The Living Sisters Are Inclined to Sing Classic Country

It’s probably not a coincidence that the Living Sisters sing “Que Sera, Sera” on their new EP, Run for Cover. After all, these four women — who are generally focused on their other music projects — exude a lovely, laidback vibe when they sing.

The quartet is composed of Inara George, Alex Lilly, Eleni Mandell and Becky Stark. And although they rarely get together to perform, their four-part harmonies are sterling. The project also includes renditions of Funkadelic and Jo Stafford songs, as well as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Yet it’s the Patsy Cline covers of “Sweet Dreams” and “Poor Man’s Roses” that really pull you in.

CMT Edge caught up with Mandell a few days before a big L.A. show to talk about the new music, the appeal of Cline’s catalog and the dreamy instrument they can’t do without.

CMT Edge: How did this EP come about?

Mandell: Well, we sort of add songs slowly. I like to say we’re the least ambitious band in the world. (laughs) One of my fellow members gets mad whenever I say that. But I think the good part about that is that we enjoy singing together so much. We don’t have regular rehearsals. We just make it work when we can make it work. I think because of that, there’s something really sweet about what we do. It makes us really happy and it makes other people really happy.

So getting this EP together was pretty difficult because we all have solo projects. And I’ve got twins and I’m a single mom, and another member of the band — Inara George — has a little boy and just had twins. And then Alex and Becky are flying around the world doing their thing. So it can be really hard getting us together.

But we would slowly add these cover songs when we would do different things, like when Inara puts together a benefit in Topanga Canyon for a theater there. It’s usually a theme night, like Woody Guthrie night or Leonard Cohen. We had all of these cover songs we’d done, so I said, “Why don’t we record them while we still know them”? (laughs)

How often do you all get together for full-length shows?

Like I said, we’re the least ambitious band in the world. So the other impetus for recording this was that a year ago we were asked to open for Steve Earle at Royce Hall in Los Angeles [on Saturday, Jan. 12]. I’m from Los Angeles, so I know around here that’s a really big deal. I said, “Hey, we should finish that record before our show opening for Steve Earle.” And that is our only show — at the moment. But we’re not like this in other parts of our lives. For instance, I’ve been touring for a record I released in June, and I’m going to Europe next week, the day after our show.

How often do you ladies get together socially, and just hang out?

I probably see Inara every few weeks because our kids are a similar age. I would love to see everybody more. I really love these girls and hanging out with them, but it’s pretty hard for me to socialize at all unless somebody likes kids. (laughs)

I was pleased to hear a couple of Patsy Cline songs on here.

Yeah, we were asked to do Patsy Cline songs at Disney Hall, which is a really big deal in Los Angeles. We had Zooey Deschanel, John Doe and John C. Reilly on the show, as well. And it took so much work to learn those songs! We thought, we really must record them — because that was hard!

What was it about those songs that was so challenging?

Like I said, we sort of add songs to our repertoire slowly, but in this case, we had to learn five or six songs really quickly and figure out four-part harmonies. It can be tricky. I was really amazed that we pulled that off. (laughs)

What is it about Patsy Cline’s music that has endured?

I think part of it is that the songs are really good. And I think part of it is that her voice is so beautiful and lush. And it sort of crossed all genres. I never met anybody who said they don’t like Patsy Cline, whereas I meet people all the time who say they don’t like country. And I think that’s ridiculous because I’m sure that person hasn’t heard all of it, you know?

But I think that’s a big part of it. She appeals to people of every walk of life. She has a really special voice. I think all four of us grew up wanting to be able to sing like that. It’s not a bad goal to have but probably not possible at all. (laughs)

There are some cool pedal steel parts on the album, too.

Thanks to Greg Leisz!

And I could tell it was him before I even checked the liner notes.

I know. He’s the man.

What does that pedal steel bring out in those songs?

Pedal steel is such an incredible instrument. To me, it has a really dreamy sound. I happen to be a big fan of classic country music, so getting to have someone of the caliber of Greg Leisz play pedal steel on the album was really a thrill. And it’s so hard when you hear those old country songs to not want to sound like that. And at the same time, you don’t want to be imitating or sound like you’re a novelty. I don’t know. There’s no sound like it. I feel like you can’t really sing those songs without it.

When people hear your versions of these songs, what do you hope their response will be?

I really hope they won’t say, “The originals were so much better.” (laughs) I do hope they will just enjoy the lightheartedness of the Living Sisters. My own project is a little bit more introspective and dark, which I need. It’s therapeutic. But what I love about the Living Sisters is that it’s just so fun to sing, and I love to see people with a smile on their face in the audience. I hope they just have a good time listening to it. I hope it makes them smile. We’re just trying to do a good job and have fun.