Smile Politely

Sister Act

Some families work well together. They don’t just get along at family gatherings, they thrive as a team every day. It’s hard to believe, especially with the number of movies and shows that are based on the idea that people with the same DNA are considered rivals or alien creatures. The Scarbroughs are proof that this freakish occurrence can happen. When I looked up their facebook page, I found some surprising and inspiring tidbits, including:

“In 2005 the Scarbrough family lost their Mississippi home and possessions during Hurricane Katrina. Over the next year-and-a-half, the group found themselves homeless…Despite the adversity, the sisters continued to pursue their musical dreams, remaining committed to any obligations and prior engagements that were on their schedule.”

That’s a family.

The sisters — Sarah, Gracie, Angel, Faith, and Hannah Scarbrough — all sing (with Faith on guitar, too). Rane Simons is on lead guitar with Gordon Vangaurd on bass. Harley Gingras and Cecil Scarbrough top it off with drums and “sound effects,” respectively. I talked to the five young ladies, the sisters in Seventeen Sisters, and got to know a little about their relationship and creative process.

Smile Politely: What are your roles in the group? Who are you?

Faith Scarbrough: Sarah is the boss, she keeps the business side running and everyone in check and ready to go. Gracie is the sweet one, and a sugar addict. She has 4 food groups: sugar, meat, potatoes, and frosting. (Yes, frosting is its own food group.) Angel is the edgy one, the one who’s always ready to take a dare and try something new. When she was 5 she jumped out of a tree on a dare and had to get 5 stitches in her forehead. I’m the cute one. (I might have given myself that name but, hey, who’s keeping track anyway?) I feel that name fully embraces who am I as a person. Hannah is the like the princess; she’s always been tall and graceful. She was very vain when she was little. We tease her about that now but don’t worry — she’s not vain anymore! She’s really quite nice and lovely.

Rane Simons is the singing man. Not only does he shred a mean guitar solo, he loves to belt it out. Rane and I do an epic Bohemian Rhapsody at Karaoke. Harley Gingras is the machine. He is great at keeping everyone on track at rehearsal. He is the sizzle to our dazzle, the rhythm to our beat. He is also very talented at using a keg as a drum stool when Gracie forgets to pack it. Gordon Vangaurd is our grooves man. He keeps the dance floor pumpin’. Not only does he play bass, he’s also a talented song writer and has great hair. Cecil Scarbrough is the Jack of all trades. Whenever we need that extra little something in a song, he’s got just the thing. When he’s not practicing his duties as Chief Noisemaker and Sound Effects Man, he is a serious gamer and PlayStation fan (sorry Xboxers).

Smile Politely: How did you get the name Seventeen Sisters?

Gracie Scarbrough: We always go places together and people think we all look alike and find it hard to tell us apart. Random people would say, “Hey, come on out and bring your 17 sisters,” or “We’ll see all 17 of you next time.” So finally it just stuck.

Smile Politely: How did you all meet and start making music? I mean, the people who didn’t grow up together.

Angel Scarbrough:

[to the tune of The Brady Bunch]

Well there’s this story
Of a lovely family
Who was taking their music very far
All of them had voices of gold
and talent
and one was really good at guitar.

And it’s the story
of a bunch of men
Who were busy playing music on their own
They were three men
But they came together
Now they’re not alone

‘Because the one day when the ladies and their brother met those fellows
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch
That this group must somehow become a band
That’s the way we all became a bandly bunch!

Sarah Scarbrough: But seriously, we are really lucky to have all met up. Rane was introduced through a mutual friend and he had just graduated from the U of I where he played in Contraband. We met Harley and Gordon randomly — they both graduated from Columbia. We all really hit it off. We all were just in the right places in our lives… with the same goals.

Smile Politely: What’s your song writing process?

Gracie Scarbrough: Our songwriting process is collective. Someone will come up with a melody, lyric, or riff, then we all start building from there with people adding different ideas. Each of us girls has a lyric book that we write in whenever we have an idea. So when we’re writing we can go to those books, and usually our songs end up being a mash up of different people’s lyrics.

Smile Politely: What’s in those books? What inspires you?

Hannah Scarbrough: As far as writing, experiences are really the biggest inspirations for us. Things that we’ve gone through, crazy things we’ve gotten ourselves into, trials, triumphs, and things we believe in. As far as personally and as musicians, what inspires us most is the human spirit. The things we can endure and overcome, beating unimaginable odds. The amazing things we’ve accomplished and defying physical boundaries. I always find myself in awe of the things people can do. Even the smallest gesture of kindness can have such a huge impact. There’s a lot of terrible things in this world, but there is so much more that is good! 

Recently someone told us that their New Year’s resolution was to make a difference in one person’s life [each] day. I’m not one for making resolutions, but I thought this is something great that we all should do. They said, it didn’t have to be something grand. Something as simple as holding a door open, or giving someone down on their luck a few dollars. If we all did this every day it would add up into something great.

Smile Politely: Do you feel like you’re all one big family, or is there a divide between the relatives and the other members? Is it hard working with your sister(s) or does that make things easier?

Hannah Scarbrough: We definitely feel like one big family! We all really get along, so that makes rehearsals a lot of fun.

Angel Scarbrough: Working with our sisters is definitely a positive for us. We’ve always gotten along; there’s never been any sibling rivalry. Our parents taught us really young that we can accomplish a lot more if we work together and pool our resources. We actually really love working with each other. It’s great to do the thing you love with your best friends. You know you can always count on them and they’ve always got your back.

Seventeen Sisters is playing at Krannert on Friday as a part of Carnival of Rock. They have “all kinds of surprises for you guys, including brand new songs that you’ll be the very first to hear!” Sun Stereo will be starting the night off at 5 p.m., and you can see tons of exibitors, including No Regrets Tattoo, Bohemia, and Homer Soda Company. It’s all free! What’s not to love about this?

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