Twin Bandit, comprised of Vancouver based duo, Jamie Elliott and Hannah Walker, sit down at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival media tent just at the rain begins to fall and the evening chill settles upon the Gallagher Hill. They played the Wapiti Musical Festival in Fernie, B.C. the previous evening and just arrived in Edmonton that afternoon.
So you’re not twins, or sisters, but you both grew up with sisters. What were those relationships like and how did that shape your sisterly bond now?
Jamie: Mine was very nurturing. I am the middle of three girls and we were best friends growing up. I remember one little thing that was very one sided. My older sister had a meltdown when we were very young and wrote in her diary, “as far as I’m concerned, I have no sister!” But other than that, young, silly diary entry we’ve gotten along so well. I’m still very close with my sister. And meeting Hannah it was an instant connection. She felt like a sister right away.
Hannah: It’s funny hearing [Jamie] say, “we had this one conflict.” I grew up with four younger sisters in my family and we fought all the time. Like cats and dogs. Not a fight for survival but our family is just really loud and we’re all very passionate, strong-willed people. So there’s often a lot of witty remarks back and forth and none of us are afraid of conflict. It was not traumatic. It was our way of communicating with one another. It was just how it was. We were all very comfortable relating to each other in that way. It’s been an interesting journey for Jamie and I because we did have a very strong connection like family right away. But it’s took us a lot of time, especially at the beginning, to learn how to communicate with one another working in a band.
[Twin Bandit notes there was a point when their sisters came to sit down with both of them and helped to provide perspective and work on bridging communication break-downs they were having. This sisterly intervention helped them better understand one another and move their relationship forwards.]
Was learning those communication skills a turning point in committing to this group and developing your relationship?
Hannah: I think Jamie and I right before we recorded our last album we were going through very heavy things in life. Some very serious illness and a couple of deaths in my family. The fact that we were able to walk with one another through that journey. And the fact that we were willing and able to support each other just through presence and through emotional availability. For me, it was the turning point that I knew I was prepared to walk the distance with Jamie. It felt like we would be in it for the long run. Whether that was musically or as people.
As you stated, there was darkness you were navigating prior to recording you last album. What I notice about the repetition of your song choruses is that it sounds more like a recitation of a positive mantra instead of a phrase that is trying to be catchy.
Jamie: We kinda needed that. We needed to write in that way. And find hope in our lyrics and in our songs because we were going through such a hard time. It really helped us get through those times, especially writing together and expressing these things that needed to get out. And putting a positive spin on things just helps in so many ways.
Hannah: Yeah, not ignoring the hardship of it but speaking frankly with one another and simplifying that experience into a mantra that we felt people would be able to relate to and appreciate. And something we hope would bring more positivity to our audiences. For us, because we sing for a living, we are saying these things all the time. Speech is very powerful and it really has the ability to change your perspective. That can be for better or it can impact you negatively. We had a lot of people come up to us over the years saying that our music helped them get through death in the family or heartache. We feel very honoured that people have that experience with our music.
[One of Jamie’s songs, For You, was used in a US commercial and Twin Bandit received much positive feedback. A mother who had lost three children in a car accident told them that she thought about her love for her children when she hears their song.]
Jamie: It’s so nice when people respond. When they walk up to you and say something.
Hannah: It is the reminder of why we are doing this. Music is so important in how it creates community.
Do you find songwriting is writing what you need to express at that time or what your audience needs to hear?
Hannah: It’s a little bit of both. Songwriting is quite cyclical, I find. For the style of music we perform and write, it’s storytelling. Whatever is impacting, moving, or inspiring us at the time is what we tend to write about. It is very possible songs on the next album may not be uplifting and inspiring necessarily because we may be going through a time in life where we’re exploring other aspects of the wide range of human emotion and experience. When it comes to songwriting, we’re trying to find a way to bring a deeply personal experience and boil it down to its core. That is what becomes universally relatable to people. In some ways, it’s the most personal thing in the world and in other ways it is created with other people and sentiment. To find the personal and make it public.
How is the aspect of vulnerability when sharing what is private for a public audience?
Hannah: I always cry when I sing Rosalyn and I rarely perform it live because the last few times I have broken down in the middle of a song. It’s always when my family is in the middle of the audience. It brings me back to that moment again. It tells me I am still connected to the art. But it can be really challenging and uncomfortable to perform songs that are really personal. I think people love to see that vulnerability. I think a lot of audience members connect with that. Even if you cry or forget a word, people watching you go through that experience makes it human again.
What are some exciting things coming up next for Twin Bandit?
Jamie: We’re going to Scotland!
Hannah: We are going on a three bill tour. All female acts. It’ll be our first time going to Ireland and Scotland. And it’ll be our fourth European tour. We recently found the goal sheet that we wrote [when we first started]. We have ticked off half of the things on our list!
Sounds like you have to dream bigger now.
Hannah: It was cool. We were talking about level of priority, fame, finances, connections and talking about what was more important to us. We both agreed that experience and personal connection with people that we looked up to musically were our goals as musicians. That was more important to us than material success or fame. Neither of us wanted to be famous.
It sounds like longevity is more appealing than short-term success.
Hannah: And build a good life and have music be part of that life but not the centre of it. It was really important for us to both arrive at that place. Agreeing that we didn’t want music to be our whole world. That it’s something that we love and feel passionately about.
Jamie: But we want to do it for the rest of our lives and make it lasting.
Hannah: Having freedom and understanding that life is going to change and our level of commitment to Twin Bandit. We may take time to rest or have a family. Jamie just got married a few weeks ago. [Hannah has a foster son that will soon be a year old]. It’s been a really big year for the both of us. A lot of changes in our life. It’s cool because we’re beginning to build the life we always wanted to have. Music has been interwoven throughout it.