VIDEO: Damon and Naomi, "Love"
Ever want to throttle your co-worker, that well-meaning but slack-jawed doofus always peering over your cubicle? How about your partner at home, always leaving the seat up or making a Hansel-and-Gretel popcorn trail from the kitchen to the couch?
Yeah, the people whom we spend the most time with — officemates and significant others — clearly most try our nerves, too. So why in the world would anyone double the risk?
Romancing someone you're also in a band with is like high-stakes dating, or extreme music-playing. It's the X-Games of both ventures. One argument can, in a single swoop, obliterate both the band and the relationship.
Still, American Gladiators–type musicians like this exist. Bands like the Arcade Fire, Mates of State, and the Swell Season have made it work. Others, like the White Stripes, have been successful musically, but not so romantically fortunate.
There seems to be an ever-rising number of bands out there pushing that incendiary envelope, combining the dating and working worlds. And a bunch of them will be performing in town in the coming months.
Of course, you can't even begin to seriously kick off a discussion about romantic couples who are in bands together without mentioning Fleetwood Mac. In 1974, Mick Fleetwood asked an unknown guitarist named Lindsay Buckingham to join his band, Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham accepted, but only on the condition that his girlfriend and bandmate, Stevie Nicks, could be in the group too.
They were not even Fleetwood Mac's first "band couple" — bassist John McVie and keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie were married at the time. Together, the five-some scored mainstream success with the band's self-titled 1975 album, but within a year of its release, both relationships had crumbled and dissolved non-amicably. Amazingly, though, the band stayed intact. They persevered through the emotional turmoil everyone was experiencing (the drugs probably helped), and recorded Rumours, which is one of the all-time best-selling albums. (They also went on to produce a virtual carousel of interband hook-ups, but are, against all odds, still together.)
We talked to five couples in bands — some Boston-based, some non-locals, some rock bands, some dance-pop — to see how contemporary band couples handled the stresses of creativity, touring, and generally always being in each others' face.
When we first started doing press, that's all people wanted to talk about. And we were like, "Fuck, that's so annoying."
Despite their fatigue with the topic — being in a relationship that exists within a band (or vice versa) — Sarah Cronin and Tommy Allen (who's quoted above), of the Cambridge-based, Beatles-esque, lo-fi rock band Drug Rug, are surprisingly welcoming and amicable when I visit them at their Inman Square apartment on a Friday afternoon. Cronin and Allen know what I'm there to talk about, but apparently they're not holding it against me.
Their frustrations are understandable. Much like Jenny Lewis would rather not be known for her childhood acting gigs — starring in Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard — and Jakob Dylan probably wishes just one journalist would neglect to mention his legendary-rocker father, most couples in bands don't want the "couple" part to loom over the "band" part. But like rock musicians, music journalists are always looking for hooks, and romance is a tempting element to any band's narrative.
Still, there's telling the story, and then there's selling the story — for example, an early press release described Drug Rug, much to their chagrin, as a "magical love duo." Even for Cronin and Allen, though, the line between bandmates and boyfriend/girlfriend is often vague, and sometimes nonexistent.
"It's hard to separate band time with boyfriend/girlfriend time," says Allen, as we sit at their kitchen table, listening to the light rain pattering outside. "Once a month, we're like, 'I'm not going to do this anymore.' "
Music may be a complex force in their relationship now, but originally, three years ago, it was what brought Allen and Cronin together, when they met while working at the Middle East. The two exchanged demos, and made plans to hang out and play together as a way of breaking the ice. Simultaneously, they began dating and writing Drug Rug material together, and eventually recruited a fluxing cast of occasional bandmates, including Tulsa frontman Carter Tanton (who recorded their first album in his basement in Allston), and former Lot Six–ers Julian Cassanetti and Dan Burke.
Drug Rug recently finished recording their second album at Old Soul Studios, in the Catskills. But even three years and two albums in, the ease of the band's ironically buoyant pop songs about darker topics (like death) doesn't necessarily reflect an effortless songwriting process.
"It doesn't come totally naturally to us," says Cronin. "It's a collaborative effort. Lately, what we've been doing is Tommy or I will write a complete demo," and the other will edit or experiment with the song. The upside to all that effort is that the two are always improving upon their collaborative process.