The Sweetback Sisters made their way into hearts and record collections in 2007, when their lush vocal harmonies and vintage country melodies appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. Since then, the group has added Peter Bitenc, a Milwaukee-bred bassist who trained at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and cut his teeth with some of that city's most legendary jazz musicians. I spoke with him about the Sisters' current digs in New York City and their new album, Looking for a Fight, which they'll share at the High Noon Saloon Nov. 17.
What sorts of tools did you use to create an old-school sound when recording Looking for a Fight?
We recorded it in the basement of a warehouse across the street from my apartment with a producer named Devin Greenwood. He helped us get that old-fashioned sound we were looking for by doing everything from immersing himself in George Jones records to encouraging us to record full takes and use analog tape like country artists did in the '50s. We even managed to rent this old rhythm mike from Columbia Studios. It was 40 or 50 years old, so Patsy Cline or Johnny Cash might have used it.
The album definitely has a 1950s sound to it, but there are some covers of '80s songs as well. What's that all about?
We wanted to show off our originals but experiment, too, so we did a Dwight Yoakam song from the '80s and a Traveling Wilburys tune. It has more of a rockabilly thing going on.
What's the toughest thing about making country music in Brooklyn, N.Y., amid legions of diehard indie-rock fans?
There is so much of everything here in New York, which is one of the best things and one of the hardest things about living here. There's even a country music scene. It's pretty small, and all of the bands are really good; they're our friends and a support network, too. To live here, you need to cut through the noise of what everyone else is doing and saying and do your own thing.