‘Live from Lockdown’: Local Sisters Sing on Saturdays
Tina Schlieske and her sister Laura are sheltering in place separately in Santa Barbara, but it’s hard to keep sisters apart for weeks on end, especially if they get along as well as the Schlieskes, who have been making music together for nearly all of their lives. Tina is best known for her solo gigs and a handful of bands she led in the Midwest, including Tina & the B Sides, which released several albums on their own label Movement Records before getting signed to a major record deal with Sire Records in 1996, for whom they recorded two CDs: Salvation and It’s All Just The Same. Their songs were featured in commercials and major movie soundtracks such as The Traveler, Very Bad Things, and A Simple Plan. Tina also toured with Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band) and released several solo projects. Around town, Laura most prominently shares lead vocals in Area 51 with Michael Andres, the co-founder of Santa Barbara’s long-running dance-party band.
Right now, of course, neither of them is able to do what they usually do in performing in public, so Laura has been heading over to Tina’s house every Saturday night since the coronavirus crisis caused the sheltering-in-place situation in early March. Their live concerts from the living room have already become something of a streaming sensation, attracting an average of more than 200 people per show, and as many as just shy of 1,000 at one minute-to-minute peak to hear Tina strum and sing co-leads and harmonies with sister Laura sitting in.
“We’re the only people that we trust to get together with, because neither of us is doing anything other than staying home and practicing social distancing,” Tina said. “We do all the washing of hands and everything, even putting the mail outside on the patio table for three days before we touch it.”
She gave us the lowdown on Tina & Laura Live from Lockdown over the phone earlier in the week. Visit www.facebook.com/TinaSchlieske.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of doing the duo concerts on a weekly basis?
A: When I first started, I’d just gotten back from traveling when I was supposed to be playing at SXSW. We canceled the trip when we heard how things were going in Italy. So that very first Saturday, I suggested to Laura that we do a live online show for people on lockdown. It went so well that it just kept going.
I have quite a few musician friends who rely on performing at my shows as their income. I know they’re coming up short now. What better way than to go online and try to get tips for the bands and raise awareness for other businesses, restaurants here in Santa Barbara and friends who own important venues in Minneapolis that are also hurting. It felt like a community-based way for people to spread some help around if you can afford it. And if you can’t, I just love giving people a distraction from what they’re going through. It’s really not about the money, but I’m so appreciative of the open-hearted generosity. It’s really been helpful for my musicians.
How are the two of you choosing what to play?
In the beginning, it was the set we’d usually do with the Graceland Exiles from our Santa Barbara shows. Then the tribute to Minneapolis show we did was mostly my originals from my band Tina & the B Sides. Now lately it’s covers and old songs that I haven’t played in a while, or things Laura wants to sing. And we’re also doing a few of our old songs to keep it as fresh as possible as long as it feels good now.
I’ve also been trying to choose songs that have meaning during what we’re going through at this time, some things that are self-reflective but also ones that help people forget the craziness of the state we’re living in right now, and provide some release and relief.
Speaking of that, are you coming up with new material sparked by the “new normal” conditions of sheltering in place?
I thought in the beginning of the lockdown that I’d get a lot of new songs written. I don’t know why, but I haven’t been feeling that energy. There’s so much going on in the world that mostly I just feel unsettled, which isn’t where my creativity comes from. I’m too uneasy. I think once this is all over, I’ll be able to look back, be more reflective, process everything and put into perspective everything I was going through, and write some new stuff. Writing something just doesn’t feel like something I have access to right now. So instead, if every day I can learn a new (cover) song that can express some emotions – the insecurity, the joy, and the fear – I’m OK with that.
So what cover songs are inspiring you?
I was really taken by the passing of John Prine, and I’ve been revisiting his catalogue and remembering what an incredible American singer-songwriter he was, such a reflection of what that means. I grew up listening to him, my mom played John Prine songs all the time. Covering some of his songs is such a treat and honor, to feel those songs again. Revisiting the catalog has been great.
Whatever you and Laura are singing, you seem so much more vibrant than most live things I’ve seen on Facebook or Zoom. Maybe it’s because there’s two of you, but I think there’s also something more organic about how you are performing, so it feels more alive and connected.
I do try to make it as much as possible feel like we’re all in the room together, and convey that with energy, try hard not to be stiff like some iPhone or iPad recordings. When I’ve seen some other videos during this time, people seem to be worried about making a mistake because it’s live. But to me, if you make a mistake or hit a wrong note – who cares? It doesn’t affect how I feel in the moment.
For me, I’m just wanting not to get sick of singing some of the same songs each week. We’ve got a lot of people on the East Coast, out in Minneapolis and here on the West Coast watching us. I love that people are tuning in from everywhere. So when I start to wonder out loud if others are getting tired of what we’re doing, I get a flood of comments on Facebook and Instagram saying, “Please don’t stop doing this. It gives us something to look forward to.” It’s really cool that people are enjoying it, which makes us happy because it keeps Laura and I sane also.
How much are you able to interact? Do you take live requests over social media?
We haven’t yet, because we can’t see the screen, so we just play our set. But this Saturday we’re going to change it up, and experiment with having live requests. I’m going to set it up so we can see what they’re saying and see on the fly what people want to hear.