|Sisters’ music evokes feelings of homecoming, family nostalgia|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
ShareFolks around here often ask sisters Emily Afanador and Mollie Ziegler, the duo that comprises the music group Douglas County Daughters, if they are from Douglas County, Wash., or Douglas County, Ore. It’s neither.
The women were actually born and raised in Douglas County, Neb.
“We joke that there must be a Douglas County in every state of the union,” says Ziegler, “but we’ve discovered there are just12.” The pair do have a local connection, however, as they both graduated from WHS – Ziegler in 1988 and Afanador in 1991.
Music has been a part of their lives since they were young girls.
“Our mom taught us to sing three-part harmony with our older sister Kelley during car vacations when we were crammed into the back seat,” explains Afanador. “I think she was trying to keep us from getting bored and picking on each other.” She adds, “There was always music going on in the house, practicing piano or band instruments or spontaneous breaking into song and when someone started singing a show tune or a Christmas carol, we all took different harmony parts.”
Both women became songwriters and performed in separate rock bands and recording groups during college. They were studio musicians and guest artists on each other’s stages and albums for years before starting Douglas County Daughters.
“The idea came at a time when neither of us was in performing groups,” says Afanador. “A gentleman approached me about opening the stage for his festival. As an ambitious working musician, I didn’t want to say no, so I told him that I would put something together. I immediately approached Mollie about doing a folk music set of traditional music in the public domain. Between a few of our original songs and a handful of roots songs, we cobbled together enough music to fulfill the contract. We haven’t stopped since.”
When performing, the sisters share vocals, while Ziegler plays the keyboard and guitar and Afanador takes on the drums and autoharp. The women were both informally and classically trained as musicians.
“We had a giant old upright piano in our house,” says Afanador, “and later a small apartment piano and I remember my big sisters teaching me chop-sticks, children’s songs and various duets. Mom also required all her daughters to take piano lessons from the time we were about five years old until we could pick up a piece of music and play it. That was an obscure enough deadline to keep us all in formal lessons through high school.”
Afanador went on to play percussion in the WHS symphonic band, piano in the jazz band and drums in the jazz choir.
She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in folklore and musicology.
Ziegler took up the French horn and was a drum major in high school, as well as a member of the concert and jazz choirs. She eventually earned a master of arts degree in music education at the UW and became a junior high and high school choral director
In describing the type of music the sisters play when performing as the Douglas County Daughters, Ziegler says it is a combination of several kinds of vintage American music, such as rockabilly, soul, country swing and rag. The women perform “lost treasures in dusty books,” as well as their own original compositions, which are written in old styles to suit their repertoire.
The collaboration process is unique because of the physical distance that separates them. Ziegler lives in Monroe, Wash., and Afanador resides in Eugene, Ore.
“We get together one weekend a month,” explains Ziegler, “alternating between the Eugene and Seattle areas, to play one or two shows. Most of the time we have a couple of hours to run through songs beforehand and if we are really lucky, we get time to explore new songs and collaborate. But most of our composing, arranging and collaborating happens states apart via the internet.”
Afanador shares her songs with Ziegler through YouTube, using a camera shot of her hands on the piano to show (how) she’d like her sister to play it. Ziegler uses the music recording programs Cubase and Garage Band to record multiple tracks for keys, drums, lead vocals and harmony vocals. Then she is able to create mp3s of different versions of the same song to help both her and her sister practice so that they can be as polished as possible on their respective parts.
As for working together, the sisters agree that their familiarity and bond with one another has helped them to easily work through challenges that have derailed other bands they’ve been in over the years. They try and stay open to each other’s ideas, share the workload and enjoy the highs, while persevering through any issues they come across. Both women feel incredibly fortunate to be able to play, write and perform music for others. They view it as a unique privilege and blessing to do what they love and pursue their passion. Each has a lengthy discography of recording from their various individual projects. The only Douglas County Daughters recordings they have at this time are of live performances.
The response to their music has been overwhelmingly positive. Afanador explains: “When we created Douglas County Daughters, we expected that our sisterhood would be an appeal both musically and visually, since our voices blend so well together and we look similar. We imagined people would find the concept attractive and unique. What surprised us was how our sisterhood brought audiences a feeling of homecoming and nostalgia for their own families. People have come up to us after shows to express sentiments of longing and warmth about their own siblings and families.” Douglas County Daughters will perform this summer at Country Village in Bothell August 17, at 1 p.m., followed by gigs at the Island County Fair in Langley (8/17 at 7 p.m.) and Evergreen State Fair (8/29 at 1:30 p.m.).