Fiddle-playing siblings take Western swing in new directions
2019 - Album Release Interview
Harmony is elusive, but when achieved – musically, vocally or among family – it’s beautiful. The Quebe Sisters, three fiddle-playing, singing siblings, have mastered it. Well, for the most part.
“I’m not going to be a phony and say (shifts to a very high voice), ‘We always get along,’ but the older we get, the better we get along,” laughs Sophia, describing the dynamic among the older Grace and the younger Hulda.
“I have to say that basically what it comes down to is working really hard on our music and trying to pour ourselves into doing something that we feel is a worthwhile end product has forced us to really address any personal issues and grow as people.”
The Quebes (KWAY-be), who are touring behind their eponymous fourth album, bring their take on progressive Western swing to Memorial Hall Friday with Asleep at the Wheel, the guardians of the Texas-bred music pioneered by Bob Wills in the 1930s. It was prominently featured in Ken Burns’ recent PBS documentary series “Country Music.”
The album is a departure for the band, which includes guitarist Simon Stipp and bass player Daniel Parr, in that it includes original songs for the first time and was produced by the players themselves. Press materials include the tagline, “Here we are again, for the first time.”
“It felt like a new chapter that we’ve been working toward, kind of a new direction for our music and our sound,” Quebe says. “We’re all part of the process. I haven’t written that many songs, but it’s something I’ve always been attracted to and interested in, and I want to start writing more if I can come up with something good.
“As we learned songs as a band (when they were teenagers), there were songs that jumped out to me, ones that I loved so much. There were all these really neat Western swing tunes, but the songs that really grabbed me were ‘You Don’t Know Me’ by Cindy Walker or Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ classics like that. Things that grabbed me, but I never really tried to write songs. It wasn’t until about five or six years ago that I actually started writing a few songs. Then these three (Quebe wrote ‘My Love, My Life, My Friend’ and co-wrote one with Grace and one with Parr) came about over the past couple of years and we wanted to put them on the album.”
Although the women have three feet planted in the world of Western swing, their eclectic taste in tunes has sent them in some unlikely directions. Hearing three young sisters from Texas cover the Mills Brothers, four African-Americans from Piqua, Ohio, who became stars on WLW radio in the late 1920s with tunes such as “Goodbye Blues,” “Ole Rockin’ Chair” and “Lazy River,” is certainly unusual, at least until Quebe describes the origin story.
“Grace was teaching a class or a workshop with (one of our fiddle teachers), and came home and said, ‘Y’all, I heard these four brothers and they’re absolutely incredible, some of the best harmony singing I’ve ever heard,’ ” she says. “We didn’t sing, but we were into harmony. We were playing fiddles together in harmony, and we were getting into vocals.
“Most of the harmony we had heard to that point was Sons of the Pioneers, which is great, but it’s a different thing (than siblings). And Grace said, ‘They can imitate instruments (with their voices) and it’s good, it’s not cheesy.’ So she bought a CD, like ‘The Mills Brothers Best Cuts’ or something, and we were absolutely hooked from then on.”
For the Quebes, harmony began by taking fiddle lessons together, not individually, as youngsters. It grew when they began to sing together, and it continues as they forge new paths for their music that is rooted in traditional genres.
These days, according to Quebe, it also manifests in their relationship.
“We used to have a lot more squabbles over musical things, like ‘You’re doing this wrong and nah, nah, nah …’ We’ve learned how to be a little more constructive with our criticism (laughing). Because I love my sisters and I’m really thankful that we can work at such a unique thing for so long, and you might not know how special that is.
“Then you have to kind of step back and go, ‘This is really cool.’ ”
The Quebe Sisters play Memorial Hall with Asleep at the Wheel Nov. 1, 2019
Watch the Quebe Sisters play “My Love, My Life, My Friend”
2019 - Listen to Bill's Interview with Sophia Quebe
Sophia Quebe sat down with Bill to talk about the group’s eponymous fourth album. “The Quebe Sisters” is the first record that includes original songs and marks the first time the band produced itself.