SistaStrings Have a Truly Unique Sound
The singing, string-playing duo fuses classical, R&B and hip hop.
SistaStrings fuse R&B and classical string arrangements into something entirely new to the Milwaukee music scene. The group is made up of sisters Monique Ross and Chauntee Ross, who blend gospel-influenced harmonies that float over their instrumental playing — a singing string duo fusing classical and hip hop music. After honing their musical talents through higher education, these talented sisters have taken hold of their unique sound and are looking to share it.
When did you begin playing as SistaStrings?
We’ve been playing together since we were super young. We have two other sisters who played violin and viola, so the four of us were a string quartet called Sisters of PraiZe (note the creative spelling). As the older ones all moved out of our parent’s house and went to college, the group dwindled down to three and then eventually two. Monique went to school in Madison and I, Chauntee, went to school in Ann Arbor. This version of SistaStrings started after I graduated and moved back to Milwaukee.
What are some artists that inspire you?
That’s a hard question because I feel like I’m inspired by different artists every day. I recently was put on to this visual artist from Sacramento and her art literally inspired like half of a melody. So that was cool. Otherwise I would have to say any genuine hardworking artist inspires me. The band KING is one of my favorites. I’m always inspired after I watch a ton of Cory Henry videos on youtube or see Snarky Puppy live, just to name a few.
Where did your name come from?
I came up with the name one day. I was just chillin at work or something dumb and was thinking about how Monique and I could get really serious with our career. We’d been doing more gigs since I returned back to Milwaukee and I was tired of being called “the Ross sisters,” so that’s how SistaStrings was born!
How old are you?
I just turned 25 on March 1 and Monique turned 27 February 15th. We actually did a collab birthday party/show which was an Erykah Badu tribute at the Artist Factory on March 3rd.
How would you describe your music?
Our music is pretty soulful. We were raised in the church, so we have a lot of gospel influence in how we write chords and how we harmonize. It’s just part of who we are musically. Another part of our background is classical. We both studied at the String Academy of Wisconsin at UWM as kiddos and then I, Chauntee, went to The Academy, at the Music Institute of Chicago in high school. Then we both went on to be performance majors in college. So although we play a lot of soul and hip hop music, classical is deeply rooted in us.
Any local bands you guys really like?
Omg there’s so many dope bands in Milwaukee right now! Milwaukee is LIT! Tigernite is like my new obsession! Ugly Brothers is super dope. We’re obsessed with Klassik as both a human and artist. He’s definitely one of our favorites to work with these days. New Boyz Club is super sick and they’re all lovely people. Foreign Goods I’m totally diggin’ these days.
What do you think of the local music scene?
I think the local music scene is incredible. Honestly, I’m so happy that I moved back to Milwaukee and was able to get in on the magic that’s here right now. I swear there’s like a million shows every single night and I love it!
My lyrics are typically about sex, love, and overcoming things. Yup. That about covers it.
Where do you most often play in Milwaukee?
We’ve been playing a lot of shows at Lucilles’ Piano Bar over the past six or seven months with a group of super dope musicians. We also play in a band called Mike Mangione and The Union. It’s been described as soulful orchestral folk music. So with that band, we have a residency at Uncommon Ground which is in Chicago and we play there every second Thursday of the month.
Favorite place to play?
My favorite place to play is anywhere I feel heard as a performer. Sometimes I get to a venue and I feel more like an inconvenience than an artist. I’m talking basically as far as sound needs go and how the staff handles questions and our needs for the night.
Have you toured anywhere?
Yup. I’ve toured with The Sphinx Chamber Orchestra which is a group comprised of all African American and Latino string players. It was amazing. We played Carnegie Hall in New York, which was a dream of mine. We’ve also toured with our band, Mike Mangione And The Union. We have not toured as strictly SistaStrings, and I’m starting to reach out to various individuals I’ve been able to connect with while I’ve toured with other folks. You’ve gotta be crafty in this biz.
Any Albums or EP’s coming out soon?
SistaStrings is working on material super hard these days. I just run around writing lyrics and melodies down all the time. I’ve got a weird collection going. One day soon we’re gonna sit down and make sense of all the nonsense and drop an EP. It’ll probably be another year or so. I know we’re going to be in the studio in the next two months working on a tune Monique and I wrote together for FemFest last January. And then we recorded an album with our band MM&TU in LA last April at the famous United Recording Studios formerly known as Oceanway Studios. That was amazing because it was Frank Sinatra’s studio after he left Columbia Records. We stayed out there for a little over a week I think and met so many dope artists just chilling outside in between sessions. One day Common was recording in the studio next to us and the next day Nas just casually dropped by. It was insane. So that album is gonna be released at some point. We’re still shopping it around.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans are to keep making art to the best of my abilities. Ever since I finished my undergrad at University of Michigan, I’ve been wanting to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I just wanna hone my craft to the best of my abilities, and I think a rigorous grad school program wouldn’t hurt. I think continuing to build relationships in the music community locally and beyond. Collaboration is really important to Monique and I as musicians. I think it’s because we’re from a big family and we’re used to adapting and working with others. Sometimes I can’t stand working in a group setting and other times I just feed off of others’ creativity and it makes me stronger as I learn from them and they learn from me.Cascio Interstate Music is proud to sponsor Urban Milwaukee’s Band of the Week column. Running in tandem with their own Band of the Month program, supporting local music is key to CIM’s mission.