The Sisterhood Band: Alyssa Bonagura and Ruby Stewart on writing, recording, and sisterhood

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Photo by Matthew Berinato

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 10 – Winter 2019 – Acoustic Artists

Upon meeting through mutual friends, Alyssa Bonagura and Ruby Stewart immediately knew there was a connection. “We tried to figure out how we knew each other, so we started talking about our lives and our upbringing. My parents were in the country music band Baillie & The Boys, so I was on a bus my whole life from the time I was three weeks old. And she told me that her dad was Rod Stewart.” Ruby chimes in, “I had my first passport when I was three weeks old — I was on a plane at three weeks old!” They were both in England at the same time when Alyssa was attending Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts studying sound engineering and music, both lived in Los Angeles at the same time just a few blocks from each other, and both were on television commercials being aired at the same time. “We had never met before, but literally had parallel lives our entire life growing up.” “Soul sisters,” says Ruby. “Hence, the name The Sisterhood. We felt like we had been sisters, and the universe was preparing us to meet one another and start this band.”

The Sisterhood Band is a blend of lush harmonies, West Coast folk, with a splash of country-pop. We chatted with Alyssa and Ruby at CMA Fest, where the two had recently released two singles, “Get Up And Go” and “Bullet” which they produced in Alyssa’s parents’ studio in Franklin, Tennessee.

On the writing process

Alyssa: We write everything together from real experiences. A lot of our stuff starts with us having wine around the table and talking about our relationships that are either failing or growing. “Bullet” was one of those songs about these guys we had that weren’t the best for us and thinking back, ah, we dodged a bullet. And then “Get Up And Go” is another one about a guy I was dating that wouldn’t take me anywhere, and I just wanted to get up and go. So Ruby was in London for New Year’s and tells me to come out there and bring him, and I tell her I can’t.

Ruby: So I told her to come by herself. The next day after a long conversation we had, she sends me this chorus, and I was like, ‘That’s a hit.’ When I got back home, we worked on it, and it turned into a summer smash. It’s so much fun to listen to.

Alyssa:  The one thing I would love to say is that when Ruby and I met, we really bonded over Joni Mitchell. And a big, big influence of me playing guitar is Joni Mitchell’s tuning. So when you hear our music and listen to the recordings, a lot of it is all in open tunings, and just made up, because that’s how I learned because my parents wouldn’t teach me how to play because they didn’t want me to get in the music business. I was like, “Fine. I’ll figure it out.”

The Sisterhood Band at Showbox at the Market by Kirk Stauffer

On the recording process

Alyssa:  My dad and I built this studio in our attic. I had been working with this producer that was telling me, “I don’t want you to produce. I don’t want you to play anything.” And I play all kinds of instruments. I was an only child surrounded by a bunch of instruments my whole life, and he wouldn’t let me play anything. When Ruby and I met, we started bonding over the fact that she had just gone through the same thing with her producer telling her, “Just sing, we just want you to sing.” And I wanted to get involved in producing new music. We bonded over the fact that there were people in our lives that were telling us we couldn’t do it. So we became each other’s biggest champions.

Ruby: I have to say, it’s my favorite studio to record in. We recorded Summer Setlist there — the vocals, guitar parts, everything. It brings a different side out of my voice, personally, because I’m comfortable in her house.

Alyssa:  Guitar-wise, too, for me to have Ruby around, it’s been really empowering. You know, sometimes when you put a girl in a room with amazing guy guitar players and you want to play, it’s hard to feel like you’re confident enough. But with Ruby there with me and I’m playing my electric guitar, she’ll say, “That’s badass, play that again.”

Ruby:  She didn’t really know that she could play such great guitar licks until recently. She was strictly an acoustic person, and then she started playing electric. You played your dad’s Firebird one day, and I was like, “You’re really good at that.”

Alyssa:  I always wanted to play rock and roll guitar, so I get to in The Sisterhood now. I play Fender and Gretsch guitars mainly. I’ve got two acoustic Gretsch guitars that I’ve had since I was 14. And then I love my dad’s old vintage guitars. He’s got so many guitar collections. My favorite guitar to play is my ’72 Tele. I just got an old SG that we refurbished to the original color. It’s got three pickups, and it’s incredible. It’s white — it matches my white boots!

Ruby:  Everything has to match.

On Sisterhood

Alyssa:  I’m an only child and grew up on the road. Ruby had eight siblings, so she had a very interesting upbringing. I can’t imagine what that’s like to have a bunch of brothers and sisters.

Ruby:  But you find sisters and brothers and friends, and I think that’s why we called it The Sisterhood Band. We don’t really believe that it has to be in your blood to be your own family. Really, it’s about making strangers your family. We feel like we’re sisters.

Alyssa:  We help each other and lift each other up. That’s what Sisterhood really means.

Words of wisdom for future guitar players

Alyssa:  Don’t give up even though it hurts your fingers — build callouses. Literally, my guitar was my best friend. It sounds silly, but it really was growing up. And it’s treated us well. And thank God we get to tour the world and take a guitar around and write songs wherever we are. Keep going because music saves us all.

Ruby:  Also, don’t be intimidated by different people telling you, you can’t do it, because you should be doing it. My dad taught me how to play. I’m not as good as Alyssa, but …

Alyssa:  She’s actually really good.

Ruby:  I’m not a good guitar player. I know how to play a few blues chords, and that’s enough to write. But I used to do this thing where I put glue on my fingers so I wouldn’t have to feel the strings because you get blisters from playing. I got glue all over the neck of my dad’s guitar. And he’s like, “You can’t use it anymore. Sorry.” And then he bought me my first guitar after that. And I was like, “Okay. Cool.” So I have a Taylor now, and I still have it. We’ve had really supportive parents. We’re very lucky.

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