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Grammys 2013: Siblings in sound, Jesse and Joy are always in sync

The brother-sister pair pursues a Grammy for '¿Con Quién Se Queda El Perro?' – just one more example of their daily connectivity.

February 09, 2013|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Jesse and Joy Huerta, who record as Jesse y Joy, are nominated in the Latin pop album category. They already have Latin Grammys.
Jesse and Joy Huerta, who record as Jesse y Joy, are nominated in the Latin… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

She's a little bit country. He's a little bit rock 'n' roll.

It figures, doesn't it? But musical siblings Jesse and Joy Huerta, who'll be chasing a Grammy Award on Sunday in the Latin pop album category, differ from Donny and Marie Osmond in more ways than one.

For starters, there's the dual-language thing. Born and raised in Mexico City, Jesse, 28, and Joy, 26, grew up switching back and forth between their Wisconsin mama's native idiom and their Mexican papa's mother tongue.

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At home, their mom, an English teacher, insisted, "I don't want any Spanglish. Speak either English or Spanish." Jesse y Joy (to use their proper showbiz name) now swing between the two cultures as naturally as migratory birds cruising the North American flyway.

Then there's the point that the "country" music Joy grew up learning to love was as likely to be Pedro Infante as Johnny Cash. Her parents dug it too.

"They would sing in the house, just for fun," Joy said over breakfast with Jesse earlier this week at a West Hollywood hotel. The duo had flown in from Mexico City, where they both live. "My mom would harmonize for my dad and vice-versa. Pretty corny. We were like, 'Oh, God, stop, please!'"

Their mother's vinyl collection also exposed the kids to Aretha Franklin, James Taylor and Carole King, infusing their consciousness with the ultra-mellow, keyboard-centric, singer-songwriter sensibility that's become their hallmark.

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It's no coincidence that their third album, "¿Con Quién Se Queda El Perro?" (Who Gets the Dog?), which won last year's Latin Grammy Award for contemporary pop vocal album and is in the running on Sunday, concludes with an English-language, note-faithful cover of John Lennon's "Imagine." Their rootsy, soft-rock sincerity evokes '80s country-pop, and Joy's dulcet-but-earthy voice has been compared to those of Norah Jones, Alanis Morissette and, almost inevitably, Kelly Clarkson.

In other ways, though, the Huertas, who also won last year's Latin Grammy awards for song and record of the year for "¡Corre!" (Run!), bear a resemblance to other famous musical blood-brother-and-sister acts.

They've been close since childhood — "best friends almost," as Joy puts it.

They received a good Christian raising at the family's Mexico City evangelical church, where they had permission to play the instruments when services weren't being held.

"Before we got to the point that we could play with real instruments we used to play with tennis rackets and hang them with belts, as if it was a guitar, or buckets, and just play back to Creedence [Clearwater Revival]," Jesse said, with a laugh.

They are impossibly wholesome and ridiculously nice — footnote: their dad teaches theology — attributes that don't always go in tandem with pop stardom.

And they are preternaturally in sync with each other's thoughts, often completing each other's sentences and sometimes showing up at an interview or recording session inadvertently wearing look-alike blue-and-white-striped shirts, jeans and shoes. Although Jesse is married with two young daughters and Joy is single, they still see each other nearly every day.

"Sometimes I'm with his friends and he's with my friends and they just say, 'Man, you just made a comment your sister made two days ago,'" Joy concurred. "So it's kind of weird. But this same complicity exists whenever we're playing. It's just a matter of a look and we know, 'You know what, don't go to the full chorus, let's cut it in half and just go to the end.'"

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The sibling synchronicity began paying off with the release of their 2006 debut album, "Esta Es Mi Vida" (This Is My Life), which reached the top 20 on Mexico's album charts and yielded a hit single, "Espacio Sideral" (Outer Space).

Their second studio album, "Electricidad" (2009), somewhat less earnest and more polished and experimental than its predecessor, sold well in the United States and Latin America. But the Huertas felt they'd strayed a bit and resolved with their third album to get back to their essence.

So they went to work with London-based producer Martin Terefe, whose client list includes Cat Stevens and Mary J. Blige. With Jesse once again writing the music and both siblings contributing lyrics, the Huertas wanted the new record to capture the analog-era warmth and intimacy of a live performance.

"For us, and the type of music that we're making right now, we just wanted you to feel that you press 'play' and then go watch us live and get that same sensation as being there in the room with us," Joy said.

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