DRIVING TOWARDS fame

Story by Jeannie Stone

Twins Nikki And Samantha Setian have a lot more on their newly-turned 16-year-old minds than whose turn it is to drive. The musical duo stays on the go between Los angeles and Nashville, recording their first album, and squeezing in home schooling and driving practice along the path to certain fame. 

The Setian girls, who go by the stage name Nik & Sam, are the daughters of Richard, fire marshal for the city of Russellville, and Rhonda, an oncology nurse at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

The family lives in a secluded country home in Dover where horses — and all manner of farm animals and pets — thrive.

“Living on a farm is fun, but it’s a big responsibility,“ Nikki said. “I actually enjoy living in the country; there’s a lot of privacy.”

“But it’s pretty cool to have all that city stuff,” Samantha said. “And the beach!” they both exclaimed.
The beach the girls referred to is the Malibu beach. They could see the beach from the recording studio where they have been creating their first album under contract with Warner Brothers Records Nashville.

“We were recording 24/7,” Nikki reports. “We have four songs down. It was great. I love Malibu. The people are so laid back, and they have horses!”

“It’s like the country with a beach.” Samantha said with eyes twinkling.

Samantha and Nikki both write songs.

“The focus right now is on songwriting,” Samantha said. Her sister agreed. “We’ve got to get our album done.” The girls mentioned they were open to collaborating with songwriters. They have been meeting with songwriters in Nashville, although one of their favorite songs, Goodbye, was written by their producer.

The inspiration to write songs struck the sisters early.

“We write songs about relationships,” Samantha said. Hence, the song Stupid Games was written when former classmates were giving the girls a hard time for missing so much school.

“We were so hurt that we came home and unloaded by writing that song,” Nikki said.

She also wrote Thinking of You when she was reflecting on the military families torn apart by the war. Bad News is another song which reflects their concern over crime, war and natural disasters.

“We try to understand the world through our music,” she said.

Samantha observed: “Sometimes I’ll write music or Nikki might write lyrics.”

“The part I like best is making up the melody,” Nikki said.

“Oh, that’s the part that I like best, too,” Samantha added. “I think the first song we tried to harmonize together on was Amazing Grace. We sang it by ear; it just came naturally. Anyway, we sang it at the dinner table. From then on, I started picking up harmonies and Nikki started belting them out.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of cool how it happened,” Nikki agreed.

“We didn’t even know they could harmonize,” mother Rhonda said. “They got their volume from me anyway.” Everybody laughed.

The girls are well-rounded musicians. Samantha plays banjo and dobra and Nikki plays the guitar and mandolin. The girls were exposed to music early as their father plays guitar and included the girls in his performances when they were very young.

Samantha, who began studying banjo at 10, has also been influenced by Bela Fleck (banjo,) Emily Robinson, of the Dixie Chicks (dobro genius,) Jerry Douglas with the Allison Kraus band, and her banjo instructor Paul Rentfro.

Nikki’s inspiration has come from Natalie Morris, lead vocalist of the Dixie Chicks; Patty Loveless, Brian Sutton (former guitarist for the Dixie Chicks) and John Mayer, “especially his song Waiting on the World to Change.

“I thought we were going to be on the rodeo circuit,” Rhonda said. “They competed in barrel racing and pole bending when they were 7 years old, but once they started with the music, schedules started clashing, and they ended up choosing music over the rodeo.”

Rhonda admits she and her husband are competitive and believes the girls inherited some of that drive from them.

“We were glad they gravitated to music together, because both of them were natural performers “and they used to go so fast on those horses!”

“Plus, I always thought it’s better to put your energy in one thing, so you can excel,” she said.

Music wasn’t the only thing on the producer’s mind during their recent trip to Los Angeles.

“He thought it’d be good to change up the twin look,” Rhonda said.

Nikki responded: “Neither of us wanted to go blond. We tossed a coin, and I lost, but it’s growing on me, and I like it.”

“We would have done this on our own, anyway,” Samantha said, “because we like being twins and everything, but we like to be different too.”

The girls like to make a difference as well. Every Christmas, the girls entertain the patients and families at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. They have also held benefit concerts for Arkansas Hospice, the American Cancer Society and Job’s Miracle.

The eleventh graders are looking forward to their second year of home schooling.

“Actually, I like it because we can be flexible, and that’s important since we’re going back and forth between Los Angeles and Nashville,” Nikki said.

“Oh my gosh. We LOVE Nashville,” Samantha said, and her sister agreed. “It’s a great place.”

And Nashville certainly loves them. What other teenagers have 8,398 friends on My Space, with the top spots belonging to the Dixie Chicks, The Wreckers, the Eagles, Sheryl Crow and Warner Brothers Nashville?

Nikki and Sam ooze creative juices and are itching to try art classes this year.

“We’re wanting to take an art class at Tech,” Nikki shared.

“We love to paint and draw and sculpt,” her sister said. And both girls are looking forward to learning Spanish.

Everything just seems to grow better in the fresh air and space of the country. Consider Jake the Dog who jumps on visitors with playful exuberance.

“He’s just big boned,” Samantha said. “Maybe he’s bred with the horses.”

“Now, that’s hilarious,” Nikki claimed and chuckled. Maybe as funny as finding time in their schedules for their driving exams.

“It’s not like we don’t know how to drive,” Nikki said in typical teen style.

“I mean we’ve been driving four-wheelers for years.”

The girls will be sharing their mother’s Suburban once they earn their licenses.

“Sam likes to drive more than Nik,” mother Rhonda said. “Nikki doesn’t really care as much as her sister, and Sam does like to take charge of the wheel.”

“It’s been wild learning how to drive a car,” Nikki said. “I mean, I don’t know why they’re so worried. They were both in charge of teaching us how to drive, and it was so confusing! Mom would tell us to push the gas pedal a certain way, and Dad would be completely different. And all the while we’re saying, ‘Hurry up! We gotta go!’”

And they most certainly are going, straight to the top.

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