Cover Art: RhetoricalQuestions
Readers: Amanita_Fierce (Stevie), doingthemost (narrator), KiwianaPods (Ronnie), RhetoricalQuestions (Ruth), schittposting (Twyla), sunlightsymphony (Alexis)
Download: mp3 (right click to save-as)
By Ruth Clancy
Black Sheep: Here's Looking At Ewe
By Ruth Clancy
The three members of Black Sheep live together in a penthouse in the West Village, but they arrive separately to our morning interview.
Twyla Sands is first, and just as chipper as she appears to be on her Instagram stories. She sets a container of homemade cookies down on the table I've reserved for us at Starbucks. "Hi," she says, an apologetic smile on her face. "The others are running a little late."
I've been told that this is typical, and numerous fan stories corroborate the tale. I'd been expecting a few extra minutes with Twyla before the other members join, and the cookies are an excellent apology.
I eye them with interest, and she pushes them toward me. "Please! Go ahead," she says. "These are a Sands family recipe. I'd be honored if you had one."
They're rich and dense, with chocolate chips and walnuts. Twyla leans forward, her green eyes sparkling. "You should dunk them in your coffee," she whispers, then winks. Of course, I have no choice but to obey. I take another cookie, too, for research purposes, while we wait.
Twyla Sands, guitarist and lead vocalist for Black Sheep.
Twyla, the lead vocalist and guitarist of Black Sheep, grew up with the bassist, Stevie Budd, in a small Canadian town called Schitt's Creek, in northern Ontario.
"I loved growing up there," Twyla tells me during a walk at Riverside Park. It's an unseasonably-warm January afternoon. Her winter coat is folded neatly over her arm, revealing an oversized, cream-colored sweater that matches her knit hat. "There was a real sense of community to the town. Everyone knew each other." She smiles, easy and open, but there's a stiffness to her shoulders that I can't help but notice. "Even when things weren't good, I knew someone else could help."
Twyla paints a picture of a small town that's eccentric in its friendliness, with near-idyllic weather despite its northern location. It's a stark contrast to the way Stevie talks about it one evening, while she's kicking my ass over several games at Space Billiards.
"I'm glad we got out of that place." I can tell that Stevie wants to say more, but she's gauging her words very carefully. Her restraint is impressive; to be perfectly frank, dear reader, we're both hammered on soju cocktails.
All things considered, Stevie holds her liquor better than I do. She also plays pool better than I do. "Twyla's the kind of person that you can't help but take care of. She's like a little lost kitten. You see those big ass eyes of hers..."
She trails off as she stalks around the table, sizing up her next move. I take the opportunity to press. "Would you disagree with her? You don't feel there's a real community in Schitt's Creek?"
"There is." Stevie looks up from the table, pool cue tight in her hand. If Twyla Sands is a lost kitten, Stevie Budd is a watchdog.
"Or is it that the community only looks after some people, and not after others?" Like you, I almost add, but the insinuation is clear.
Stevie's jaw flexes, and she presses her lips together. "It's complicated."
Stevie Budd, bassist for Black Sheep.
"Stevie's a good kid," Ronnie Lee, a woman in Schitt's Creek that both of the bandmates claim as a hometown mentor, tells me over the phone. "So's Twyla. They both are. But Stevie... She didn't want anyone to know she was hurting. Took it as a personal offense if you even tried."
Ronnie's words aren't a surprise. Anyone who's seen Black Sheep perform is deeply familiar with the intensity that Stevie Budd brings to her music. She holds onto her bass like a lifeline, hair falling into her face, stomping on pedals in her black-and-white Chuck Taylors. Her rhythms are precise and infallible, so locked in with the sound of Alexis Rose's drum kit, creating the perfect foundation for their triple vocal harmonies and the effervescence of Twyla Sands' guitar fills. She plays in isolation, an island off-center on stage-right, bridging the gap between her bandmates. A full-blown Stevie Budd smile is rare, treasured by their fans.
