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

(L-R) Tanya, Rachel and Petra Haden. "We usually just naturally gravitate towards a harmony," Tanya says.
Shervin Lainez
Courtesy of the artist
(L-R) Tanya, Rachel and Petra Haden. "We usually just naturally gravitate towards a harmony," Tanya says.

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?"

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.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Two-time Peabody Award-winner Peter Breslow is a senior producer for NPR's newsmagazine Weekend Edition. He has been with the program since 1992. Prior to that, he was a producer for NPR's All Things Considered.