He's My Bother, She's My Sister is comprised of--you guessed it--siblings Rachel (vocals, percussion) and Rob Kolar (vocals, guitar), joined by a colorful group of rag-tag vaudevillian musicians and performers. Upright bassist Oliver Newell sported glitter eyeshadow, grandma glasses and a lone feather earring. The soft spoken bassist brought along a worn paperback copy of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The petite Lauren Brown is a tap-dancing percussionist. A founding member of the band, she tap dances and drums at the same time (!) making audiences do double takes. Aaron Robinson (slide guitar) wasn't able to make it until later in the evening, but he told me that he missed their last interview too because he was asleep in the back of a van.
We sat down with them before their Wednesday night residency at the swanky Mesa in Costa Mesa. The night turned to conversations of quantum entanglement, the promiscuous mating habits of cats and the band's nude beach habits. Oh yeah, and music too.
"People like the energy and people are intrigued by the instrumentation," Rob Kolar said of the band. "At the very least, they're like, 'What's this sideshow happening on stage?"
He's My Brother, She's My Sister recently returned from several months of national touring, bringing their self-proclaimed sideshow to the likes of Northern California and the South. Playing in places like the High Sierra Music Festival with My Morning Jacket and Dr. Dog or San Francisco seem like a natural fit for the band. However, less obvious places such as Tennessee have been quite receptive to them as well.
Brown recalls her favorite show of the tour: a dive bar in Nashville with a sparse and unlikely crowd, comprised of a few unenthusiastic bikers who began the show with their arms crossed. "Then you finish the show and they end up loving it," she said.
"If you walked into that room and saw their faces, you would think these people are not having a good time," Rob Kolar said. "But the totally were. They were afraid to express it." The audience barely did more than move their shoulders and nod their head to the music. "The audience was totally sedate," Newell said, "but afterwards the bartender, the door guy, the owner came up and said, 'Nobody ever responds like that!"
"We're like, what the fuck? We're in Nashville!" Brown said.
Audiences afraid to dance to live music seemed to be a common thread throughout the tour. Rob Kolar noted that when people danced during their shows, it was such a remarkable thing that people would come up to them afterwards and say, "Wow, nobody dances in this town."
"We'd get that in every town," Rachel Kolar said--so much so that they're considering naming their forthcoming album Nobody Dances in this Town.
"It's a national epidemic!" Newell said. "It's time to bring back dancing to live music." Rachel Kolar said she is faithful that the audiences will come around eventually. "When people get more comfortable, I think they'll dance more and more. Right now we're just introducing ourselves."
"It's like the handshake before the hug," Rob Kolar added, to which Rachel Kolar added, "Or before the you know what!"
Naturally, they enjoy entertaining an audience and seeing that excitement through dancing, but it's not a requirement for them to put on a good show. "I don't like the idea of there being a demand on the audience to do anything be it be quiet or stand," Newell said. "I like the freedom. I know I play better when an audience responds a certain way, but I don't want that to be a precondition to my offering."
That understanding, undemanding philosophy can be found in the dynamics of the band as well. "In other bands I've worked with it's been really hard in that there's complaints and negativity," Rob Kolar, who also plays with Lemon Sun said. "We're really open to other things. Even the small things like where we stay. We've been camping on tours, sleeping on floors."
For example, they were robbed in San Francisco. All of their clothes, valuables, and Newell's laptop were stolen after someone broke the window of their van (though they courteously left their instruments). Rob Kolar said that Newell barely batted an eyelash about losing his possessions through the whole ordeal. "You just feed of off that. If someone's being carefree and positive and excepting it's kind of contagious," he said.
Lauren Brown, Tap Dancer Extraordinaire!
Mary Bell/OC Weekly
Being in a close quarters day in and day out, through the trials of robbery or the unforgiving humidity of the South, can take its toll on a group of people. Especially siblings. Rob Kolar identified the worst thing about being in a band with a sibling is, "when my sister's on her period." To that, Rachel Kolar quickly retorted that Rob has periods of his own and is one of the first ones to crack under the pressures of touring.
"The good thing and the bad thing is that we're family," Rachel Kolar said. "At the end of the day, for better or worse, we're married. What? Just kidding. No, but we're family so we're not going anywhere." Newell added, "There's an easiness to get on each other's nerves and for conflicts to arise but you're so used to that resolution can come easier."
Between tours, each band member pursues other passions, but recently, those moments of downtime at home are becoming more and more scarce. "Once were more established as a band and have a fan base, we'll have more room to delve into other ideas," Rob said.
Brown and Rachel began a theater group in Los Angeles after studying together at NYU. "When I moved to LA, I noticed there wasn't really a community for experimental theater. Instead of try to look for it, we decided to start our own," Brown said.
Many of the band members are also actors and it shows. "As a band we love the visual and performance aspect. Lauren is very emotive when she performs. She treats it almost like a role," Rob said. "Eventually we'd like to incorporate more of that into what we're doing creatively be it music videos, musical production or even a film. It's something that's always there, even in the clothes we wear on stage."
Newell is the initiator for the Los Angeles chapter of World Naked Bike Ride, which is an international phenomenon that is exactly what it sounds like. He's also worked on the Prop 19 campaign to legalize marijuana in California. Aside from He's My Brother, She's My Sister, he works with other musicians such as Henry Wolfe and actress Jena Malone's improvisational musical endeavor, The Shoe. In between all that he conducts personal research on modern science, alternative energy and literature.
Rob Kolar plays adult league roller hockey on the Flying Elbows.
They collectively enjoy nature and try to incorporate it into their lives on a regular basis be it through camping on the Mississippi or visiting nude beaches. It's been said that Rob Kolar loves to pose at nude beaches, while Newell is the first one with his clothes off.
All together they form a band that is youthful without naivety, filled with heart and free of pretentiousness. "We're not trying to fool anybody. We're not trying to be cool or rock and roll or whatever," Rachel Kolar said. "We're just trying to find that spot of honesty."
"I just want to be cool. I don't know about you guys," Rob Kolar said. "Why do you think it took me three hours to choose the top hat I wear on stage?
He's My Brother, She's My Sister performs every Wednesday in August at Mesa, 725 Baker St., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6700. 10 p.m. 21+