Two years ago, Laura and Lydia Rogers had no expectations for a life as professional musicians . Then Laura floored a producer at a Nashville audition and they became the Secret Sisters, a bluegrass duo in vintage dresses out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, who have recorded with T Bone Burnett and Jack White, toured the world, and last week walked the black carpet at the Los Angeles premiere of The Hunger Games, which includes their haunting folk ballad "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder."
The song was produced by Burnett for his soundtrack of soulful Americana and distopian rock for the highly anticipated film, which opens nationwide on March 23rd. "It was the first movie premiere that we had ever gone to, so we were like a deer in the headlights," Laura Rogers, 25, told Rolling Stone of the scene, which had the sisters mingling with actors Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland, and singers Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. "Of course the crowd weren’t screaming for us, but they were still screaming. We were like, Wow, what are they yelling about?"
The soundtrack album puts the Secret Sisters in the company of such established acts as Swift ("Safe & Sound"), Neko Case, the Decemberists, Arcade Fire and Kid Cudi. Their aching "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" is a song of tragedy and hope, drawing on the Sisters’ Appalachian roots in bluegrass and folk, and was initially inspired by tornados that ripped through Alabama last April. They watched the disaster on television from tour in Australia.
"That song came from real life struggle, and not knowing if you’re going to be able to go on to the next day," said Laura, sitting with her sister for morning coffee at their Los Angeles hotel. "We feel like that songs needs to be in as many places as it can, because it’s our message of 'we’re pulling for you.' We still are. Alabama is still struggling from that."
The song was recorded in a New York City studio with Burnett, who burned balsa wood in the room for atmosphere, as the Sisters harmonized: "It’s true I’ve seen it before / a brighter day is coming my way / yes, tomorrow will be kinder."
"You feel safe around him," Laura said of Burnett, who also executive produced their debut album, The Secret Sisters, released in late 2010. "His presence is so comforting."
"Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" fits with the pure harmonies of bluegrass, folk, mid-Sixties pop and classic country on their debut. But once word got out of the new song’s association with The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins' best-selling novel about teen gladiators in post-apocalyptic North America, a new demographic suddenly became intensely interested in the Secret Sisters. Live performances of the song soon appeared online.
"It’s given us an opportunity for us to reach a much younger crowd, because our music naturally attracts an older crowd," said Laura. "Whenever we play shows, there is a lot of white hair, mostly older people that love the older music that we play."
Days after the premiere at L.A.’s Nokia Theater, the Rogers sisters were still in Los Angeles for songwriting sessions with Dan Wilson – the Semisonic frontman and co-writer of three songs on Adele’s Grammy-winning 21. They said the next Secret Sisters album will show more influence of the Everly Brothers and the Delta blues.
"These are our stories this time – they’re not the stories told by George Jones or Hank Williams or Buck Owens," says Laura of the songs they are writing. "We obviously still love all of that, but it was really important to us to establish ourselves as actual songwriters. On the first record we weren’t really able to do that because it was so whirlwind."
After the debut album was finished last year, the Secret Sisters were invited by Jack White to his Nashville studio, where they recorded a roaring cover of Johnny Cash’s "Big River," released as a single on White’s Third Man label. The singers belted out the tune while White shredded on electric guitar. "We were standing in the vocal booth and we could see him playing guitar," recalled Lydia, 23. "There were moments when we would forget to sing while he was playing. We were so amazed the whole time."
The next album will be recorded in either Nashville or Los Angeles, and most likely will be produced by Burnett, who has been like a protective, favorite uncle to the sisters. "He’s not moving knobs and being bossy," Laura said of his presence in the studio. "He’s really encouraging. He makes you feel like you can’t do anything wrong."
They’ve already seen and learned a lot in the two years since becoming the Secret Sisters. "T Bone’s crowd is very different from Jack’s crowd. With Jack, we got to kick our shoes off and get our feet dirty a little bit. And with T Bone, it was a warm, good way to present our music. It’s been nice to have that kind spectrum," said Laura. "We could not have asked for a better education."
Listen to "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" on Spotify.