Twyla Sands and Stevie Budd on the red carpet for the American Music Awards.
(The internet would be mad at me if I didn't point out that this is one of many photos that have fans suspecting that there's more between at least two of the members of Black Sheep.)
Twyla Sands and Stevie Budd were both newcomers to the American music scene when Black Sheep's debut album, At My Fingertips, blew up in October. (It's now up for Album of the Year and Rock Album of the Year next month.)
Alexis Rose, on the other hand, has been a household name since her teenaged years. She, of course, is the only daughter of Moira Rose – first an off-Broadway diva; then a short-lived pop star, trying to follow in Celine's footsteps; then a soap opera actress.
"I didn't know life any other way," she admits. We're splitting a slice of pistachio mille-crepe cake at her favorite bakery; Alexis twirls the fork around her fingers like it's one of her drumsticks. "I thought everyone's lives were as crazy bombastic as mine, you know?"
(There, of course, is the famous Moira Rose vocabulary, passed on through osmosis to her two children.)
"Not everyone has their own critically-reviewed, limited-edition reality TV series," I point out.
Alexis gives a wry smile, then a playful, self-mocking roll of her eyes. "Uh-huh. What can I say? I was, like, super out of touch back then."
She glosses over the sordid details of her fall from fame - crashing into the Prada store, the DUI, the embezzlement scandal that left their family with nothing. She only offers a prim, "No comment," when I try to ask about the three years that Alexis and her family spent entirely off the radar. She guards their privacy with a sharpness that Cerberus would admire, easily sidestepping questions about her parents and brother. (She does confirm that David Rose, her older brother, has chosen a quieter life working in art restoration.)
When the conversation swings back to music, though, Alexis' eyes light up. "I always loved it. I always will love it. And I know what people were saying about me when we released our first single. They thought it was, like, a stunt. They didn't think it was actually me drumming, and they didn't think I could sing without autotune. But here I am, and I'm fucking amazing at both."
"You are," I say with a laugh. I may have been one of the people to initially write her off. "And why the drums?"
Alexis shimmies her shoulders, aware of the implicit, well-intentioned challenge in my question and eager to tackle it head-on. After all, Alexis Rose, former teenaged supermodel, is the antithesis of most modern rock drummers: a willowy blonde with a penchant for gold jewelry and floral-print dresses underneath her leather jackets. Spend just a few minutes with her, though, and you'll notice the signs: the restless energy, the rhythms she taps onto the tabletop, the way her right foot is always keeping time even in heels.
"My parents wanted us to be musical. You know? Like, follow in their footsteps." (Johnny Rose isn't a professional musician, but the Rose family videos on YouTube prove that he could've been.) "My mom wanted me to do something pretty. And I guess I was, like, in a teenaged phase. You know? I wanted to do the exact opposite of what she wanted, and I'd always loved the sound of the drums. It's the center of everything."
"What do you mean?"
"It's the pulse," Alexis says. "The heartbeat. The momentum, you know? It's the reason why you jump out of planes and rappel off of mountains and bungee jump from buildings." She flicks her wrist back and forth, a crooked smile on her face. "You know what I mean?"
"No," I say, laughing. My feet have only left the ground in airplanes. "Not personally."
She gets a bit more cake on her fork. "I'll take you one day." It's a promise I doubt she'll keep, but I treasure it all the same.
Alexis Rose, drummer for Black Sheep.
Stevie's ferocity isn't the only compelling thing about Black Sheep's onstage charisma.
There's Alexis' refusal to tie her hair up during gigs, even in the hottest of climates. (Black Sheep's fans carefully catalog every instance of her flipping it over her shoulder mid-drumming, sharing their favorite moments in lovingly-made gifs on Tumblr.) She's a showboater, too, flipping her sticks up into the air before she catches them behind her back, all while keeping double and triple time and hitting every single ghost note.
