There’s a continuum in music between the beauty of straight, unvarnished sentiment (Hank Williams, The Ramones) and the grandiose elegance of arty sophistication (Pink Floyd, Radiohead). He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister inhabit the comparatively more barren territory straddling the two impulses.
Then again, they’re a band steeped in dichotomies, beginning with sibling vocalists Rob and Rachel Kolar—his: dry, laconic and wry; hers: limber, sweet and earnest. Their different backgrounds (music and theater, respectively) spark equal parts of swaggering hipster-musician cool and drama-geek-élan ardor. The resultant sound blends baroque Brill Building pop, old-school rock pep (think Buddy Holly), rootsy vaudeville and western swing with glammy theatricality, all balancing a wide-eyed enthusiasm that recalls the Little Rascals.
“I like the idea of mixing—almost like a scientist would—music styles and genres and just finding the right elements of each to make this concoction,” Rob says.
They were raised by Los Angeles bohemian expat types (their father’s Czech; their mother’s side is English and Jamaican), who encouraged them into creative pursuits. Initially, Rachel resisted music, investing her energy in a theater company she ran with her best friend, Lauren Brown. But in a moment of weakness, she penned a catty song about one of Rob’s ex-girlfriends; he loved it, and the seed was planted.
“What’s great about Rob is he’s really open to doing anything with anyone, really,” Rachel says. “He’s just open in that sense. Even to someone like myself who is [only becoming] a musician … the same thing happened with Lauren’s tap-dancing.”
She’s speaking of the band’s most visually arresting element—their sexy, tap-dancing drummer, Rachel’s BFF, Brown. For a while, Brown was backed by a drummer, but when he left, she took up the position and, in the past year, developed the ability to tap and play drums.
Brown’s growing skills aren’t the only changes. Their cellist, actor Satya Bhabha—who played evil ex-boyfriend No. 1 in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World—had to depart because of movie opportunities. In his absence, they added two members: Oliver Newell, whom Rachel knew from a theater connection, on upright bass; and slide/lap-steel guitar player Aaron Robinson, a friend of Rob’s from the band Sea Wolf.
Robinson has given the band a woozy flow and texture. It’s an exciting change for Rob and Rachel as they work on their full-length follow-up to 2010’s self-titled seven-song EP debut.
“Yeah, it adds a little flair. We like to think it adds western country and psychedelic elements because of how he plays it with its swelling melody and reverb,” says Rob.
They’ve recorded about half the album and are looking forward to continuing to build on the penchant for pretty, upbeat songs disguising dark thoughts and shadowy intents.
“Light doesn’t exist without dark. That’s what the shadow is, and it’s impossible to separate them,” Rachel says.
“I like to strive toward this mentality of a pop song where everyone can kind of relate to it on the surface,” Rob says, “but infusing it with darker elements or questioning lyrics to match that, so that people can take the song on different levels.”
This marriage of different layers of meaning, opposing gender and eclectic musical styles finds wonderful expression in this sibling pair. “To some degree, we are very much on the same page,” Rob says. “Then there are moments when there are a lot of contrasts. But I think within that there’s a balance.”
HE'S MY BROTHER, SHE'S MY SISTER
333 Main, Park City
Sunday, Jan. 8, 8:30 p.m.