Out of the Darkness: How an Unseen Friendship Saved the Secret Sisters

Out of the Darkness: How an Unseen Friendship Saved the Secret Sisters
Words by Blake Ells
Photos by Clark Brewer
Marcie Rogers died in January, but not before she saw two of her granddaughters, Laura and Lydia of The Secret Sisters, place her photo on the cover of their third album, You Don’t Own Me Anymore.

The third album by the North Alabama artists earned a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album, alongside Cat Stevens, Offa Rex, Laura Marling, and eventual winner Aimee Mann.

Shortly after the Rogers sisters released their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, in 2014, they were dropped by Universal Republic. They then faced a long legal battle with their management, which forced the duo into bankruptcy. It took a heavy toll; they weren’t sure that they would ever record again. However, they continued to write—they didn’t know what else to do. They didn’t have a manager or a record label, and they weren’t performing live. 

But an old friend encouraged them to forge ahead—Brandi Carlile, the Grammy-nominated folk artist behind the hit “The Story.” “When that whole incident happened, Brandi swooped in and wanted to know what was going on and how she could be of service to us,” Lydia says. 

The duo opened for a couple of Brandi’s shows in Seattle in 2015, impressing her with a few of their newer songs. “She wanted to get involved, so we ended up making a record with her a few months later, flying up to Seattle every now and then and finishing it within a few months,” Lydia says. “She’s been there from the very beginning, and she’s still there now. We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to her, and we’ll never be able to pay her back.”

Laura credits Brandi’s scheming and help planning as the driving force behind their resurgence. “She introduced us to the management company that we eventually signed with. Between her and our management, it was their idea to crowdfund the record. And because we had the record funded by fans, we were able to look for the right label for distribution. All of that momentum was because Brandi gave it a big shove.”

Brandi’s support came at a time when the sisters felt isolated within the industry, and it restored their faith.

“In a time when we felt we couldn’t trust anyone at all in the music business, even ourselves, we could trust Brandi,” Laura says. “It was nice to have her support, and not just because we admired her art, but also because she stuck with us when it was really bad. She wasn’t our fan just because everything was going great and everyone was talking about our music; she was supportive of us on the darkest days, when it didn’t look like a third record was even a possibility.”

And it wasn’t just Brandi. It was also a fellow Shoals-area native—John Paul White—who encouraged the sisters to continue.

“We were pretty sure that we wouldn’t be making another record because we didn’t know how to,” Lydia said. “It was easy to get into a hole of thinking, ‘We need to go down a different path. We had a good run.’ John was integral to the process of getting out of that way of thinking. He helped us figure out how to navigate a path forward, if there was going to be a path forward.” 

There was. And one morning, they awoke to the news that the Carlile-produced album had garnered the sisters their first Grammy nomination.

“There were so many artists included that make really timeless music,” Laura said. “So it never seemed like a possibility. We were getting ready for the tour, and I got back to my phone and saw that I had a million missed calls. And I immediately thought, ‘Uh oh. Somebody died.’ So I called Lydia, and she’s screeching in my ear about a nomination. So I started screeching, and my dogs got really scared. It was a real moment of validation.”

The Secret Sisters didn’t create You Don’t Own Me Anymore to garner nominations or awards. They created it in recognition of their grandmother, Marcie, and her spirit of independence. It helped them rekindle their talent and find their place within the music industry once more. “She was such a spitfire, such a pistol,” Laura says. “We admired her strong, Southern spirit. She didn’t put up with anybody’s trash.”