The idea of a married couple as a music group, à la Johnny Cash and June Carter, is a romantic one to be sure, but being tied in matrimony to your bandmate is not without its distinct challenges.
Not only is there a clear overlap in the personal/work life divide, but in many cases, the personal can actually become the work, as the relationship can directly influence sounds, songs, albums and even the fate of the band itself.
Despite this, in 2012 there was no shortage of husbands and wives in music, for better and for worse.
While it was a good year for larger groups featuring a husband and wife — Little Big Town, a U.S. quartet that includes partners Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild, won vocal group and single of the year at the Country Music Awards and put out CBC Music’s number one country album of the year, Tornado; Arcade Fire continued to dominate pop culture with their contribution to The Hunger Games soundtrack, netting the group, including husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Golden Globe and Grammy nominations — nowhere is the marriage’s influence as apparent as when it’s at the core of the group.
In the case of Tennis, consisting of husband and wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, the band was a direct result of the marriage, as their 2011 debut album Cape Dory was inspired by a seven-month sailing trip along the U.S. eastern seaboard together. Their creative run continued this year with Young & Old, which saw them coming ashore to deal with more difficult themes and sounds, such as aging (assumingly together).
For country singer Blake Shelton, it was his marriage to fellow country singer Miranda Lambert that led to “Over You,” a song about Shelton's deceased brother that Lambert co-wrote and sang, and which won song of the year.
“I just needed the right person to write this song with and the right person to sing it,” Shelton said during a tearful acceptance speech while looking at Lambert, who also won vocalist of the year.
Singer-songwriter Royal Wood, who released We Were Born to Glory this summer (an album full of vivid imagery about what it’s like to be in love), says he never writes songs with his wife, musician Sarah Slean, but when he needed someone to sing the soaring and ethereal bridge on “The Glory,” the “only person I knew in Canada that could sing that part was Sarah,” he says.
He added that they receive several offers as a duo, but they don’t want to “blur the lines” between their singing careers and married life.
“We get offered so many things together, it’s almost as if they're trying to morph us into Sonny and Cher, and that’s never going to happen,” Wood says.
Whitehorse, a duo consisting of husband and wife Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet, are (thankfully) no Sonny and Cher, but their show, in which the two play every last instrument on the record, including an array of pots and pans, continues to define teamwork.
They even took something as debilitating as an argument while on a cruise ship off the coast of Cuba and turned it into “Mismatched Eyes,” one of the standout songs from their 2012 sophomore record, The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss.
“It was one of those epic fights, too,” says McClelland. “You know, years of marriage go up and it just explodes and you’re trapped on a boat. The only way we could make up was to write a song.”
Even the album's cumbersome title hints at the fact that, as with any husband/wife duo, if “one little piece falls away, it’s everything,” McClelland says. “As dramatic as the title seems, personally it is that dramatic.”
It’s a fate familiar to the former husband/wife duo Handsome Furs, consisting of Alexei Perry and Dan Boeckner, who split up earlier this year before they could learn that their 2011 album Sound Kapital was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize.
Unable to take inspiration from the White Stripes, who didn't really blow up as a band until after their 2000 divorce, Handsome Furs didn’t perform at the Toronto Polaris ceremony, although Perry was on hand to give thanks, providing the most heartfelt moment of the evening.
“Some people here will know how hard this is for me," she said. "But I’m also very, very proud. And it takes f--king guts to be an artist every day. So I’m here to say thank you on behalf of Handsome Furs, for Dan and I. For letting us risk ourselves in pursuit of our ideals. It is worth it. And I’m honoured to be in a room full of other people who also take those risks.”
Whether or not any of the other husband/wife duos were in attendance, it’s certainly a risk they know all too well.
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