Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 22, 2013

Brand-new blues

Paly musicians Remi & Chloe give a fresh spin to classic tunes while crafting original songs

by Rebecca Wallace

You'd never expect "Billie Jean" to sound so crazy-good sung by two high school girls. Yet here are Remi Wolf and Chloe Day Zilliac wailing away on the old Michael Jackson number, fingers pounding on their guitars. These sweet Paly juniors have a way of breathing brave new soul into a 30-year-old song about a paternity dispute.

In between intense playing sessions, the two turn back into regular teens with matching long curls, exclaiming about the bands their teachers have introduced them to: Deerhunter, Lake Street Dive, Pearl Jam. They're all youthful enthusiasm, and at the same time they're all poise. Most of the time, they finish each other's sentences.

"Everybody thinks that we're like telepathic," Wolf says. "Having good chemistry on stage is, I think, one of the most important things."

This mixture of talent and chemistry is already getting the pair gigs. They perform sometimes as the acoustic duo Remi & Chloe, and sometimes with an electric-guitar-fueled band called The Extracts.

Today, they're sitting in a recording studio at the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement near Menlo Park, alternately playing and talking about their budding music careers. They've been taking classes at the center, studying songwriting, guitar, harmony and theory. They need their enthusiasm to get them through this schedule of music classes, private voice lessons and performances. Oh, and being high school juniors on the Palo Alto college-prep track.

The two met at Escondido Elementary School. By middle school, they were fast friends, singing for a while in a group called Citrus. Guided by a teacher, they sang upbeat, buttercuppy barbershop songs. They got their first taste of singing harmonies, but they were definitely beginners.

"Listening back on it now is —" Zilliac begins.

"Is kinda painful," Wolf finishes.

By their sophomore year of high school, they were ready to go their own way and formed Remi & Chloe. They're still young, but their music has a distinct character. Wolf's powerhouse vocals, all flinty soul, blend deftly with Zilliac's gentle voice. The use of many distinct changes in dynamics adds drama to their renditions. They both play guitar, and together they have written several original songs to go with their covers, which include Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning," Britney Spears' "Toxic" and Young the Giant's "Cough Syrup."

Even they find it tough to classify their music. Indie, definitely. Often acoustic, a little bit blues. Some funk, some roots, some jazz. "We started out covering songs that we liked on the radio. Then we decided to write an original song," Zilliac says.

Their first original song, "Carousel," seemed to just flow. They wrote it together without a lot of effort, and it clearly resonates with them. It's a song about body image, inspired in part by a friend's sister who had an eating disorder. "You poor little child, afraid to run wild, avoiding your own eyes," the lyrics go.

"Body image, that's a really big part of high school," Zilliac says.

"Carousel" was tapped for the soundtrack of a Castilleja student film, and also drew applause at Red Rock Coffee at Mountain View, the first place the friends played as a duo. That was at an open-mic session in September 2011. Red Rock soon booked them to be the featured act at an open-mic, and they have continued to play there. Other venues have included the Britannia Arms in Cupertino and Angelica's Bistro in Redwood City. They have another concert scheduled at the bistro on May 11.

Remi & Chloe have also played at the Awaken Cafe in Oakland, where they thoroughly impressed Sarah Sexton, who books music for the cafe. In her blog, she described them as "confident," "poignant" and "roaring with the voices of modern blues queens."

Earlier this month, the pair performed at the opening of a youth art exhibit at the Palo Alto Art Center. The girls are always looking for new musicians to collaborate with, and they were surprised to see two guys from school display an unexpected rapping talent there.

"One of them sits behind me in my history class! We had no idea they could rap," Zilliac says.

Besides hoping to collaborate with the newly discovered rappers, the two aspire to record a six-song EP, and then a full album. They hope to keep working together even if they don't go to the same college.

"If we don't go to the same school, we hope to go to ones within 100 miles of each other," Wolf says.

"Boston would be good," Zilliac says, and Wolf nods.

For now, they keep singing and writing, and covering their favorite tunes. At the Riekes recording studio, they break into "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Wolf starts out singing in a low, bluesy voice, accompanied by a simple guitar part from Zilliac.

Then suddenly she jumps up the octave, and the song breaks wide open, with fierce strumming on the guitar. Zilliac chimes in with a soft, endearing "Sittin' here resting my bones ... " It's decades-old, but at this moment, the tune is fresh, bold and brand-new.

Info: Remi & Chloe are scheduled to play an hour-and-a-half set starting at 6 p.m. on May 11 at Angelica's Bistro, 863 Main St., Redwood City. Tickets are $12 online and $17 at the door (dinner or two drinks also required). Go to angelicasbistro.com or call 650-365-3226.

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