When marriage and music are a perfect match
Rock'n'roll isn't just made by lovesick loners. Elisa Bray on the rise of domestic harmonies
Wednesday 12 October 2011
At the creative heart of Arcade Fire is the married couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. Arguably it's the strongest partnership in rock music: together they form the songwriting team that has created three of the most essential albums of the past decade.
The pair met in 2000 at McGill University in Montreal, married in 2003 and the following year the band released Funeral, their debut album, which topped many critics' end-of-year lists. It's an example that several new bands are hoping to follow, proving against popular belief – from Abba to Sonny & Cher's creative parting after divorce – that it's a good idea for married couples to release albums. Mint Julep, the Portland husband-and-wife team Keith and Hollie Kenniff are releasing their lo-fi dream-pop debut album at the end of November, while alternative country band Red Sky July, whose debut album is out on 31 October, were founded by Texas guitarist Ally McErlaine and his wife, Shelly Poole, a former member of Alisha's Attic. Another marital musical success story is the Denver couple Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, who, bored with the 9-to-5 life, saved up for a sailboat, and embarked on an eight-month voyage along the Atlantic coastline, writing songs along the way, leading to their retro girl group pop/surf pop duo Tennis and an album deal with Fat Possum.
This autumn also marks the first time that Neil Finn has formed a band with his wife of 29 years, Sharon, with Pajama Club releasing their debut album last month. The band name might well sum up one of the attractions of being a couple making music – Finn says they called the band Pajama Club because they were dressed in their pajamas when they started.
The practicalities of being at home together and able to seize the fleeting moments that creativity strikes, rather than needing to assemble band members, are a definite draw. As Butler once said in interview: "When we're at home in Montreal, it has been: finish breakfast, pick up a guitar and start writing. We have all our instruments lying around, and it's very much about being around each other when one or other of us is coming up with ideas."
Being in a band for some seems to strengthen the relationship. Dream-pop duo Summer Camp's Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey formed in 2009 and are now engaged, while folk singer-songwriter Alela Diane, who likes to keep it in the family with her father as her full-time guitarist, is now married to her long-term boyfriend and bassist Tom Bevitori.
Jenny Lewis, who formed a band with her boyfriend Johnathan Rice in 2010 – seven years after they first met – and made an indie-pop gem of an album I'm Having Fun Now, says that, in addition to spending all their time together, the extra ingredient that a couple have is honesty. "We are brutally honest with each other. The album is almost like a conversation between myself and Johnny. Johnny sometimes will be working on a song in the other room and I'll be obsessively doing the dishes and I'll just hear the harmony and start singing." She adds: "It's not like it doesn't get uncomfortable. Sometimes we yell."
If the arguing does get too much to bear, you just have to look to The White Stripes' Meg and Jack White, Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane, Portland band Quasi, Siouxsie and Budgie, to see that the music doesn't have to implode when the relationship does.
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