For most high school age students, touring throughout New England playing original music and winning the occasional rock competition isn’t something that happens too often — but for Kristen and Katherine Veayo, it’s just another day in the life. On April 28, the 16 year old twin sisters from Winthrop also known as The Veayo Twins, won the 2012 MAMM Slam competition at The Asylum in Portland with their unique blend of pop, rock, alternative and country influences. The competition, which is held annually by the Maine Academy of Modern Music in partnership with the Portland Music Foundation, features six teenage bands from around the state all rocking out in hopes of winning a cash reward, studio time, promotional gigs and other benefits to help further their musical career. Although the MAMM Slam may have been held for high school students, The Veayo Twins have been writing music long before they were eligible to enter the competition. Like, since 4th grade. Humbling? If it wasn’t for my debilitating Crayola Crayon addiction at that age, I might have learned to tie my own shoes that year (I insist on wearing loafers to this day).
But these girls aren’t just playing coffee shops around town. Since forming, the band has gone on to play Webster Hall in New York City, Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium, and The Hard Rock Café in Boston. Oh yeah, and their music is currently being featured in a national documentary on bullying being shown in schools across the country. Did I mention they’re only 16?
I recently sat down with The Veayo Twins to discuss their thriving musical career and where it all began, from their days watching the Powerpuff Girls rock out on Cartoon Network, to fulfilling their own rock star dreams themselves. Check out our discussion below.
Dan Aceto: Congratulations on your win at this year’s MAMM SLAM, you guys really put on a great show. How long have you been writing original material for?
Kristen Veayo: I’ve been writing since I was in 4th grade.
DA: What inspires you to write?
Kristen: Nothing really inspires me; usually it just comes to me or something, like a melody, or just lyrics in general. I’ll just write a poem or something, which is usually about like self experiences or my feelings about things. It’s just like an outlet basically.
DA: I know from reading your bio on the website that a familiar topic in many of your songs is bullying. Can you talk a bit more about that? Were you bullied growing up?
Kristen: At our old school we were kind of made fun of and didn’t really feel accepted; we were kind of put down and called names and stuff.
DA: So you changed schools?
Kristen: We did and it’s much better; the school really supports us.
DA: I know some of your songs are actually featured in a documentary about bullying called Bullied to Silence, that is being shown in schools across the country; how did that partnership come about for you?
Katherine Veayo: Well Susan Broude, who’s in charge of it, she found us online and listened to the lyrics of Kristen’s songs and said, “that sounds like she’s been bullied,” and she contacted us and talked to her.
DA: How did the process develop from there? Did you send songs to her, or did you watch the movie and write new songs?
Kristen: Well the movie wasn’t out; we were actually part of the movie. We were actually being filmed — it’s like a documentary about kids who have been bullied, and we were actually in the movie. We went to Boston and we filmed me talking about it, which was very, very, very, hard, because at first I didn’t really want to say anything because I had just gotten out of some rough stuff, so it was really hard to talk about, but I want to help other kids.
Katherine: We used to get made fun of the way we talk because we stutter and we have a speech impediment, but we’ve kind of gotten over it a little bit because people are accepting it more at our new school.
DA: Was this the first time you had participated in the MAMM SLAM? Were you nervous?
Kristen: This was the second one we played in; the first time was two years ago and another band won.
Katherine: But this year we won, and it was just me and her. I was on the drums and she was on the guitar singing. It’s kind of funny, because the year before we were in an actual rock band but then we split up and did our own thing.
DA: Do you prefer this approach more?
Katherine: Yeah, we have more freedom, and if we want to do rock shows we have some lead guitarists to pick from and we have two bassists to pick from and a drummer, so we can kind of mix it up sometimes.
Kristen: And they’re all guys which is good so they can back us up.
Katherine: Yeah, like body guards (laughs).
DA: Do you enjoy playing a lot of different genres of music?
Katherine: Yeah, it’s nice because we can do just us two just acoustic, or us two with rock, or we have a full band; we like having the variety.
DA: It seems like you guys have a pretty full schedule, how often do you play out?
Katherine: We play a lot. I think we have three hours of music in our acoustic act.
DA: Is that all original material?
Kristen: We have an hour of original stuff.
Katherine: Of course she’s written more but she hasn’t brought them out…but she’s going to (laughs).
Kristen: I think I’ve written about 76 songs…
Katherine: And we only have like 10 of them.
Kristen: I think I have like 30 songs that I need to finish.
DA: Seeing a song through until the end is a tough thing to do.
Kristen: Well like sometimes it’s weird because some songs I get like a verse and a chorus and then I don’t go back to it, and then other ones I wind them out in like 20 minutes — like one song then I’m done. It just depends on what I’m feeling.
DA: Do you think the songs that take you less time to write are better, or catchier?
Kristen: Yeah, those are the ones I brought out first. I think it’s because I’m feeling a certain way and I don’t have to revisit how I was feeling, so it just comes out and it almost means more.
DA: So you write all the lyrics and compose all the parts for each song?
Katherine: I usually write the piano parts and drum parts.
Kristen: I’ll tell her the chords and then she’ll like write an arpeggio or lead part.
DA: It seems like you guys communicate well and have a pretty good sound; how long have you guys been playing together?
Kristen: I first started playing guitar when I was six and I’m 16 now.
Katherine: And I started playing piano around the same age six. Drums I picked up around nine.
Kristen: And I’ve been serious about singing since like 4th grade, but like when I actually found my voice, was when I was in 7th grade.
