Sister Act

Meg & Dia: Drifting between grungy rock and weepy singer-songwriter confessionals.
Ashlee Simpson has expended a lot of energy trying to get people to take her rocked-up pop seriously. It’s not working. The Veronicas, twins out of Australia, upped the ante by doing the same thing, only raising the very low bar by writing their own songs and making sure they could sing well before stepping in front of a mic, too. Still, no one in the States paid any attention.

Sisters Meg & Dia decided that they could do it better. Their songs drift defiantly between grungy rock a la Hole and that often weepy, melodramatic, clichéd world of confessional singer-songwriters. While they haven’t quite got a lock on a sound that will change the way music is made, they do manage to produce music Simpson will probably never be able to compete with.

Dia Frampton, the younger of the siblings at 19 (Meg is 21), can’t hide her youth when she speaks. Her answers go on and on, for which she apologizes. Teenagers like to talk, and they’re still figuring things out. Touring the country for the last few years has helped Dia, a girl who grew up in the Mormon citadel known as Utah, figure out a lot.

“I’ve learned so much,” she says, while en route to Eugene, Oregon from Seattle. Meg, their drummer Nick Price and second guitarist Kenji Chan, and Dia just completed a tour with power-pop stars Sugarcult and the Pink Spiders; it was their first time playing larger venues, but their time with Sugarcult proved most educational.

“Instead of like everyone else walking up to us and saying, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Good show,’ they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you guys have some awkward moments between songs. You don’t know how to transition very good.’ They’d watch us and give real constructive criticism,” like how to control their levels, break their shyness onstage, and show some genuine personality to their audiences.

This is a long way from where they both started, at home writing songs and recording on karaoke together. When Meg started her first band at 16, “She wouldn’t even let me be in it because she was in high school,” Dia explains. “‘You’re not even cool enough to be in the band.’” Eventually, their mother intervened and insisted that Meg give Dia a chance to sing too. The irony is that five years later, it’s Dia who is the lead singer while Meg handles most of the writing chores, often tapping books like East of Eden, Indiana, and Rebecca for inspiration.

In other words, while most pop-tarts are buying their songs from whatever factory turned them out and then recording videos to use breasts to sell them, Meg & Dia are reading John Steinbeck, George Sand, and Daphne du Maurier in the back of their tour van.

“Meg will usually write a song and then I’ll look them over and make suggestions here and there,” Dia says, adding that their mutual bad habit is an inability to recognize “cheesiness” in their own lyrics. “Meg does the same thing with my songs, but my songs haven’t really been used on this record. Hopefully, they will be on the next.”

This working relationship was comfortable for some time, but it began to strain just about a year ago. “I got a lot more hands-on, which actually started some animosity between us for a while because `Meg` wasn’t used to me dictating over her songs,” Dia says. “They’re her songs, they’re her personal emotions. We had a lot of arguments over that until we finally sat down and talked it out.”

She doesn’t find singing her sister’s lyrics as odd as it must be for people to sing songs written by strangers or distant acquaintances. Sure, Meg’s lyrics aren’t her own, but this is her sister. “Meg and I are really close,” she says. “I live with her. If she has a really crappy boyfriend or a weird day with a friend, I’m there for it. I go though it in a different way, but I go through it, too.”

Dia hopes that the next album, which she’s anxious to record (“I’ve been singing a lot of the same songs for four years now”), will include a lot more of her own songs. She expects they’ll tackle the culture shock she experienced on tour, when she was able to visit almost every state in the country.

No matter how much things change, though, Dia doesn’t seem to be letting any of it get the best of her. She’s pretty much sworn off boys; except for a few “drunken dance parties” on the Sugarcult tour, she’s been a saint; and she can’t believe that American Pie 5: The Naked Mile is based on a “naked mile” that actually once existed.

The world might be opening up to her, but “I think we’re still good kids,” she insists. And then she giggles, as 19-year-olds are prone to do.

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