Photograph courtesy Michael J. Media Group
Take The McGuire Sisters, swap the big band for three fiddles, and add a pitch-perfect Texas twang, and you have The Quebe Sisters. The young trio, Sophia, Hulda, and Grace (and their last name rhymes with “maybe,” if you were wondering), has already produced three albums, and will appear on Fountain Square with The Tillers for the American Roots summer music series.
We caught up with Hulda Quebe (above left) over the phone to discuss swing music, arranging obscure songs, and becoming an accidental family band.
How did you get started?
My sisters and I started music as a fun thing. We heard fiddling at a fiddle contest in a town near us and we wanted to try it. So we started taking lessons and I think we progressed pretty quickly; we started competing in nationals.
When we would take lessons, we would sit in the same room all together, which is I guess a little unusual; most people take lessons individually. We all started playing at the same time, so we all progressed at the same level, and were all playing the same type of material, so our teacher suggested that we work up a song together. And once you learn 10 or 12 songs, you’re like, Well, let’s go play these somewhere. So we started playing gigs, and in 2003 we made an instrumental album. We weren’t really a band then and we didn’t sing or anything. But we kept playing and getting more serious about it. In 2005, we started singing at our shows.
What prompted that?
I remember we met Ricky Scaggs, the bluegrass country recording artist extraordinaire, and he really liked our band and our sound but he said, “You don’t sing?” and we laughed and said “Absolutely not.” And he said, “You know, if you ever want to play music professionally, you should probably think about singing.”
Your vocal style is very distinct. How deliberate is that?
I think it evolved on its own. When we started singing, there are three of us, so we thought, Well, why don’t we do harmony? Because you can’t have three lead singers. We took turns taking the lead and doing parts. I think the big jump-start for us was that we were already playing harmony; we already understood parts, harmony, structure, keys, that kind of thing. So when we started singing, we were able to progress a lot faster with that. We were already training our ears to hear the right chords and parts.
Why the fiddle? For all three of you, no less?
It’s an instrument that our mom really likes, and we’d taken a couple classical music lessons in the very beginning, and we weren’t super serious about it. When we heard fiddling at the contest, we thought Oh, that looks really fun. I didn’t know you could play anything other than classical music on the violin.
How do you select your songs?
We listen to so much different music; we listen to everything. And it’s usually one of us going “I heard this really cool song. Let’s try it, let’s work on the harmony parts and see what it sounds like.”
Do you tend towards established folk songs?
No, not really. I mean if you’re a Western swing band—and we play Western swing a lot—well then of course you have to learn “San Antonio Rose.” But we like songs that no one has heard of. The title track to our album [Every Which-A-Way], I don’t know anyone who’s heard of that song before.
We found it and thought This is a cool tune. And we could make it our own because no one else has really done it other than the original artist who recorded it, this guy named Moon Mullican. He was a super cool piano player, a very creative, fun songwriter. And we got into him and he’s very obscure but we play a couple of his tunes.
Who or what are your vocal style influences?
We listened to a ton of swing music and big band music growing up, and so that really did influence us a lot. That stuff is classic. When you’re a jazz musician, you listen to Miles Davis. So when you study acoustic music, you listen to all the different genres. The biggest vocal group for us when we first started singing was The Mills Brothers. I still remember the first time I heard them. My mind was blown.
Back in the day, there was no fixing, overdubs, nothing in the studio. It had to be perfect. They were incredible. Their nickname was One-Take Mills because they would go in the studio and do all their songs in one day. They were that good.