Close harmonies: Cimorelli Sisters bring their uplifting pop to Greensboro
The Cimorelli sisters are content-generating machines. They’re a band, simply called Cimorelli. The six siblings who grew up in Northern California also blog on their website. They have a book, Believe In You, which just came out in October. It’s the same title as their most recent single. They do a podcast, too. And they have merch, of course.
Cimorelli brings their show to the region when they play Flat Iron in Greensboro on Nov 10. I spoke to Katherine Cimorelli, the second oldest member of the group, last week about their career, their philosophy about making music and entertainment that empowers young women and the ways they navigate the complex mix of family ties and mass media.
“We are YouTubers first,” said Katherine when I ask her by phone about how they divide their time between writing songs, practicing music, thinking up video concepts, managing their social media and the other obligations of their work. Katherine is also engaged to be married, so the idea of having a life outside of their careers and outside of their tight-knit family is something that all of the sisters are juggling.
The Cimorellis grew up in a musical family. Their mom had an advanced degree in music, led a choir at church and taught all the kids. The children were home-schooled, which gave them time to explore their talents, and time to grow entirely comfortable working with each other.
“Our mom is a musician,” Katherine said. “She taught us all to sing and play the piano when we were really little kids. She taught us all to sing in harmony. That was kind of her thing.”
There are 11 kids in the family altogether. (They have five brothers.) So that meant the opportunities for musical collaboration — and for conflict resolution — were there from an early age. They sang at home, in church and did musical theater. They did barbershop quartet singing for local seniors. They took up other instruments. They had drums, bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals covered. The girls and one of their brothers eventually formed a group to play classic rock and pop. They took acting and dance classes to round out their skills.
In what has become more and more of a standard career trajectory, they uploaded videos of themselves doing covers of pop tunes to YouTube and eventually caught enough people’s attention that record labels took an interest.
“We got discovered by a major record label,” Katherine said. “We thought, ‘This is our shot.’ We signed with Universal and moved down to LA in 2010. We were there for five years, working in the pop world. And we absolutely hated it.”
But when a member of Cimorelli said they hate something, they tend to follow it up with a little positive mental jujitsu. They’re not the kind of people who go around with oppressive negative vibes.
“We’re grateful to the people we worked with,” Katherine said. “We definitely learned a lot.”
(The band eventually left the label and moved from Los Angeles to Nashville.)
One of the things they learned seems to have been not to compromise your standards or your values. And, independent of their record-label dealings, perhaps, they’ve learned not to let needy and manipulative people drain you or steer you in the wrong direction. All these lessons come in handy since Cimorelli, in addition to the music-making, also dish out a lot of practical advice and straight-talk uplift to their fans.
“We are role models first, positive role models for girls,” Katherine said. And they view that as an honored responsibility. “My sisters and I, we get thousands and thousands of messages on social media from all over the world, and they’re particularly from young girls.”
That flood of communication on social media is part of what led the Cimorelli sisters to write a book. They figured that since they were spending hours and hours answering questions, they might make it more efficient by simply distilling all of their hottest topics into book form.
That same sense of responsibility shapes the way that Cimorelli approaches songwriting: they want the messages in their lyrics to be the right ones.
“Everything that we put out in terms of music content is extremely carefully thought out,” Katherine said.
In their songs, you can hear Cimorelli address themes that reinforce one’s sense of self-worth, help cultivate a positive body image, and generally encourage people to maintain hope. You might think that such a formula could add up to relentless good cheer. But Cimorelli fold in a helping of contrasting darkness, to keep things realistic and also to drive home one of their core messages, which is that extremes of feeling — low lows and deep depressions — sometimes make it possible for people to have intense highs and brilliant flashes of euphoric optimism, a rush of positive vibes.
“We’ve gone through a lot in our lives, and they’ve gone through a lot in their lives,” said Katherine of the group’s fans. “We wanted to give them something that isn’t going to ignore that there is darkness, but isn’t going to glorify it.”
Some of the songs, like “Minefield” and “To Be A Human,” off the group’s most recent EP, I Love You, or Whatever. have a spoken-word poetry-slam quality, which gives them some immediacy and urgency.
Many of the songs point back to an idea that they hit on in the title track from their 2017 album Sad Girls Club. The song’s refrain includes the line “The sad girls are the ones who feel alive.” It’s a perspective that allows people to live with their sadness or lulls, and instead of panicking about getting rid of a particular emotion, it encourages young people to view those extremes as part of what might be the healthy flux of a rich, full-spectrum, interior life. Cimorelli does a nice job of balancing the wholesome positivity with a more bold attitude. A big part of their first podcast is devoted to stressing the idea that young women don’t owe anyone — particularly the other young people who might be attracted to them — anything. One of the sisters jokingly compares those receiving their unvarnished advice to being “hit over the head with the sizzling frying pan of truth.” Cimorelli will almost certainly be doling out some stinging life lessons along with their mix of bubble-gummy pop and Broadway-tinged emotional balladry when they perform in the area this week
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.