don’t see the lights?
A: I don’t know what to do then. I’ll give you an inspirational quote.
(This interview was taped last August, which makes me both a bad music writer and a bad friend for taking so long to transcribe it. But it’s a fantastic 1500 words, and I hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing — as part of my Brothers In Arms series, Erin and Willie Breeding talk growing up, Snoop Dogg, who the boss is, and how they recorded last year’s gorgeous Fayette.)
A: I would like to know about your family. Is it just the two of you? What was your family like growing up? Give me a little bit of background.
Willie Breeding: It is just the two of us. Erin came along first and then they decided that if you fail first, try again, and then they succeeded.
Erin Breeding: You’re going to get a lot of eye rolls in this interview. So, yeah, I’m five years older, and for five years it was just me and my parents –
W: Was it blissful?
E: – and I spent a lot of time hanging out with my dad in his venue. He had a venue. He was a performer. So I used to perform with him when I was very little and he used to let me run around stage and stuff, and then five years later we had Willie, as a family, and that didn’t change anything.
A: It was a joint venture?
E: Yeah. I was part of it ‘cause I was five! It was a – they made it a big deal. I helped prepare your room, and I made a Welcome To This World Willie sign, which is really sweet.
W: You should still be doing all these things.
E: So our dad’s musical, our mom’s not, at all. Like – doesn’t even sing in a car. And it is just the two of us.
A: What is your first memory of playing together?
E: My first memory was when we were in the living room, and my dad and I were playing a Shania Twain song, that we used to sing all the time, he and I used to sing all the time, and all of a sudden there was a really lovely harmony coming out of Willie’s mouth. And I was like, “WHAT?”
W: Was I playing?
E: No, you were just singing! And for me, it was the first time I realized that Willie knew how to sing harmony. Had been paying any attention to the Shania Twain I’d been playing in the house all the time. So I guess that’s my first memory of us singing together.
W: Erin raised me on Shania Twain and Snoop Dogg.
A: That’s a pretty good combination.
A: My next question was going to be what did your dad play, what were your influences – but if Erin was in charge, I like that answer.
W: My dad was a professional musician, so he played music four or five nights a week for a living for 10, 15 years, by the time we came along, he was probably a little tired of music, so he didn’t actually play a lot of music around the house. Except to teach us lessons – he played me John Prine, like, you need to know this. And he played me Peter Paul & Mary and all that kind of stuff for me to be educated, I think. Did he do that for you?
E: I got a lot of Peter Paul & Mary, but the stories he tells, I guess I was the boss in that situation, too. Like, I brought things to him – Juice Newton, and Billy Joel, and Bette Midler, and he didn’t have a lot of say in it, but he could shape the direction it went in later. Like, “Oh, you like this? You should know about this.”
A: Do you ever play with your dad now?
W: Yeah, like holidays and stuff when we’re home.
E: The Breeding side of the family does a Christmas – it’s almost a Partridge Family situation. We’re supposed to learn three new songs every Christmas and bring them to our aunt’s.
W: Just them though, not me.
A: Does everyone have, like, a song that’s theirs?
W: Dad’s wife kind of does.
E: Kind of. If you came over to our house and sat down with our family and said, “I want everyone to sing a song they’re known for in this family,” I think we could pull that off pretty easily. So kind of.
A: Did you play together in high school, in college? How did you come back together?
W: I had two solo albums, and Erin sang all the harmony on both those albums. And then there was a review that said the backup singer was out-singing the lead singer, because she’s a better singer than me, which I always knew, but then we kind of thought to go into the studio and see what happened if she sang some of the songs.
A: Was Laughing At Luck your first record together?
A: Well, it was a damn good first try. I love that record.
A: And I love this one. (To Willie) Like you said in your note to me, it feels really different – it feels like it’s coming from a whole lot of places. Is there – is there growing up influence in what is on Fayette?
W: I don’t know how much of that has to do with stuff growing up. I’ve always liked to make records pretty fast. I’d know what I was doing and know what I wanted, and Laughing At Luck, that was a three year process. We were just in the studio all the time, and it was really this guy we were working with, the producer, it’s very much his way of working. Which is fun, it just gets kind of crazy after a couple of months, and it keeps extending.
E: I think when we went in to make Laughing At Luck, we thought it was going to sound like Fayette does. But with those songs.
W: And actually, a lot of the songs on Fayette were written to be our first album. And when we started Laughing At Luck, and the producer started having all the more ideas and Erin started yelling, I wrote a couple of songs – he was like, Erin’s got to have a belting song, and I was like, uhhhhhhhhh. Okay. So I would kind of write for that sort of sound. With Fayette, we just really had three and a half days in the studio. I don’t know that I really wrote any songs specifically for it, but the Clays Ferry Bridge song, the number one song, that kind of motivated us to say, it’s time to make an album.
For instance, song four – I think there’s three songs on Fayette that were recorded for Laughing At Luck, and then re-recorded quickly.
A: You said Erin started yelling, but who’s the boss in the band? Is it evenly divided?
W: I think it’s whoever has the flame for the particular idea that’s being discussed or worked on at the time.
E: As the songwriter, I think that Willie – I think that he gets to be the boss, and should be, in a lot of situations. There’s a lot of times where he already has an idea that we’re working with, or just as the bandleader when we have a full band. So I might have an opinion, or input, but –
W: I don’t really hear them.
A: So you’re younger, but you’re bossy.
W: I feel like it’s pretty even.
E: I think that then there are other things that happen that I might care about that he doesn’t care about.
W: But we also let producers do their jobs. We leave space for that. We don’t work with somebody unless we’re willing to let them lead. But on Fayette, the three of us really produced it.
E: There’s a lot of honesty in the studio, no matter who’s in charge, so to speak. I think everybody still gets the opportunity to give their opinion, and to say – I think we weigh it out. Somehow you just know what opinions you listen to, and you change things for.
A: I think that’s a really good way to put it. Okay, this is the question I always wrap up with: who does your Mom love best?
E: It sounds like such a bullshit answer, but we’re both really close with her for totally different reasons. She and I have a lot of things in common that make us very good friends, but at the same time, I know when Willie’s there and I’m not, you guys just sit and chat in the kitchen just like she and I do.
W: She’s really fucking funny. Like, amazingly funny. And sneaky funny. I think it takes a long time knowing her to realize how funny she is.
A: I think your parents influenced you pretty well.
W: Our parents are hilarious. For instance, my dad likes to fuck with people for no reason – one of my favorite stories about my dad is when we were little, and we were at the Cracker Barrel, this waitress comes over and he’s like, hi, how are you, and she’s like, oh, I’m exhausted, the cows got out last night, I was up at sunlight chasing the cows around. And dad’s like, oh, man, you don’t do the technique? And she’s like, what’s the technique? And he’s like, well, if you have cows that are kind of wanting to run around like that, you have to back their asses together and tie their tails together. You do that, right? He’s joking, but with a completely straight face. And the lady’s like, I’m gonna have to tell my husband about that, because I don’t think he knows about that.
And he used to tell Mom – Mom thought for 20 years that cows were like hippos, and if you took a little boat out in the pond, there were cows submerged in the murky deeps.
A: That sounds like a great place to grow up. It sounds like the sense of humor in “Tennessee”.
E: It’s definitely one of our favorite places, hanging out with our parents, which is totally uncool, except if you knew our parents, you’d think it was totally rockin’.
W: They’re also divorced, and it’s awesome how it worked out – they’re close, and we get to hang out individually with them and it’s a totally different party.
E: Except when we hang out as a foursome, and that’s fine too. Everything’s good.