ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) AARON ROBINSON, ROBERT KOLAR, LAUREN BROWN, RACHEL KOLAR AND OLIVER NEWELL. PHOTO COURTESY OF COURTNEY ELLIS.
He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister consists, in fact, of a brother, a sister, a friend, a landlord and a girlfriend. What started out as a casual duo has blossomed into a buzz-garnering, hipster-folk band, self-described as “glam-a-billy.” There are a few familiar faces—Rob Kolar’s other band, Lemon Sun, has been fairly successful, and he’s had the odd movie bit part—such as “American Hippie” in a 2003 Irish movie staring Andrea Corr (of The Corrs), The Boy & Girl from County Clare. The guitarist and the bass player, Aaron Robinson and Oliver Newell respectively, have also been around the music scene for a while. Rachel and Lauren, however, come from a more theater-rooted background. This mesh of performing and musical arts is evident in the band’s aesthetic and performance style. Lauren plays the drums with all four of her limbs—”like an Octopus drumming,” says Rachel.
He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister have only released one EP thus far, but they have a full-length album coming out in the summer and are set to play a free concert at the World Trade Center in July, part of a two-day blues festival headlined by Neko Case and Buddy Guy.
Interview hopped on the phone with a cheerful three-fifths of the group—Rob, Rachel and Lauren—to talk about first gigs, spirit animals and spirituality.
AGES: 28 (Rachel Kolar), 29 (Lauren Brown), 30 (Oliver Newell and Aaron Robinson), 31 (Rob Kolar)
HOMETOWN: LA and Ojai, California.
BEGINNINGS: Rob Kolar: We started as just the two of us [Rob and Rachel], kind of writing songs and recording in my other band’s [Lemon Sun] rehearsal space. Just for fun in the beginning, an acoustic duo sort of thing.
STYLE OF MUSIC: Rob Kolar: I’ve come up with a few [descriptions], we say glam-a-billy, vaudeville blues, flamboyant folk. There’s a little bit of psychedelia, I haven’t thought of a good one for psychedelic. If I could somehow fuse the words country and psychedelia, I would do it, but that seems far-fetched. They’re pretty different words.
MEMBERS NOT PRESENT IN THIS INTERVIEW: Brown: We’re a five-piece band, and we occasionally have Satya [Bhabha] come in. Satya plays the cello, he’s an actor so he has own career, but he comes in and visits us whenever he can. We [have] two [other] members—Olivier Newell who plays the bass and Aaron Robinson who plays slide guitar and lead guitar. They’ve been playing with us for the last year now.
WHEN YOUR BANDMATE IS ALSO YOU LANDLORD: Brown: [Apart from Rachel,] we all live in the same neighborhood. Rob and I share an apartment, we live about five feet from each other. And Aaron actually owns the house that our apartment is in, so he’s very close and he’s also our landlord. Then Oliver lives down the street. Does Aaron play the landlord card? Actually no, he’s the most laid-back landlord ever. We pull the tenant card.
FIRST GIGS: Rachel Kolar: Our first ever show was, Rob and I did a show for this homeless community under the bridge downtown in LA. Then our second show was for—they’re not technically homeless, more just off the grid [community], out in Slab City, where they filmed [part of] Into the Wild. We played on that stage there, which was amazing. It’s a huge meth-head sort of place, which creates some bizarre amazing art, but I remember there was this woman sitting in the front row, and the front row was leftover seats from cars that had been demolished and whatever, she started smiling at me, and she had no teeth. I thought she was genuinely smiling at me, and then she ran her finger across her throat looking at me like she was going to kill me. Slab City came about because when we started the Myspace page, somehow we got this really cool fan, who was part of the hitchhikers’ community of America. He contacted me and was like, “There’s going to be a group of hitchhikers meeting in Slab City in three weeks and we want you to play.” I was like, “We’re going to be the band of the hitchhikers of America!”
FIRST LP: Rob Kolar: It was produced by Thom Monahan, a great producer. I produced a few of the tracks. It’s got a nice kind of eclectic thing from some real rock-a-billy romps to some more intimate folk songs, to more anthemic sing alongs, some swinging rhythms and some more love songs. Hopefully it covers a nice spectrum.
SXSW ON CRUTCHES: Rob Kolar: SXSW really ran the gamut; we did everything from the private parties for rich folks who rented out a whole hotel, to a lawn party with a bunch of drunk musicians. It was quite an experience, a lot of running around, shuffling, driving. I had a broken ankle and was on crutches for a lot of it, in a cast. I had to wear a big boot, which looked like a mixture between a ski boot and a Teva—pretty much the most un-cool, un-rock ‘n’ roll shoe. I was a little self-conscious about it.
NON-MUSICAL HOBBIES: Rob Kolar: I play roller-hockey in LA, I’m in a league, my team is called “the Flying Elbows.” It’s quite a fun social thing to do. My team is made up of quite a few musicians; it’s kind of the hipster hockey team [laughs]. It’s pretty intense, there’re some pretty rough and physical games that happen for a roller-hockey rec-league. I [broke my ankle] playing hockey–I got in a bit of a scuffle with a guy. We were digging for the puck, as they say, and I shoved the guy off me and he swung around and punched me right in the nose. I didn’t really think much and just went after him and ripped off his helmet.
Rachel Kolar: I live in Ojai [California] and there’s this place called the Krotona Institute, it’s part of the Theosophical Society, they have a wonderful library and I just got my library card. I do see as—not a hobby, because how is spirituality a hobby, but I do think it’s good when you start investigating these things to have a sense of detachment. I suppose sewing a bit, although I tried sewing a dress for our show and it just ripped off, so it’s a hobby I clearly need to spend more time cultivating.
Brown: My hobbies haven’t changed much since I was a kid, I guess they were very dance-focused when I was a kid, but now that’s become more of my job. As the drum section—apart from Rob, who plays the kick drum—I tap dance on a bass drum and do the hi-hat rhythm with my feet and play the tom drum and the snare and the crash with my hands simultaneously. It’s kind of this full-body [experience].
SPIRIT ANIMALS: Rachel Kolar: I feel like I’ve gone through different ones, definitely the white owl for a bit… I think I might be going back to the white owl.
Lauren: There’s one that I would like people to see me as, and there’s one that I actually am. What came to me immediately was a little bear, a young bear.
Rob Kolar: I have an affinity towards foxes, maybe the silver fox.