I was inspired to find this list by a couple I met the other night. Her a vocalist (and aspiring bass player) and him a designer and guitarist, formally of a band on the edge of success. Now together, the creativity swirling between them has inevitably overflowed into collaboration. Having only met them briefly I for one am excited to hear the results, but is it a dangerous path they are straying down?
Clearly my own capability has limited the number of invitations to join others in making beautiful music together, but what I have observed from the side-lines is something that can be incredibly rewarding and terrifyingly frustrating in equal quantity. The creative process can be exhausting, exhilarating and highly emotional. The better you understand someone, warts and all, the better you know how to exploit their talents and support each other to greater heights than you could achieve individually. The same unfortunately happens in destruction. So success and survival go hand in hand and the ever present danger of succumbing to human weaknesses and imploding the whole thing is often tangible and frequently realised.
I remember being given a piece of advice long ago, which I thought at the time made sense, until I had cause to question it more seriously. “Never go into business with a friend or family”. Wise words I thought. Seems like the thing to avoid. But when it comes down to it, who else to choose as your collaborator, confidante and co-creator? Someone you just met? Someone who you know nothing about? Even if that did work, how to avoid friendship in the longer term? And at what benefit?
Sadly, in life we get our hearts broken. It happens and it’s an ordeal to survive. But having something to lose is evidence of having gained something valuable, created something wonderful, or learned something important. Which is in essence, the purpose.
So, what to this list? The cynical amongst us will have this as the exception that proves the rule. More content with melodrama and happier to bask in schadenfreude, than to celebrate the relative mundanity of persistent love.
These are a small selection of the couples who went into the music business together, stayed together and continue to make beautiful things for the rest of us. Whilst we could point and stare with our ‘gobs’ figuratively smacked like a new born child, we actually should nod and smile and move on, accepting the gold standard.
The first couple on my list are Alan Sparhawk (guitar and vocals) and Mimi Parker (drums and vocals) from Low. Formed in Minesota in 1993, in the early days, Low were sometimes referred to as the quietest band in the world, their gigs dominated by the sound of the audience rather than the sound of guitars. But they quickly won favour and have “slowly” (see what I did there) become an icon of American indie. Their back catalogue offers a really diverse mix of styles and sounds, often experimental and sometimes deeply dark, like their latest offering Double Negative. The song I’ve chosen is Witches from the album of theirs I first heard, 2011’s C’Mon. Sparhawk and Parker are still married, have two kids and live in Duluth, Mn. They are practising Mormons which might also explain why they are still married, but I’m going for love and music. Every time.
Second up is Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire. Win doesn’t just have his wife in the band, he also pulled his brother in too. That either amounts to a heart-warming tale or shotguns in a parking lot. I remember when Funeral was released in the UK and it seemed like you couldn’t get away from this band. They were played everywhere, endlessly and I subsequently rejected them like spoiled fruit. However, there was a reason they were liked. They have talent, depth and clearly Canadian family love for one another. The tune I selected is Empty Room from the album The Suburbs.
The third couple is Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley. You see, this is not some collection of fly-by-night newbies in the throws of loves young dream. These aging indie war horses have been causing a nuisance of themselves since 1984 (and probably long before). Rather than jumping through different styles and genres over the years, continuously reinventing themselves like some bands must to survive the marching decades. YLT just appear to grow and embellish their skills. This song is Autumn Sweater from the ’97 album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. It seems like they are a pretty private couple on the whole, which may have been an element to their success, but the music is most certainly a reflection.
The final couple for this now almost slightly icky love list, is another one forged in the valley of the greats. New Order were a group of survivors after the train smash of Ian Curtis’ suicide that brought Joy Division to a burning wreckage on the side of the rails of one man’s life. Somehow out of this suffering emerged another great love story. One between former Joy Division drummer Steven Morris and guitarist and vocalist who became an integral part of the New Order line up Gillian Gilbert. After the birth of their children, Gilbert took a 10 year hiatus from the band, reasoning most graciously, that she would be easier to replace than her husband. I think what may be a higher testament to music, love and life, was that she returned after that decade to drive them on to greater things. If you were alive and your hearing worked in the 80’s and 90’s their music can’t have passed you by. I chose Regret. Sublime.
The idea of these four tunes is to wrap up a theme but also stand together. I love what these songs represent. Who knows whether these are the exceptions to a rule. People often equate the creative process to pain. That the best literature, art and music is created from suffering and response to the human condition. Can we say that creation can also be born from pleasure please? I’d like to sign off with a quote from Georgia Hubley. “Creating something is life affirming in and of itself. Making music is not a sad thing.”
Its been a while since I’ve had a video feature. This has been a band I’ve wanted to find a place on ivtunes for a while. Partly because it’s so awkward and disturbing, but mainly because there is something about it. So much so, that after you are finally able to peek through the gaps in your fingers, you can’t help but be impressed. The link here is a simple one. Yolandi Visser and Ninja from the South African band Die Antwoord are not exactly mainstream. They aren’t exactly married and there is no exact proof that they are entirely human. But they do have a daughter together called Sixteen and by at least my standards, are pretty awesome. I cannot express enough that if you are of a somewhat nervous disposition or have any trouble sleeping at night then please do not press play. Though for the rest of you. Good luck.