Home Artist Interview The Story Of The Lifer’s “Sister”

The Story Of The Lifer’s “Sister”

by Vivian O'Grady

You don’t just listen to The Lifers’ “Sister,” you experience the anxiety, self-doubt, and sisterly devotion explored within this song along with them.

I heavily relate to this song, despite not having a sister, because it’s partly about self-doubt. Everyone wishes they could be better at what they do, or confident enough to try new things and succeed. Yet, we are held back by fear. Such timorousness is felt by everyone at one time or another. Recognizing that I’m held back by fear causes even more anxiety in my mind. It’s amazing how such a personal song can be so relatable. I’m constantly wishing I was better, just as The Lifers sing:

Oh sister if you only knew the things I wish that I could do

I love how folksy their sound is. Even though the themes presented in this song are quite sad, I still feel good after listening because the way it’s sung is upbeat and powerful. This beautiful ballad of sisterly love is the perfect pick-me-up if you’re feeling down about yourself. It’s a whimsical take on self-doubt and self-honesty. I adore the rawness present in their lyrics- those who suffer from anxiety or control issues can relate so effortlessly to such lines like:

Are the plans all in a row
Realize that I just need to know
But honestly I just want to go

I know I personally feel safest and at ease at home- away from potential failures or embarrassing moments. Being truthful with oneself and those you love- like your sister- about your self-doubt and fear of disappointment is imperative for self-growth, just as this song demonstrates.

Creating such painfully honest lyrics allows an extremely personal glimpse into the sister duo’s lives. After listening to this candid song, I explored my own self-doubt issues, allowing for a reflection of my disappointments and self-forgiveness skills.

If you wish to experience a musically-talented duo’s reflection on anxiety and forgiveness while listening to such whimsical lyrics like:

“I’d roll into the garden and I’d pick a bunch of flowers for you”

then The Lifers’ “Sister” is a lovely choice. I love imaginative lyrics that paint an inimitable picture in your head- it adds to the singer’s unique perception of their story. Picking flowers for your sister is such an old-fashioned, quirky, yet sweet thing to do; and I love this image The Lifers created!

So, if you’d like to hear The Lifers’ story of sisterly love and self-doubt, then take a listen to their song “Sister.” Then, read below to hear the sister duo’s insight into songwriting, style, and “Sister.”

How did you get into music and songwriting?

Anita’s guitar teacher, Katherine Wheatley, is an incredible folk musician. She began mentoring us as young songwriters, along with some other local gals.

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote, individually or together?

The first song we ever tried writing together was called “In My Song.” We frequently reference it on road trips with gusto.

How did you find your current style?

It was never really a conscious thing. We are inspired by so many styles, and what makes that ‘style’ come through is the energy of the folks we work with – our bandmates and producers (JoJo Worthington and Dave Worthen) helped bring out some orchestral, electronic and darker progressive flavors in this album.

What makes a song good?

Oh, geez. I don’t think you can say definitively whether a song is good or bad. I feel like the only thing I can say here is that if it makes me feel something, and if it’s delivered genuinely, that’s what makes any song meaningful to me.

Which song by another artist does that for you?

Most recently, “Solitary Daughter” by Bedoine for Anita, and “Earthly Days” by William Prince for Liv.

What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?

Don’t get caught up in writing a “good song” – just write without expectations. There are so many approaches to songwriting that are shared but don’t feel like you need to follow any of those methodologies.

Where do you start when you write a song – lyrics or melody, vocals or instrumentation?

It truly depends on the song. With “Wake”, melody and words coincided, and I used my ukulele to replicate the chords I was hearing in my head along with it. For “Pull Me Under”, Anita started with freeform writing, and then she pulled other lyrics and melodies from an old voice memo.

Would you rather write on personal experiences or general themes, and which approach comes more easily?

Personal experience! It can feel ingenuine writing about something very far removed from our experiences. If we are writing about something outside of us, its still filtered through our imaginations and hearts.

Do you put more emphasis on lyrics or sound? Which would you consider more important?

Lyrics are usually central in our songs.

To what extent do you co-write, and how does that usually play out?

We rarely start writing a song together. Once the bones are there we love showing each other and adding harmonies and instrumentation before bringing it to the band.

What role does production play in your writing?

Usually quite minimal! Production tends to be the last step for us.

Do you tend to start with a main idea to write towards, or shape the track along the way?

Anita says she never knows what she’s going to write about before she starts writing. She usually starts by singing random melodies and words, playing around on her guitar. Things that have been percolating in her subconscious come out. For me (Liv), it’s sometimes like that, and other times a recent experience inspires me lyrically, so I rush over to my notebook and let it flow – and if an instrument is handy I pick it up.

How did the idea for Sister come about?

We were on our first tour in 2015 (we headed all the way across Canada!)
and I was really struggling emotionally and with my anxiety. I remember writing down the words “sister if you only knew the things I wish that I could do” after a hard conversation about me being scared to keep going with the tour and with our musical lives in general. That line stuck with me for over a year before the rest of the song fell out of me one fall evening. I was reflecting on how I felt that my personal struggles were keeping Liv from progressing with our music, and how I felt badly that my struggles with mental health were negatively impacting our relationship.

To what extent was the track collaborative?

Once Anita finished the lyrics and melody, she played the song for me. I cried a lot. We talked a lot about what the song meant for each of us. It was really cathartic. At the next rehearsal, we collaborated with our bandmates to think up all the little-interconnected melodies, starts and stops, and dynamics that the instrumentation does to carry the song’s momentum.

How did you approach and develop the harmonies?

Harmony is the most natural part of our songwriting. It’s usually pretty instinctual after all these years singing together, and as we go along with it we play with the lines to create more interesting harmonic moments.

What was your favourite part of the song to write?

I loved introducing the final euphoric clarinet melody into the song – it took that ‘dance break,’ as we jokingly call it, and put a cherry on top!

What do you want listeners to take away from this song?

Relationships are complicated. Even in the worst of it, there’s a beauty to appreciate. Call your sisters and brothers. Trust that they are doing their best. Love them through it all!

What’s next for you in terms of upcoming music/shows?

We’ve got our “Little Dens Tour” coming up in support of the new Guelph Lake Nature Centre in our hometown. We’ll be headed around Ontario as a duo for a couple weeks before Liv heads on tour in support of her other band (Tragedy Ann)’s new album Matches this fall.

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