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, but writing all of 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 and Dia Frampton decided before it was even cool that they could do it better. As Meg & Dia, their songs drift defiantly between grungy Rock (a la Hole) and that often weepy, melodramatic, clichéd world of confessional singer/songwriters. But, while they haven't quite got a lock on a sound that will change the face of music, they do manage to produce songs with which someone like Simpson will probably never be able to compete.
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. She's a teenager.
Teenagers like to talk. They're still figuring things out, and 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, Ore., from Seattle. Dia, Meg, their drummer Nick Price and second guitarist Kenji Chan just got off of a recent tour with Power Pop stars Sugarcult and The Pink Spiders. It was their first time playing large venues, but it was their time with Sugarcult that proved most educational.
Dia says, "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." The duo learned from Sugarcult things like how to control their levels, break their shyness onstage and show some real personality to their audiences.
This is a long way from where they both started, at home writing songs and recording 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. "Like, '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. Well, that's Dia's side of the story.
A month after my initial conversation with Dia, Meg got on the phone outside a Manhattan record store to tell hers. The older of the two, her answers scream maturity, practicality and, well, "boring big sister."
"When I realized I couldn't sing," she replies when asked how Dia ended up the singer. "She had always done karaoke, and I'd do her hair and go and watch her, and she'd sound so great. When I started a Punk Rock band, I just couldn't hold my own so it was only natural to bring her in."
Five years later, 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 that 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 to not be able 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 — begun when Dia, who opted to leave high school and complete her degree in packet form, moved back to Utah from Las Vegas at 17 — succeeded 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."
Meg doesn't sound as convinced that things have been smoothed over between the two, though this is not to say she outright badmouths her sister. Let's just say there's some, um, tension.
"There have been so many different things that have affected our relationship," she says. "Not necessarily music. More (Dia) growing up. When I see her now, she's grown up and has all these boyfriends I want to beat the hell out of. It really bothers me as she ventures out to become more of an adult."
That's funny since, according to Dia, no matter how much things change, she isn't letting any of the tour life get the best of her. She says she's pretty much sworn off boys. Except for a few "drunken dance parties" on the Sugarcult tour, she's been a saint. She's still innocent — for example, she can't believe that American Pie 5: The Naked Mile is based on a "naked mile" that actually once existed.
This makes Dia sound like the girl next door, gosh golly. That is until you mention Dia to Pink Spiders frontman (and notorious partier) Matt Friction.
"She said that about me?," he asks when told of some gossip, dumbfounded that Dia would dish to reporters about his debauchery. "Let me tell you something: Dia is a wolf in sheep's clothing. That girl can drink me under the table."
But, "I think we're still good kids," Dia insists.
MEG & DIA perform Tuesday at Bogart's with Anberlin, Bayside and Jonezetta.