It is a music journalist’s privilege to speak to some of the most talented people in the world. Some of the artists might be living just two doors down from you, or in the same town, but some of them might be located at the other side of the pond. Not so long ago, we had an undeniable pleasure to discover an American duo named Sybling. Two New York based sisters, stole our hearts withing minutes with their breathtakingly vocals, harmonies and eerie sounds that would make David Lynch look twice over his shoulder on his way home on a dark winter’s night. The duo are represented by the wonderful folks at Marauder Group and we wrote to them asking if we could speak to both ladies. Much to our delight, the label and the band said yes (thank you)! We discussed their upbringing in a musical family, writing their debut EP and their eclectic musical taste ranging from Nick Drake to the British indie rock sensation, Radiohead.
Alice Makwaia (vocals, multi-instruments)
Mariana Quinn-Makwaia (vocals, multi-instruments)
Not always we have a pleasure to speak to an emerging artists from the other side of the pond. Please introduce yourselves to the readers of Indieterria.
Sybling: Hello there! We are sisters, Alice Makwaia and Mariana Quinn-Makwaia of the duo Sybling.
You grew up in New York, in a musical family with musician and composer father and mother who is an actress and an acting coach. Did your parents have any influence on you to become an artist yourselves? Have they encouraged you to chose this path, or maybe they were against it knowing how hard it is in this business?
Sybling: Both of our parents are artists. As you already mentioned, our father is a musician and our mother is an actress. We grew up, the four of us, near the poverty line, in a one bedroom apartment. It was totally great (and we mean that in earnest). Our parents weren’t unhappy with the struggling artist lifestyle. They saw no problem in going into the arts. Our parents only encouraged us to do what spoke to us. And, from a young age, music did just so.
Before the creation of Sybling, both of you had an impressive musical resumes: Alice wrote musical scores for theatre and film (“The Snow Queen” by Downtown Art and “Forest Bathing” by Yaara Sumeruk) and Mariana found success as part of R’n’B outfit Smoke & Sugar. What convinced you to form a band together? Have you worked with each other before?
Sybling: (laughing) Making the band was an easy decision. We grew up singing together and harmonizing. In many ways, we knew each other musically better than anyone else in the world!
Sybling is inspired by a wide and eclectic range of genres: from traditional folk, to soul, jazz, funk and alternative rock. We can hear Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Marianne Faithful and Elliott Smith. And Stevie Wonder! Who is your inspiration?
Sybling: We’re both very inspired by alternative and folk genres. Our top inspirations are Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake, Feist and Radiohead. Funny fact: we actually wrote “The Grim” for Radiohead! We heard the song in Thom Yorke’s voice.
You have released your debut EP on February 22, 2019. It is promoted by a lead single “Grim” and a video in which a young man is haunted by nightmarish figures with white masks covering their faces. Can you tell us more about “Grim” and the concept behind the video?
Sybling: The concept of “The Grim” video came from a sketch we made some years back. It was about someone on the subway, seated next to a suited man in a deer mask. It came from a thought that the subway is the looniest place we know! People are simultaneously physically close but oblivious to each other. We actually wrote the song when we were in High School, and it deals with the loneliness, and darkness that followed us around a lot then.
We absolutely love the cover of your EP, and the artwork that is displayed on your social media. Who is the author?
Sybling: The cover of our EP was made by a Texas-based artist Catya Bastian. And we made the cover of our single for “Under.”
You once said that “If one quote were to sum up the entirety of Sybling, it would be Kurt Vonnegut’s: “He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral.” A lot of your lyrics seem to deal with themes of searching for lost things and the past. The whole EP has this aura of melancholy and some sort of sadness. Perhaps we are mistaken but we feel like this record could be considered as a concept album, rather than just a collection of songs to reflect to?
Sybling: We like thinking of our EP as a concept album! Originally, we didn’t know what songs we were going to release, so it’s a bit of a fluke that they contextually fit together so succinctly!
We want to ask you about our favourite song “She is Alive in the Past”. It has beautifully crafted voice harmonies with catchy, radio friendly guitar riffs and piano. What’s really surprising, it has no lyrics. Please tell us more about it. Is there any particular story behind it?
Sybling: “She is still alive in the past” was very much an experiment. We’d had the tune in our heads for years, no lyrics. Even the finished product is a bit of a dream without a clear story. We think of it as a funeral march. We weren’t planning on recording it. Then one day, with an extra hour at the end of a session, we recorded a draft. Simple, just sparse vocals, guitar, organ, a little piano. Mari had the great idea of adding percussion, giving it that lopsided beat—which immediately reminded us, quite morbidly, of the way a zombie would walk.
Last question – If you were to score a Netflix drama of your choice. What would it be and what songs appear on the soundtrack?
Sybling: We think, we’d have to go with Netflix’s “Russian Doll” to write music for. It takes place in the neighborhood we grew up in. We could see “She is still alive in the past” in there.
You can follow Sybling on their social media:
Alice Makwaia (as a solo artist):
Smoke & Sugar (Mariana Quinn-Makwaia side project):
Vanadian Avenue would like to say a few “thank you’s” to Sybling manager, Mr Phillipe Roberts and to the Managing Partner/Co-Founder of Marauder Group, Mr Rev Moose for making this interview possible. It was a real pleasure!
It is also worth mentioning that Marauder Group, is responsible for bringing the Independent Venue Week to America! This year, the US edition of IVW will take place on July 8-14, 2019 with more than 60 venues participating. You can find more about the events here:
We may try to speak to Marauder about IVW and the difference between the UK and USA versions. Keep your fingers crossed!
Please come back soon, we have a fantastic Mancunian band scheduled to speak to us next week!