And then there's Twyla, sweetly unassuming with her cherry-red guitar and ripped jeans. She takes the stage with a beaming smile that's as bright as the lights that shine down onto her, wrapping her hand around her mic to adjust its placement. And then she hits her first chord: a dazzling burst of sound that echoes around the audience, filling in the gaps between them. Stevie joins in, her bass lines a rat-a-tat underneath Twyla's chords and melodies, bridging the gap between Twyla center-stage and Alexis just off to stage-left. Twyla's voice floats above it, sweet and delicate, a sharp contrast to the plaintiveness of the way she shreds.
Twyla Sands and Alexis Rose on the set of Black Sheep's music video, "Burn It Down."
(Yet again, the internet claims that this is evidence of more.)
The internet has turned Black Sheep into something larger-than-life.
Twyla, Stevie, and Alexis are fascinating enough one-on-one. But when they're together, trading knowing smirks and muttering inside jokes to one another, it's impossible to overlook the rumors about the three of them.
"We're not in some... throuple," Stevie says plainly. "Of course we're not fucking."
"It's smarter to save money with roommates," Twyla adds, her voice beatific. "Especially in this city. I grew up poor, so..." She shrugs a shoulder. "Plus, this way I don't get lonely."
"I'd just, like, really rather keep everything focused on the music. You know?" Alexis pouts, batting her eyelashes at me. "I had enough speculation on my love life when I was a teenager. Like, when I was still a child."
The three of them look at me – blue, green, and brown eyes all focused on my face and the voice recorder that sits on the table between us – and I smile.
"Of course," I say. "But you know, I hadn't actually asked about that."
Alexis Rose and Stevie Budd before the Billboard Music Awards.
(Yes, internet, we know.)
There are thousands of fics about them on Archive of Our Own. Most of them are about the three of them – Twylexie, they're called – but there are factions of fans dedicated to various combinations of the bandmates: Twylexis, Twylie, and Stelexis. It's impossible to count the Instagram accounts, the Tumblogs, and the fanvids on YouTube. Nearly every Genius annotation is dedicated to decoding lyrics like:
Summertime blues when I'm watching you
Meet me out there where we first began
We should've known then what we know now
There was no way we could keep these plans
Whether they're actually on to something is yet to be determined. I'm just as in the dark as the fans. But ultimately, who are we to judge if their songs are as good as they are?
Alexis Rose, Stevie Budd, and Twyla Sands on ET Canada.
"Why music?" I ask during our final interview.
Twyla holds her guitar loosely in her lap as she considers the question. "It's about telling stories," she finally says. "Human stories about love, and about survival, and the ability to overcome. That connects us all, you know?"
"It's about the feeling," Stevie says. She wears a deeply uncomfortable expression, her mouth contorted into a grimace, like she's been asked to confess her darkest secret. "When we're playing, I feel like I'm on top of the world. Like no one can take me down."
"Why not? I mean, it's just... in me, I guess." Alexis taps on her knees, creating a driving beat with just her palms, as she speaks. "I can't control it, I just have to..."
Alexis' hands fly into a flurry, one hand keeping time while the other launches into a rhythmic counterpoint. Stevie catches Twyla's eye, and they both smile.
"We don't have a choice," Twyla says. "The music's a part of us whether we like it or not. When the three of us are together... it's as easy as that."
After she hits submit on her article, Ruth checks the time. Black Sheep are playing a local show at the Bowery that evening, and she doesn't want to miss it.
The New York streets are uncharacteristically-empty, and she gets to the venue sooner than anticipated. She goes inside anyway, intent on finding a drink – but when she sees the three of them onstage, she stops in her tracks. Alexis' arms are around Stevie's waist, holding her close, and she's lowering her head down for a kiss. Twyla's behind Stevie, her hands on Alexis' arms, both of them bracketing Stevie in an embrace.
"Oh," Ruth says under her breath, eyebrows raised. "Oh."
She can't help but think – briefly, guiltily – of the article she'd just sent off to her editors, and how big of a scoop this would be if they edited it in.
And then she turns away, drifting back toward the lobby, biting back a smile. There's no reason not to keep their secret.