“Don’t let her tell you she’s not a songwriter,” keyboardist/vocalist Charlotte Command (her real last name), says of her sister Sarah, just before hanging up the phone. “She’s really good.”
The stylish duo – professionally known as Command Sisters, and signed with Chris Smith’s 21 Entertainment/Universal – have been performing together since they were kids in Edmonton, but it was Charlotte who became obsessed with songwriting. She calls Sarah, the guitarist in the band, “the curator of ideas.”
“What’s great about Charlotte and I is we’re very much yin and yang, in every sense of our band and our career. Our strengths are the complete opposite, so they complement each other,” says Sarah during a separate interview with SOCAN about Command Sisters’ new major-label debut EP, Rouge.
“When it came to song creation, and writing our EP,” says Sarah, “my sister would have a song or a riff, and after she’d written the chorus, we have this joke in the band: Sarah’s the one that writes all the oohs, so all the ‘ooh’ hooks. I’m like, ‘Hey, Charlotte, you should make that the chorus, or you should add this here.’ It’s that collaboration after she’s come up with a brilliant idea.”
Sarah, three years younger than Charlotte, remembers her sister writing many of the songs for the album at home in Toronto, “late at night, streetcars flying by, hearing sirens outside, very much natural, organic, just her by herself. I have to give my sister props to have that creativity to be able to do that alone in her house,” she says. “It’s so cool seeing how they came together, and how we all collaborated to make them how they came out on the record.”
The “we all” is mainly Charlotte, Sarah, and producer/songwriter Tim Pagnotta (Weezer, Blink-182, Ellie King), plus some earlier outside collaborations: “Trust Myself,” from 2019, co-written with Simon Wilcox and Brian Phillips, and “Lonely Lullaby,” from 2016, co-written with Ian Smith and Fraser TJ McGregor.
“Most of the songs on the record were actually ones that I had written like three, four years ago in our condo in Toronto,” says Charlotte, “So it was really exciting that the label and our team were so supportive, and loved the music we had.
“Tim basically added his magic, his production on top of that. It was amazing to see what he did with it. Tim has co-written some of the biggest alternative songs of the past decade — like ‘It Started With A Whisper’ [“Everybody Talks (It Started With A Whisper)” by Neon Trees]. So it was really great to work with him, and I totally want to write more with him down the road.”
Six of the eight songs on Rouge – a cool, fun, alternative mix of dark, indie pop-rock – were recorded in the summer of 2019 in Los Angeles with Pagnotta, but when Command Sisters returned to L.A. at the beginning of 2020 for some Oscar parties, they went into the studio with producer/co-writer Michael MacAllister to add “Feel Good,” a last-minute creation quickly written for a synch placement. Then, during lockdown, they added the funny, grim rhyme “Rain On My Parade,” poking fun at the pandemic, produced and co-written by Andrew Martino.
“It took us a while to find our sound over the years” – Charlotte Command
Many of the songs were released over the lockdown, starting with “I Like It” in July of 2020. The latest singles are the uncharacteristically positive rocker “Feel Good” – their first song at radio, says Charlotte – and “Trust Myself,” with its Billie Eilish-inspired vibe, for which they recently shot a music video.
“It took us a while to find our sound over the years, coming from country and then falling far, far the other way, going really pop, and settling into the middle ground of alt-pop with real instrumentation nestled in there,” says Charlotte. “I think it really clicked for us when we learned to embrace our country roots, and combine them with the sonic elements of pop music that we love so much.”
Charlotte was creative as early as she can remember, drawing and writing short stories and poems, and then picking up the guitar. “Prior to that, Sarah and I, when we were nine and 12 years old, were singing karaoke country songs at little country festivals.” Charlotte recalls. “My mom was like, ‘You guys can’t sing something that’s too grown up.’
“But then I wanted to put my poems to music, and once I learned guitar, and I started getting more comfortable with piano, and it wasn’t just classical [music], I was like, ‘Oh, I can just make chords and accompany myself.’ That’s when it really became this obsession for me. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a new way for me to express myself.’ Sarah was like, ‘Oh cool, Charlotte writes songs; I can learn harmonize to them, and we’ll make this a thing,’” Charlotte says.
A decade ago, the teenagers travelled to Nashville to work with David Malloy, co-writer of the classic Eddie Rabbit hit, “I Love A Rainy Night,” and many other No. 1 songs, who signed them to a publishing/production deal (which has long since lapsed). “He was very much a mentor to me. It’s surreal now, him telling me ‘Charlotte, you’re a great songwriter,’” she says. “He would give me a suggestion, and then he’d go away and let me do my thing. He was definitely the person that first taught me a lot about songwriting, and gave me the confidence to even pursue songwriting.”
In 2016, when they when first moved to Toronto, Command Sisters started co-writing with a lot of people, but Charlotte admits her natural state is writing on her own. “I feel so comfortable and free when it’s just me and my own thoughts in my room,” she says. “But I love co-writing. There’s so much more experience and inspiration to pull from when there’s multiple people with their own stories and different talents in the room. And I find co-writes can definitely speed things up because I usually take my time with a song.”
Says Sarah, “When it comes to writing an instrumental guitar solo, that’s how I express emotions and my feelings. Taking the words that my sister has written, and putting that out musically, is what really inspires me when it comes to writing music. Again, what’s really cool is Charlotte and I have these two different passions, and I feel they very much complement each other – which is why it’s so great to be in a duo with my sister, and all of her incredible songwriter ideas. And when it comes to live, whipping out a guitar solo here and there is pretty fun, too.”