Katherine: We used to always sing to CD’s and I used to harmonize with her stuff, so I got really good at that, and now I sing backups, but I do sing some lines solo, but not a lot. I like singing backup a lot more, because they’re subtle.
DA: Who were some of your early musical inspirations?
Katherine: It’s actually kind of embarrassing (laughs). We used to be really into Disney, especially Aly and AJ. We liked them a lot because they had the same look and same sound.
Kristen: I’m going to be completely, completely honest. When we were like five we used to watch Cartoon Network and stuff like kids always do, and we watched the Powerpuff Girls and the one that I liked played electric guitar–
Katherine: And the one I liked played drums. So we were like, ‘oh we like instruments now, because it was on Powerpuff Girls, so we’re going to play!’ (laughs).
Kristen: And that’s how it all started, sadly (laughs).
DA: So from Powerpuff Girls, where did you go from there?
Kristen: Kelly Clarkson inspired me to start singing, because she was the first American Idol. But to play guitar…recently Orianthi, she’s from Australia, she’s really amazing. Right before Michael Jackson died, she was going on tour with him. Also I like Heart, and Nancy Wilson.
Katherine: And Rob Thomas.
Kristen: Also John Mayer.
DA: Was it nerve-wracking playing in front of everyone at the MAMM Slam?
Katherine: The thought of it at first was, yeah. We were nervous but when we got there we weren’t anymore because all of our friends had showed up and they all had on Veayo Twins tee shirts.
DA: Being in high school and taking classes every day, where do you find the time to practice and balance the rest of your lives?
Katherine: We kind of look at our schedule and pick out days to practice. We keep a schedule and legitimately write it down in our calendar so we don’t forget. That really helps us being organized and efficient so we don’t forget our material and go ‘whoops!’ at an actual gig. Also, at our old school we really got a lot of homework, and at our new school it’s more laid back and they don’t really give us a lot, so that gives us more time for music. At our old school everything kind of revolved around sports and grades, and at our new school everything revolves around the arts; arts and music — and having fun.
DA: What’s the name of the school?
Katherine: Hall-Dale high school.
Kristen: It’s cool because you can’t really fail — they don’t give A’s and B’s — it’s more student centered learning.
DA: Do you envision music as a potential career?
Katherine: Yes. We’re thinking we’d also like to have another job on the side but we definitely want to continue with this. If it doesn’t take off and fly and we don’t get famous that’s OK because we’re still doing what we love — but if it does take off and we get famous that’d be great too. I would love to just play out just to play out. Right now, music is like our job, but if we got famous we would be so happy.
Kristen: And as a side job I’d probably go into physical therapy, or dermatology, or zoology.
DA: What are some of your other hobbies aside from music?
Kristen: I love writing in general and I love drawing and painting, and sculpting.
Katherine: I also like to draw; I love drawing people and the face. I also love doing hair.
Kristen: I like doing transformation makeup, to make your whole face look different.
DA: How many gigs have you been playing?
Katherine: We usually have like three gigs a week then we won’t have a gig for a month. Then we’ll do another cluster of gigs then take a break for a month.
DA: You guys have played some pretty big shows over the years, from Webster Hall to Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium; how do you get these gigs?
Katherine: Actually through a lot of connections. We were friends with the lead singer of a band called ‘Keep Me Conscious’ and he was like ‘hey do you want to do this?’ And we were like ‘yeah sure.’
Kristen: And then he actually got us hooked up with the Jonas Brothers (softball challenge series), and we sang the national anthem in front of like 7,000 people. We actually met them (The Jonas Brothers) before they got big, it was pretty cool.
DA: It’s amazing you guys are getting gigs outside of places in Maine; these are pretty well established venues. Do you like being out on the road and traveling?
Kristen: I get headaches (laughs).
Katherine: If it’s a long ride we get headaches, but then when we get there we’re fine.
DA: What do you personally attribute to the success of the band?
Katherine: I think it’s the fact that we’re siblings and our voices mix well; we’re passionate and have that connection because we’re sisters and we’ve lived with each other our whole life. When we discreetly make a mistake we kind of cover it for each other. Also, I think the songs she’s written really connect with the audience, because they’re really deep and heartfelt.
DA: I agree. It can be hard for some people to put themselves out there like that; how do you feel conveying your emotions as a songwriter?
Kristen: It’s definitely my personal life. If you’re really passionate about music you’re willing to put yourself out there and show how you feel so the audience can connect.
Katherine: Her songs are basically like her diary.
DA: For winning the competition you got some pretty nice rewards, including cash and some studio time as well. What are your plans to record?
Katherine: We’re probably going to put in some originals that we didn’t record the first time, so we’re excited about that; we’re getting in a lot of recording this year it’s going to be great.
DA: Having gone through this competition, what advice would you give to other aspiring musicians trying to make a name for themselves?
Kristen: Keep practicing, and take criticism and use it to your advantage. And if you fall down just keep getting back up, that’s the best thing you can do to follow your dreams.
Katherine: And stay passionate no matter what anyone says. If someone says you ‘you suck’ then don’t stop because they said so.
Kristen: Life’s too short to not follow your dreams.
You can check out the Veayo Twins this Saturday at Big Moose Harley-Davidson/Buell in Portland to help raise awareness and cash for Bikers Against Bullying.
The Veayo Twins will also be performing June 10th at the Old Port Festival in Portland.
If you would like to learn more about Bullied to Silence, please click here.