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On Their Latest Album, The Haden Triplets Sing 'The Family Songbook'

Jan 26, 2020
Originally published on January 26, 2020 9:58 am

The Haden sisters — Petra, Rachel and Tanya — have a long history in American music. Aside from the sisters' various other musical projects — the alt rock band That Dog, recording with Beck and The Decemberists, and touring with the Silversun Pickups and Jimmy Eat World — when all three of them are together, they form the country trio the Haden Triplets.

The Haden Triplets are the daughters of the accomplished jazz bassist Charlie Haden, but their musical lineage goes back to their grandfather, Carl E. Haden. He was an influential country music radio personality and songwriter, and a number of newly discovered songs by the eldest Haden are featured on the triplets' latest collection, called The Family Songbook.

NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden about the legacy of their grandfather, their love of country music and keeping track of their three voices in the mixing booth. Listen to their conversation in the player above and read on for highlights from the interview.


Interview Highlights

On their grandfather and the Haden Family Band

Petra Haden: He and his family had a radio show called "The Haden Family." They started in Shenandoah, Iowa, and when our dad was 4, they moved to Springfield, Missouri, [and] the station KWTO: Keep Watching the Ozarks.

Rachel Haden: [Our father] started singing when he was 2 he started singing harmony. One of the first songs he sang on the radio was "Row Us Over the Tide." And that's when he started yodeling, and they called him "Yodeling Cowboy Charlie." And it's really cute to hear him sing, because he forgets the words, and I kind of relate to that because I always forget words.

On their relationship to country music

Petra Haden: When we were kids, we used to visit our dad's family in Missouri, and he would play us Carter Family songs, and Stanley Brothers songs, and I just gravitate towards the harmonies right away. So when I heard those songs I would just start singing, like "Keep On The Sunny Side," and Tanya would join, and Rachel would join, so we would all be singing harmony. In general, I don't listen to lyrics that much, I just love the music part. But I love hearing the stories after, of course. When it all comes together, it's even better.

On writing harmonies as triplets

Tanya Haden: We usually just naturally gravitate towards a harmony. But we'll jump around in a song with different harmonies. Like on the chorus, Petra will sing the high part, and I'll sing the middle, and Rachel will sing the low, and then for some reason on a verse we'll kind of reverse parts not really thinking about it. So when we have to go back to the song, we'll forget, like "Who sang wait? Wait .... Is that ..." And we'll listen to the recording — "let's see" — and we can't differentiate our voices sometimes, and I have to listen and go "Is that you? Or is that me?"

YouTube

NPR's Peter Breslow and Ed McNulty produced and edited the audio of this interview. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Haden Triplets are...

PETRA HADEN: (Singing) Petra.

RACHEL HADEN: (Singing) Rachel.

TANYA HADEN: (Singing) Tanya.

SIMON: How do I follow that? They're the daughters, of course, of the legendary late jazz bass player Charlie Haden, but their musical lineage goes back to their grandfather Carl E. Haden. A number of newly discovered songs by the eldest Haden are featured on the triplets' latest collection. It's called "The Family Songbook."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO WILL YOU LOVE")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) I have oft times sat and wondered and dreamed of days gone by, of the vows you've held so true, dear. Who will you love if I should die?

SIMON: And, obviously, Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden join us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

T HADEN: Thank you.

R HADEN: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: It's going to be difficult to keep track of all three of your beautiful voices. We'll do what we can. One of the Hadens, tell us about your grandfather and his place in country music history.

P HADEN: He and his family had the radio show called "The Haden Family." They started in Shenandoah, Iowa. And when our dad was 4, they moved to Springfield, Mo., the station KWTO - keep watching the Ozarks.

SIMON: And, Rachel Haden, your father sang with your grandfather, right?

R HADEN: He started singing when he was 2. He started singing harmony. One of the first songs he sang on the radio was "Row Us Over The Tide." And that's when he started yodeling. And they called him Yodeling Cowboy Charlie. And it's really cute to hear him sing because he forgets the words. And I kind of relate to that because I always forget words. (Singing) Row (vocalizing).

SIMON: Your grandfather was friends with - I'll refer to them as the other first family of country music - the Carter Family.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE HADEN TRIPLETS SONG, "WILDWOOD FLOWER")

SIMON: Let's listen to a song that you do on this album called "Wildwood Flower."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDWOOD FLOWER")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) Oh, I'll twine with my mingles and waving black hair, with the roses so red and the lilies so fair and the myrtle so bright with the emerald hue, the pale emanita and eyes look like blue (ph).

SIMON: That's a beautiful song. And Carter Family, of course, recorded it. What reaches you about a country song - the theme, the harmonies, the story?

P HADEN: All of that for me. This is Petra talking. I...

R HADEN: No, this is Petra talking.

(LAUGHTER)

T HADEN: No, this is Petra talking.

SIMON: Come on. No games with us. I'll bet you guys play games, but no.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OZARK MOON")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) Ozark moon, I'm trusting in your tender light.

SIMON: Do you arrange the harmonies? Do you divvy them up? Do you just jump in there?

T HADEN: We usually just naturally gravitate towards a harmony, but we'll jump around in a song. And it - with different harmonies - like, on the chorus, Petra will sing the high part, and I'll sing the middle, and Rachel will sing the low. And for some reason, on a verse, we'll kind of, you know, reverse parts not really thinking about it. So when we have to go back to the songs - and we'll forget, like, who sang what? Wait; is that - and we'll listen to the recording. Let's see. And we can't differentiate our voices sometimes. And I have to listen, like, is that you, or is that me?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OZARK MOON")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) Beneath your silvery beams.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAYFARING STRANGER")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) I am a poor wayfaring stranger, a-wandering through this world of woe (ph).

SIMON: Are there other Hadens in the musical pipeline?

T HADEN: Oh, well, I have two kids and - two boys, except they gravitate more towards the music kids listen to these days.

SIMON: Yeah.

T HADEN: Whenever I play them our music, they think it's a little bit boring.

SIMON: (Laughter).

T HADEN: And I try to explain to them...

SIMON: Yeah.

T HADEN: ...If it weren't for this music and that music, you wouldn't have what you're listening to today. They don't want to hear any of it. But they do - they've listened to some stuff we're - I'll sing - be singing a song, and then my younger one will start singing it. And I'll say, will you remind me how that goes?

SIMON: Aww.

T HADEN: And - yeah. Kids these days.

SIMON: Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden - their new album, "The Family Songbook" - thank you so much for speaking with us.

R HADEN: Thank you.

T HADEN: Thanks for having us.

P HADEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAYFARING STRANGER")

THE HADEN TRIPLETS: (Singing) I know dark clouds will gather around me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.