Ask most musicians where their band’s name comes from and you’re likely to get the same response: “It sounded cool,” they say.
Ask the Blacksmith’s Daughters and you get a history lesson and harrowing family story. Born into a lineage of blacksmiths dating to the 1930s, sisters and vocalists Julida Alter and Annella Platta strive to carry on their family’s legacy through their music.
Their blacksmith father, Boleslaw Kochanowski II, owns Boleslaw Kochanowski Wrought Iron in Junction City, Wis. Their grandfather, Boleslaw Kochanowski I, became a blacksmith journeyman in what is now eastern Poland. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, sparking World War II. The Nazis took Kochanowski I at gunpoint and sent him to a farm for slave labor.
But when a horse was injured (and later euthanized) near his machinery, the elder Kochanowski was blamed and sent to a concentration camp. He was starving and stricken with tuberculosis when the war finally ended in 1945.
Kochanowski I found his way to a displaced persons’ center on a German air base in the Bavarian municipality of Gablingen. There he met a fellow Pole named Jadwiga Sztapka, whom he married. They had three children in Germany before emigrating to the United States, where he became head blacksmith of the Chicago Transit Authority.
After their fourth child, Boleslaw Kochanowski II, was born, the family moved to a farm in central Wisconsin. In adulthood, Kochanowski II established a structural steel business, but it wasn’t until 1985, after his father’s death, that he found his niche in ornamental rails. The family business has since evolved to include fireplace screens, light fixtures and sculptures.
“Art with a purpose is a big motto at our home,” said Platta, the elder sister, during a recent meeting at Burnsville’s Tea Infusion.
Alter, 26, and Platta, 28, are diametrically opposed — in both physicality and personality. Alter, the extrovert, is an olive-skinned brunette with doll-like cheeks. Platta, the introvert, has long blond hair, piercing blue eyes, freckled pale skin and a prominent chin. Both exude the glowing, wholesome aura of farm girls.
Alter and Platta were the last of six children and the only girls in their Polish Catholic do-it-yourself family. Their parents instilled a strong work ethic and taught the children that love endures all. And their father emphasized music over sports, exposing his daughters to polka, jazz and classical piano.
“My dad would always say Annella was singing before she was speaking,” Alter said.
“I think he meant that I cried really loud,” Platta countered.
All the children took piano lessons, and Platta also learned to play guitar. When the sisters were 14 and 12, they began recording annual Christmas CDs for their extended family. By 2009, the sisters were writing original songs. In 2015, Alter’s now-husband Sean, who plays guitar, bass and mandolin, encouraged the sisters to try a professional recording.
Platta’s now-husband, Brent, also joined the band to play ukulele, horn and percussion. The two couples made music as a foursome for six months before bringing in another couple, Jeremy and Krista Swider, for strings. The six-piece released its first EP, “Truth,” in 2016. Their debut full-length, “Seasons Turn,” is due Friday with a release show Saturday at the Warming House.
The band’s sound echoes the bittersweet harmonies of fellow folk sister act First Aid Kit, but with a rural bent. Brad Renn, a friend of the Alters and a member of the heavy-metal instrumental band Zenith Waves, thinks familial connections are key to the Blacksmith’s Daughters sound.
“That bond as sisters, that depth, you just can’t replicate it,” he said. “Even if I worked with somebody for eight years on musicianship and singing vocal parts, I don’t know if you could ever replicate a sister-sister connection.”
Though the Blacksmith’s Daughters sample sounds from baroque pop, Americana and rock, the lyrical theme is primarily love. And no wonder. Both sisters are newlyweds, married less than two months apart in the summer of 2016.
“It’s very lovey-dovey,” Platta said of the new album. The catchy rockabilly “You’re My Man” track reflects her impatience with waiting for Brent to propose:
“It’s been over six years / You got me fightin’ back tears / Does it have to be me / Gettin’ down on one knee.”
The song’s music video features plenty of playful looks between the couples and skirt-swishing dance steps. It might be cheesy if attempted by any other musicians, but these sisters are genuinely smitten.
“Most people can’t exude this love mainly because half of the people out there haven’t experienced it,” said Alter. “We don’t want to put out negative. Everybody’s doing that. Everyone’s complaining. We want to put out something that, by the time somebody listens to it, once they’re finished, they’re happy.”
By day, Alter works as an English language instructor for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools and Platta teaches the Suzuki method at MacPhail Center for Music.
In their spare time, the sisters carry on Polish traditions; Platta makes pysanky (egg art unique to the Ukrainian and Polish cultures) and Alter interviews relatives for a Kochanowski genealogy project. Both have visited their ancestors’ graves in Poland. “Even though we are very American, we still have that bond,” Alter explained.
Music is as constant in their lives as their family is close, but that doesn’t stop these ambitious young ladies from dreaming of growing the band’s popularity. As Alter said, “We want more to happen, but if this is all that happens, we will do this for the rest of our lives and be so content and happy.”
Erica Rivera is a freelance writer and book author from Minneapolis.