Friday, June 29, 2012

The Dahls

Melinda and Caitlin Dahl at La Poubelle Bistro



At the Franklin Strip (Franklin Village)

So often in Hollywood, people claim that they can sing, act and (insert a random third talent here, usually, dance) really well. However, it is actually quite rare that someone can truly call himself a bona fide triple threat, and even scarcer does one family produce a pair of talented dynamos at the same time.

Twin sisters Caitlin and Melinda Dahl are skilled actors, having appeared together in "Nip/Tuck" and "House," and separately in "Bones," "American Horror Story," "CSI: NY," "Cold Case" and The Amateurs with Jeff Bridges and Ted Danson. Caitlin has directed acclaimed short films and numerous music videos, while Melinda has photographed actors, models and musicians and exhibited her work in fine art galleries around Los Angeles. Together they run a multimedia creative agency, DahlHouse Productions, that has worked on campaigns for brands like Sexy Hair and Guess. With Melinda on vocals and rhythm guitar and Caitlin on vocals and electric guitar, they are also the singer-songwriters at the helm of the Dahls. Joined by Emily Isacson on keyboards and accordion, Ryan Carman on drums and Omar Velasco on bass, the Dahls are set to release their debut album, Midnight Picnic, on Aug. 14.

Caitlin and Melinda recently took time out from their hectic schedules to give me a tour of their favorite block in Los Angeles, the Franklin Strip in Franklin Village. They lived around the corner from the strip for six years, and even though they've moved a few miles away, it's still their main stomping ground.

First we step into a bookshop and record store rolled into one, Counterpoint Records and Books. Melinda shows me the various book sections, while Caitlin dives into the record bins and unearths an Andrews Sisters' vinyl to add to her collection. Her choice amazes the cashier ("You know who they are?!") but isn't surprising to anyone familiar with their musical upbringing.
The Dahls at Counterpoint Records and Books

"We've always sung together since we were really little," says Caitlin.

"Caitlin is a great harmonizer, she can naturally harmonize to anything. I was pretty obsessed with singing all the time, and she would just come along and do the harmony. It was amazing,"  says Melinda.

"They didn't have YouTube back then, but if they did, oh boy, we'd be all over it," laughs Caitlin.

"Our dad is fantastic singer," she continues. "When he was a little boy he was in a boys choir school in Toronto. And then our uncle is a folk musician."

"He would take us to folk festivals as little kids. There are photos of us dancing, and Ashley MacIsaac playing violin," adds Melinda. "We also saw Loudon Wainwright III when we were 8, because I played 'Lullaby' – you know, [sings] 'shut up and go to bed' – for my uncle who said to me, 'He was at the folk festival when you were 8,' and I thought, 'Wow, I can't believe we saw him when we were that young."

"And I just saw him this past year in Downtown at the Orpheum opening for John Prine," interjects Caitlin. "That was an incredible show. They sang 'Angel From Montgomery,' and we were so moved that we started covering it at our shows."

We pass Counterpoint's area with rare books, Harmony Fine Books and Art, as well as an organic juice bar, Real Raw Live, before browsing the $20 rack in front of Native Boutique. I immediately recognize the Dahls' style in all the cute dresses hanging at the store.

We move on past Sushi Taiyo, Upright Citizens Brigade, Franklin & Company Tavern (run by the same owners as the Oaks Gourmet at the Bronson end of the strip), Birds (that Caitlin says is a good lunch spot, and Melinda lauds its Chicken Strips) and the Bourgeois Pig café, to get to the Daily Planet at the Tamarind Avenue end of the strip. The Dahls spend time looking through magazines and then take me through the shop full of items – candles, journals, scarves, paperbacks – that often make perfect birthday gifts for their friends.

Reading magazines at the Daily Planet
When we're finally tired of shopping, we head to their favorite part of the strip, La Poubelle Bistro. Caitlin is a fan of the French restaurant's Filet Mignon and Crispy Brussels Leaves, while Melinda prefers the salad with burrata cheese and Coq Au Vin. It's clear that they come here often when they lead me inside and I see a portrait of them hanging on the wall.

"We love the atmosphere, the food, the people – it's all artists and musicians – and the owners are so wonderful," says Caitlin.

"They support artists, and they love art. We even had shows here when we first started out," adds Melinda.

The Dahls have since graduated to performing at venues like the Viper Room, Hotel Café and Room 5 over the past few years, while releasing a self-titled EP in 2009 and steadily working on material for Midnight Picnic. Often times, inspiration could be found in every-day situations.

"We relax by going on hikes, taking long walks. I come over here [to Franklin Village] to visit friends, and we walk up to Bronson Park and the "Bat Caves.' It's so beautiful," says Melinda. "Right at the top of Bronson, that's where [the title track] 'Midnight Picnic' was inspired."

Even when they tried to take a short trip to relax, inspiration would hit and they would find themselves working on a song. A jaunt to Lake Elowin in Three Rivers, Calif., led to the track, "Periwinkle Sky."

"The color of the sky on Lake Elowin was periwinkle purple," says Melinda. "I went up there with Ryan, and we wrote 'Periwinkle Sky.' We came back, recorded it with the band, worked it out/arranged it, recorded the song and went back to Lake Elowin and shot the music video. So, it was full circle."

The Dahls' "Periwinkle Sky" video

"Periwinkle Sky" and "Feathers" are two of the more lighthearted songs on the album, but Midnight Picnic also delves into the darker moments of life.

"For me, I want listeners to be transported into the experience of the songs. As you go through the lightness of 'Periwinkle Sky' and the darkness of 'Dark Side,' there's a journey in between the songs and the stories," says Caitlin. "Because, often times, the only way through the darkness is to follow the light. Life is full of ups and downs – don't we know."

As Caitlin pauses, I feel like she is specifically alluding to one of the darkest moments in the family's life, the sudden and tragic death of the twins' older sister and wildly talented artist, Lauren "Lolo" Dahl, in 2004. But neither twin chooses to remain overcome by sadness for too long.

"Life can be really challenging. There are moments of pure and utter joy and happiness. You want to really take advantage, go for the happiness if you're feeling it. Write those happy songs and really embrace them. Then, when you're in a darker place, having a bad day or a bad break-up – that's part of life, too," Melinda says. "It's so nice to be able to channel all that energy into something creative where you feel it's like therapy. It's like a catharsis, writing a song – especially the dark ones."

"It feels so good when it's all out on the table," says Caitlin.

No matter what life throws at them, the Dahls always choose to weather the storm together.

"We always joke that we'll definitely end up together when we're 80. We'll be roomies in the old folks home," says Caitlin with a laugh.

Midnight Picnic is currently available. For more information, visit

The Dahls' "Dark Side" video 

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