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The Secret Sisters return with new vision for their music

The Secret Sisters — Laura Rogers (left) and Lydia Rogers. | PHOTO BY OLIVIA RAE JAMES

The past few years have been a quiet time creatively for Laura and Lydia Rogers aka The Secret Sisters. After creating buzz with their first two releases produced by T Bone Burnett, they ran into major conflicts on the business side of things: they were sued by their manager and dropped by their record label.

Old Crow Medicine Show

The Secret Sisters

When: 7:30 pm July 18

Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport

Tickets: $39.50, $59

Info: thaliahallchicago.com

The duo worried they wouldn’t be able to continue doing what they loved. Would they continue writing songs? Would they ever record another album? Would they disappoint their fans?

But over time they eventually began writing new songs which became their way of coping with the tumultuous detour in their careers. Now these songs will be the making of The Secret Sisters third disc, which they hope to release early next year. A successful crown-funding campaign helped get them back in the studio.

“Our fans have truly been a part of the process,” Lydia says. “We would not be able to do this without them; this time last year we were not excited about any of this anymore. It’s nice to know that they really believe in our music.”

They are “so, so proud” of those first two discs, Lydia says. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the sisters benefited from his vast knowledge of music styles and his impeccable production techniques. “He helped broaden those records and we owe him a lot for that,” Lydia says. “It was an honor to grow up musically with someone like him,” adds Laura.

For the upcoming album, the sisters wanted to move beyond the sound of their first two releases (2010’s self-titled disc and 2014’s “Put Your Needle Down”) and are working with their friend singer-songwriter/producer Brandi Carlile. They recorded at Bear Creek Studio outside Seattle with a goal of getting the sisters out of their usual Southern stomping grounds (they both currently live in their home state of Alabama).

“This record is very raw,” Lydia says. “We recorded with a bunch of Seattle musicians so it’s not your typical country record. Plus there’s a different tone to the instrumentation and in our songwriting which I feel has improved.”

One thing that won’t change is the sisterly harmonies, which live in the same world as the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers and the Andrews Sisters. Their vocal style just naturally lends itself to the style of another era.

“We want to keep those elements in the music but move forward to something new,” Laura, 30, says. “We tend to be perfectionists when it comes to vocals, and Brandi has encouraged us move beyond that. She’s helped us move to a place of energy and passion in the way we deliver the songs we write.”

The siblings grew up near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and learned to sing in church aided by a musical family including a grandfather who had a gospel group called The Happy Valley Boys. “Our granddad was always playing banjo or mandolin,” Lydia, 27, recalls. “We were surrounded by traditional American music all the time.”

But neither sister dreamed music would actually turn into a profession. It was always just a fun hobby until an impromptu audition that wowed a group of Nashville music professionals.

They had never done anything together professionally before. They didn’t have an agent. They didn’t have a touring history or a fan base. They didn’t even have a band name. Nevertheless they signed to a major label and were guided by Burnett whose producing strengths are boundless.

“We were just sisters who lived in different cities who hadn’t sung together in years,” Laura recalls. “It was a sharp learning curve but we felt we had found the place we were meant to be.”

And now after going through that aforementioned chaotic period of thinking maybe they should step away from music, The Secret Sisters are on the rebound. But they say they’re taking nothing for granted.

“We are working really hard now to earn back that privilege we had in the beginning,” Laura says. “We are trying to make up for how easy it was for us then. We want to be writing, performing and singing far into the future.”

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.