As singer-songwriter duo Aplus, Antea Shelton and Anesha Birchett have written and co-written songs for some of the biggest names in pop music over the past decade. But in 2018, the sisters are poised to step out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight with a debut record of their own.
Antea and Anesha had humble beginnings as gospel singers in Detroit, where, along with sister Angela, they were known simply as the Birchett Sisters. "We used to sing at churches and nursing homes and we would do local talent search-type shows," Antea says. "And we sang together a bit and then we started writing together, and it just spun out from there. So it's been music since birth for both of us."
But when Angela left for college, the remaining sisters continued to work together, and things began to snowball. (Angela has since become a Broadway actress, currently on tour with The Color Purple.) Eventually, they were discovered by Grammy-winning producer Rodney Jerkins, aka Darkchild, who offered them a high-profile publishing contract in 2005. Under Jerkins, the sisters co-wrote R&B and pop songs for the likes of Beyoncé, Danity Kane, and Ciara. When that deal ended, the sisters then signed to Universal Music Publishing Group in 2009, where they wrote songs for Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, and others.
These days, Antea works as the head of songwriting at the Detroit Institute of Music Education, where she is helping to train a new generation of Detroit songwriters. And though Anesha moved to Nashville four years ago, the sisters still collaborate, thanks to the help of technology and frequent visits back to Detroit. They've since also partnered back up with Jerkins to work on music for the TV shows Empire and Star.
"For us, it's not different, because we both are self-sufficient," Anesha explains. "In Nashville, I have my own little home studio. I engineer and record my own stuff, mix it, send it over to her. We both know how to do everything, so it isn't really an issue. We just get it done the best way we can."
Through DIME's record label, Original 1265 Recordings, the sisters will soon release their debut album, Pride Liberty Detroit, slated for a Feb. 9 release. (A single, "Strangers," was released Dec. 15.) The duo is planning a string of live shows in support of the record as well.
Recorded in just three days, the album is fleshed out with lush instrumentation, thanks to the production help from DIME co-founder Kevin Nixon. "The songs that we chose were fairly acoustic," Anesha says. "And we went in with Kevin and just made major adjustments. It was really cool to work with someone who is a producer, and not just kind of holding that title — someone who actually knows how to go in with the artists and piece it together and create a sound. Because we write top 40 and commercial music, we don't get a lot of opportunity to be with that type of producer — one who can play instruments, who has an ear for mixing and vocals, and can actually oversee an entire project."
For the sisters, it was perhaps an inevitable next step after so many years of working together. "These are all songs that were compiled based off of our catalogue of music, and we have so, so many songs within our catalogue," Anesha explains. "We picked the best things that we felt comprised a really great album that was conducive to our lives."