For anyone who isn’t familiar with the band, can you state your names and roles?
Jessie: I sing and play the guitar and the bass.
Niki: I sing and play the drums.
How did both of you first get into music, and how did the band form?
Jessie: Music has been a part of our lives from a very young age. We’re sisters, so we’ve been playing music together for quite some time now. Our dad had an old Alvarez acoustic guitar that I would always sneak out of the case and play.
Niki: Jessie started playing instruments first, so I wanted to play as well. I have ADD, and drums were a perfect fit for a hyper kid.
We played music in church for most of our preteen and teenage years. The older we got, the more we wanted to start something of our own and really use our own voices for things that were important to us. We grew out of that church “four walls” mindset. Our parents started a venue/youth center, and that really gave us the opportunity to play every weekend and to test the waters for starting a band. That’s really where the birth of Hail Your Highness came out of back in 2006.
Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations, musically or non-musically?
Musically, what started the inspiration for our band was a band called Kids In The Way. They were, and still are even though they’re not together anymore, one of our all-time favorite bands. They lit the fire underneath us. We had the opportunity to see them live so many times, and also to befriend them and learn from them. It was incredible for us as teenagers. Devin and Toby from Emery were also great inspirations for us as a band getting started. They really showed a great example for us as a band with two lead singers. Their melodies and lyrics really helped mold our style. Architects have always been an underlying inspiration for us, and even more so over the past year. They’ve changed the game for us musically and lyrically, and also introduced us to a lifestyle. It has been incredibly eye opening for us. From Indian Lakes is another band that has really heavily influenced us over the past few years. The way Joey Vannucchi sings a melody is absolutely insane.
Jessie: Personally, Judy Garland is a huge inspiration for me. The way that woman performed live, along with the unique power in her voice, gives me Goosebumps every time I listen to her or watch her sing. I’m a huge old Hollywood fan, so powerful ladies from that era, like Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Reynolds, and Joan Crawford, really inspire me.
Niki: Pocahontas. I am Pocahontas.
Your EP, Albion, was released in November. What was the writing and recording process like?
Albion is the sixth EP we’ve put out independently over the past nine years. It’s a very special and important EP for us. It feels like the first real thing we’ve ever done. We came to a place in our careers where we really needed to showcase what we could do as a two-piece band. Over the years, we never really had anything that fully represented us as a band with a good quality sound or as a two-piece. There were always former members or fill-ins playing on our previous records. We wanted to do this EP all on our own. The first two songs off the EP, “Violent Ends” and “Hoax,” came together fairly easily. We had been playing “Hoax” live for two years, so we had that one locked down.
Finishing “Once & Future,” the last song for the EP, was a little bit more difficult. We could tell this was going to be a really special song, and we wanted to get it right. The pressure and expectations for that song really hindered us. During the writing process, we were able to go see Architects live two nights in a row, and that absolutely gave us an incredible push to finish it. We were in awe both nights, and the things we saw, heard, and experienced were more than enough to fuel the rest of the writing and recording process.
We recorded with some of our best friends in the entire world, Joe Stockton and Chris Duke, at a great studio called Butchertown Pub Studios in Louisville, KY. They’ve watched our band grow since we were teenagers. They’ve played our music and seen our shows, and it was Joe’s idea to fully embrace the two-piece lineup a few years ago. It was a very encouraging and safe environment for us to make this EP in. Joe and Chris were incredibly supportive and were willing to try anything. It was the best possible fit for us. We laughed a lot, we cried a little too, and it was a great learning and empowering experience for us as a band.
Is there a song off the EP that was the most difficult to create?
Like we said, “Once & Future” was probably the most challenging. Still, it was exciting to work on once we got the proper inspiration to finish it. We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go with it lyrically, but going to those Architects shows helped immensely. Really digging into their latest record, Lost Forever // Lost Together, helped us zone in on what we wanted to say. We knew the lyrics of this song had to be strong and powerful throughout, and we wanted to bring a sense of hope and encouragement towards its end. We really believe that we were able to convey that through the song’s lyrics and through the intention of the music.
What makes your band stand out?
Well, we’re sisters, and we’re a two-piece band. Yes, it has been done, but not with a sound like ours. We take inspiration from so many different styles of music and try to steer away from your typical “female-fronted band sound.” We want to be taken seriously as a band and as musicians and not be seen as just a gimmick. It makes us push harder and go the extra mile to really floor people with our music, not only in recorded form but also at our live shows. Seeing it all come together live really sets us apart—hearing the sound that only two people can make with drums, a guitar, a bass track, and two voices.
The EP was crowd-funded on Indiegogo. What was it like using fans’ help to create the EP? Were there any concerns?
It was very humbling and fulfilling to be able to crowd-fund the EP. We didn’t think anyone cared about a new direction for this band. We figured we’d be lucky to get a couple hundred dollars. When we hit the first thousand dollars in our first week, we knew we had some very special people still supporting us and standing with us as a band. It’s a really beautiful experience working with the people who love your music—people who have chosen to support it for the long run. It made sense, and people showed us that they still believed in us and were willing to support a new journey with our band. They financially stepped up and supported a new EP, and we think that’s really amazing.
What is your local music scene like?
It’s not nearly as developed and supported as we hope and wish it would be. But we’re lucky enough to have a great friend in our hometown, James Lee Jones, who runs a venue and record store called Trust Fall Records & Coffee. He’s really pushing to develop our community musically. We’re from Northern Michigan, so sometimes it’s hard to get people on board with live, original music. There are communities thriving three hours away, or even one hour west of where we live. We’d really love to incorporate what we’ve learned and seen over the years into developing a really diverse group of musicians up here. There needs to be a unity, and the musical community needs to be encouraged up here. It’s an upward battle right now, but we’re hoping to continue seeing original music grow and be nurtured up here. We also want to be able to bring more statewide and regional bands up to Trust Fall. It really is such a cool venue, and it should be a destination for any band traveling up past Grand Rapids or Lansing.
Who would you like to tour or work with in the future?
Oh jeez, there are so many musicians we’d love to work with and tour alongside. Bands we dream about touring with include Architects, From Indian Lakes, and Circa Survive. It’d be so sick to play shows with bands like Dead Sara, Deap Vally, and The Joy Formidable—bands that have incredibly strong female musicians. Just to be able to open for and tour with any of those bands would be an incredible treat for us. We’re willing and waiting!
What are some of your upcoming plans concerning live shows and music?
Right now, we’re working on writing a new EP and finishing some new music. We’re going to need to put another recording plan in motion. We’re really working on broadening our horizons musically and pushing ourselves to write better. We also want to create an intriguing and exciting live show. We’ve been putting together our press kits and really seeing what we can do with Albion. We’re hoping to have a good run of festivals and shows this summer. We really didn’t get to play a whole lot last year because of the writing, recording, and production process with the EP and the Indiegogo campaign, so we really want to have a good summer run this year. So, yeah, we just really want to play more shows and pursue the possibilities of taking our band to a new level, while also growing, learning, and proving that we belong in this industry.
INTERVIEW: LINDSY CARRASQUILLO // @lindsy_carr