Emilia and Sydney Schmier (pronounced "shmear," as in what you do to a bagel before eating it) are juniors in high school. They're fit, good looking, and have excellent manners — they both look directly at you when you ask them a question. They are smart: One has a 4.0 grade-pointe average, the other a 3.5. The twins seem to be genuinely good kids. They love their parents, their amazingly cute toy poodle, and they totally love each other. They're articulate and seem capable of real empathy. Their band Stereo Jane is absurdly good, though they don't have any records released yet (on YouTube, a fancy video they made when they were just 14 years old has over 1 million views). These girls do not seem likely to overdose, not even on gummi bears. In other words, in whatever equivalent of a VH1 Behind the Music special might exist 20 years from now, we'd only be a few minutes into the program at this point.
But this point in time is also an enormous watershed for Emilia and Sydney; a few months ago, the teens signed an exclusive deal with Atlantic Records, which carries a large advance and the possibility for multiple releases. The whole thing could also tank before anything is released, of course; that happens all the time. But the label is investing a lot of time and money into these kids, with the deal personally overseen by Mike Caren, one of the top A&R people in the world. (He's been enthusiastically retweeting their Vines since at least Halloween, which is how excitement is measured these days.) Deals like that are rare in the age of incredibly shrinking revenues for the music industry. So what's so special about these Schmiers?
Seated on an almost-ratty sectional in the basement of a roomy, four-bedroom custom ranch, Mark Schmier, the twins' father, watches them run through 10 songs. The band starts playing and at first it's hard to concentrate, in part because I didn't expect it to be so loud. Their gear is super nice. The P.A. they're using is better than P.A.s at many clubs. They're showing them off and performing as if there were hundreds watching, cheering, shouting. Sydney is singing and has her eyes closed through most of the song. There is a framed photo of a very young Aerosmith that looks like it's hung there a few years. The house, and the gear, are all very nice. Zillow says this place itself is worth a lot. As Sydney sings, her father is mouthing the words to the songs and staring at the singer, and I think he's occasionally flashing commands.
More likely, he's just really into the songs, which I realize are far better than I could have expected. As they play, he keeps looking over at me to judge my reaction. I'm a bit too flummoxed to offer up much, though. Half the songs sound like they could be on a popular record that people would stream and later write the names of the band in their math textbook. At least a third of these songs should be played in front of a stadium filled with people going nuts, as carefully placed fans blow the performers' hair back just so. And of the 10 songs, two are mega-crazy hit songs. Sydney can sing like a cross between Katy Perry, Joan Osborne, and Aretha Franklin. Emilia is a metronome with groove — how is it possible that this little white girl does that? The band sounds a little bit like Maroon 5 crossed with Weezer and Imagine Dragons. This is a great full-on pop-rock band. There's nothing manufactured or pre-packaged about them. At least on the music side. As for the rest, it's all part and parcel of making a band. Well, at least this kind of band.
Like her mother, Holly Baird, who was a ballet dancer well into her 20s, Sydney is of medium height and conventionally pretty.
"I have to always wear heels to get close to as tall as my sister," she says.
Emilia, like her father, is a touch exotic looking, and beautiful.
"Like all sisters we argue but soon after the argument, we forget what we were even arguing about in the first place," Emilia says.
"Of course we argue, but we get over it at the end of the day. It's amazing to experience everything with her," Sydney says. "It makes me feel like I don't have to go at it alone."
They're not identical twins, so they have little in the way of creepy twin stories. They share a used 2006 GMC Envoy, but don't have a telepathic connection. They do have one twin tale. "I woke up one morning and went to the kitchen to describe the dream to my family, and my sister said she had the same dream about a week earlier!" says Emilia.
Sydney is savvier than most musicians I know three times her age. I ask in an email for lyrics because I thought it would be cool to pepper some of them throughout the piece. She replies, "I don't think I can send you them because we haven't released those songs."
On the wall above them in the basement, the girls placed a stencil years ago. It reads: "Music is not what I do, it's who I am." Their mother, who designed their logo and is supportive of the group, wasn't upset that it was put there without her permission, but she was upset that it was placed just a bit askew, off-center.
The girls have gone from writing songs together to writing them with their band, and a few times now to working with other, seasoned songwriting pros. Sydney has lyrics at the ready, lines and snippets that have stuck in her head. When melodies coalesce, she just starts singing on top of what others are playing. These older musicians are often stunned at what she lays down, especially with such a powerful voice.
A lot of what they've listened to and love has come from their father.
"When we were little, we listened to Aerosmith, Alice in Chains, and Stevie Ray Vaughan – who was like our favorite when we were little," Emilia says. Sydney's been a fan of Paramore for seven years. This week, she is really into Beyoncé, the Beatles, and that new song by Ellie Goulding off the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. As to local influences, it's all about Franklin. Sydney has loved her since she was very little. Once, she ran up to her at a local supermarket to profess her love, undeterred by the two large bodyguards flanking Franklin.
As I write this, I keep wanting to call them women because they carry themselves more like someone in college or beyond. But they have a year and a half left in high school, which, beginning this year, they've been doing online to accommodate their burgeoning career. In June, they'll head to Los Angeles to work with a handful of top songwriters, to write material there on the spot, and to try to improve existing material. And now, they're furiously writing new songs then recording demos of them to send to the label, all for feedback at least and consideration for release at best. They've recorded studio versions of a few of the best songs, with Al Sutton, at Royal Oak's Rustbelt Studios. He's worked with everyone from Laughing Hyenas to Kid Rock.
Meanwhile, the girls are still in regular school, and it's working out OK, but it's also weird. All their friends are talking college, while the girls are on a path to be on Atlantic, home of Aretha, Led Zeppelin, and Flo Rida. A typical school day has three hours of school tutoring followed by a couple hours of either music lessons or practice. The band practices three days a week, for hours at a time. Beyond that, there is further schoolwork. And sessions of songwriting and recording last for hours.