Photography by: Grace Rawlins
KTJ & Carly
By: Hawken Miller
KTJ & Carly is an up-and-coming moody pop, R&B, and electronic duo with a twist — both members are identical twins.
Texans Katie and Carly Haynes, 21, formed the band three years ago out of high school and moved to Los Angeles with the hopes of pursuing their dreams in music, film, and acting. Now they are playing at venues along the West Coast and with LA’s best in music, hoping to, with the help of each other, make a career that many hope for and change lives along the way.
Moving to LA is a harsh transition for most hopeful young artists: the bustling city, the people who would chew you up and spit you out without a second thought, and the reality of living away from your parents for the first time. The twins, who’ve only been separated for 6 weeks (ironically for music programs in the country) said they’re so grateful to have had each other now, and especially in those first months.
“We're so lucky to have had each other because there are so many artists in LA who just come out here by themselves and it’s so nice to have someone — just one person — that you know and can go to,” Katie says.
That change from the small town of Argyle, Texas to West Hollywood has been the topic, both directly and indirectly, of many a few songs for the twin duo. One song, “Almost True,” centers around the fact that there are so many faces in the city and so many stories we may be ignorant to. Ethereal synths, layered, sultry vocals between the two sisters, and a driving, snappy beat make up the introspective track.
And their latest, “Shitty People,” which released March 16, is about what you might expect. But also it’s about the futility of trying to impress people that don’t really matter in the end. The song will be part of the EP that the twins plan to release summer 2023.
The inspiration for “Shitty People” came from a piece of apparel that Carly saw at the Melrose Trading Post flea market.
“I turned over and there was a tote bag on the door and on the tote bag said: ‘Stop stressing over shitty people.’ We were like let’s write about that,” Carly says. “I feel like it's a relatable concept to everybody. Everybody kind of goes through the idea that you constantly have to prove yourself to people who maybe don't deserve it, or just act like you're cooler than you are to fit in.”
Each song has sounds ranging from Ariana Grande to Rihanna to Weezer, and they name some of their influences as Tove Lo, Jojo, PVRIS, Rozes, Flume, LEON, Louis the Child, The 1975, and The Doors.
With a wide array of inspiration, it may be hard where to place where the independent band fits on the spectrum of pop, R&B, and electronic (rock, occasionally), but Katie and Carly say that’s because their music tastes are constantly evolving.
“I just feel like as our tastes change, so does our music and our identity, because I feel like we always want to like the music that we're making and so we never want to box ourselves into one thing, but it's always usually like pop mixed with some sort of sub genre,” Carly says. “It's kind of a challenge sometimes … but I feel like it's cool to experiment with that kind of stuff to make it work with our identity, which is ever changing.”
Music for Katie and Carly has always been in the family. Their father, who is a family practitioner, was part of a band back in Texas and their grandfather gifted the family a CD with his own music before he died. Both did it as a side gig; the twins are the first to do it full time.
They remember evening jam sessions that went late into the night. Their older brother, sister, and mother weren’t as musically gifted, they joke, but if the shakers were needed, they knew who to call.
Like music, songwriting came early in the girls’ existence. In first grade, Katie remembers running a songwriting competition between her, Carly, and their sister Maddy, who is three years older. It was about getting detention for eating a chocolate bar in the emergency room. But her first actual song was about each member of her family. “Doctor, Doctor” was one of the lines for her father.
Carly’s first song came a little bit later and was called “Back in Time.” It focused on a girl who went through an abusive experience, escapes from it, but wishes she could go back in time to reverse it.
Katie first learned producing music her freshman year of high school from her friend. He helped her download a “free” version of Logic and experimenting with the powerful music production program. By the time both of them were ready to graduate high school, Katie wanted to continue her music production route and Carly was interested in musical theater. But it was also around that time they met their eventual manager Sera Roadnight, who encouraged them to try making it out on the West Coast.
“Holding On” was one of the first songs the girls worked on in LA with artist Chris Wright (a.k.a. NATIIVE). The high-tempo track features a driving R&B beat mixed with deep synths that act as the bass. It is also what helped put them on the map, Katie says. “Cherry Coke” garnered more press and the album “Identity” upped their streaming numbers. Their average number of monthly listeners on Spotify is between 8,000 to 9,000, swelling to around 20,000 with single and album releases.
They equally leave their fingerprints on each song, often layering their vocals, switching off producing, songwriter, and instrument duties. But often time, like so much of the rest of their life, it is done in synchronicity.
“I feel like we do sound very different, which is nice because I would have a different approach than she would and then we can kind of like almost fuse it together,” Carly says. “I feel like for the choruses and hooks and bigger parts usually we kind of switch off like but Katie is really good at singing more light, almost seductive, airy, like Lana Del Rey vibes. And then I'm more like, in your face, like belting.”
The two have a certain level of maturity that’s not often seen in twenty-something pop artists. While they do have typical songs about heartache and breakups, others dive deep into the psychology of our society. Case in point: “Shitty People.” They believe that’s because they grew up in a different culture in a small, Texas town.
“It has to do with the fact that we're from Texas and like, a lot of people that live there are very, like narrow minded,” Carly said. “When you're thrown into that with an open mind it makes you kind of step back and mature a bit.”
For being just 22, the twins also have a strong knowledge of music and production. In high school, Carly and Katie attended music programs at Carnegie Mellon and the NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music respectively. Both are in undergraduate music programs at Berklee Boston Conservatory, though they are only taking a few classes at a time to accommodate their band.
Most of their music is recorded in their home studio, produced and mixed by the twins, and sent out to be mixed (again) and mastered by a third party. They also perform live about one to three times a month, gracing well-known venues such as Brick and Mortar in San Francisco, Chop Suey in Seattle, the Ridglea Room in Fort Worth, and The Hotel Cafe in LA. They opened for another duo — Evan + Zane — which features actor Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld,” “Across the Universe,” “Frozen 2”) and renowned guitarist Zane Carney at the Troubadour. A West Coast tour is planned for the summer alongside their EP release.
Becoming more well-known in the LA music scene and globally is a clear goal for the girls, but they also want their music to mean something more to the people who listen. They feel like they have a greater purpose:
“To hopefully, even if it's just one person, to make music that makes their life feel related to or makes it easier for them to go on through the day without being overcome by intrusive thoughts and other mental health issues,” Katie said.