There’s a famous relationship adage: The couple that plays together stays together. Today’s look at the Borealis longlist focuses on two couples who play together in the musical sense, for a glimpse at what that looks like behind the scenes.
Both of these albums were recorded as part of the 2016 RPM Challenge in February and emerged as favourites. Blankets is Kate Lahey & Chris Meyers. For a lot of us, Blankets was an introduction to Kate Lahey as new songwriter to be excited about. Chris is well-known as a member of Green & Gold.
Pet Legs is Rebecca Cohoe and Ian Murphy. They’ve played together for years, as well as apart in bands like The Subtitles (with Bryan Power, Darren Boobie Brown, and Kirk Penney) & Big Space (with Ashley Chambers & Grant King).
Here’s a track off each album as an introduction:
At What Point, or Why, Did You Start Making Music Together?
Blankets: We’d been living together for a while & when February crept up along with the RPM challenge, we thought it would be fun to take the opportunity to experiment with songwriting together.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): The first music we ever made together was in 2009 for the RPM challenge. We were both playing in other bands at the time (The Subtitles and Exit Party), and weren’t really looking for another regular musical commitment, but had ideas and interests that were different from the music we were playing live. I’d played in a couple bands, but hadn’t had much of a songwriting role, and had never sung either, so it was a really new experience to spend a whole month completely immersed in the tunes, from writing to recording.
Pet Legs (Ian): We started Pet Legs soon after we first met. I wanted to get back to some more pop-based songwriting than the more progressive stuff I was playing, and was also getting into mixing and producing a little bit. Rebecca wanted to try taking more of a lead role in songwriting and singing than she had in other bands. When we did our first RPM record we weren’t really sure where it was going to go, but we liked how it turned out and have been making music together as Pet Legs and under other names ever since.
Does Your Level of Comfort with Each Other, as a Couple, Help in Sharing Thoughts in the Creative Process, Or Does it Just Allow You to Vent/Bicker More Passionately?
Blankets: After arguing about the answer to this question, I think we feel it’s a bit of both. Our creative process for the RPM was collaborative in some ways, and independent in others. We’re very different people in a lot of ways, but we both support & uplift each other and that kind of comfort and encouragement is productive in the creative process.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): At this point, I think it’s more the fact that we’ve made a ton of music together that makes it a relatively comfortable process. We’re also able to avoid some of the classic challenges of recording an album since we do everything ourselves. The only opinions, schedules, and egos that need to be accounted for are our own! That said, we have played a couple of Pet Legs live shows and working with other people to make the songs into something that can exist in real life can also be a lot of fun.
Pet Legs (Ian): Working together is not much different than working with creative partners in other projects, like the guys I play with in Big Space. We bounce ideas off each other and try to make the best music we can. There can be disagreements about the direction a song might be going in, but we respect each other’s talents and are usually willing to try whatever it is that the other wants to hear.
Is There a Song, or Moment in Writing or Recording Together That Stands Out For You? Why?
Blankets: We were fostering a beagle while we were recording the RPM, and we decided that we wanted to include the atmosphere of the space that we were recording in, which is our home. The first track on the album is just a collection of sounds we both love, like water. The album cover is our messy bed. We named the project blankets. The album was very much about representing something open, comfortable, intimate, messy, imperfect. Anyways, we had a shaker for “I Don’t Know Why” and the beagle became obsessed with stealing it. You can hear her running around the hardwood floor and it was honest, natural moments in the playfulness and spontaneity of making something together in a month that stood out the most for both of us.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow we’ve made a tradition of recording a couple of Christmas songs each year, usually one original and one cover. It’s funny because Ian is a noted holiday curmudgeon. We generally go for full sentimentality. Keep your eye out, come December. My mom loves it. … (So does The Overcast, we have one of their Christmas Songs on an Overcast Xmas Album)
Pet Legs (Ian): We made this record in a really fast blur of writing and recording. It was really inspired, and ideas were coming together without a lot of coaxing, which is always the best way. It happened so fast that I listen back to the tracks and there are parts that I don’t really know how or when we even made them, or who came up with them. So the whole thing really stands out for me.
Outside of the Sound on Your Album, How Do Your Own Musical Tastes Differ?
Blankets: Even on the album, our musical tastes differ depending on who came up with the nucleus of the song. But ultimately we both trust each other’s tastes and input. Outside of our album we share a lot of musical interests, but like all people, our tastes vary.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): We have a lot of musical overlap, and I think it’s hard, and maybe not that useful, to dissect why a band or song works for one person and not for another. A lot of the time, one of us liking a band will help the other give it a chance, too. In terms of specific examples where we disagree, the Mountain Goats would be a good example. I love the weird subject matter of so many of those songs, and the wonky worlds that are created when they’re put together on an album, but despite my praise, the song structures just aren’t interesting to Ian. Also, sometimes I get into the car after he’s had it and get an unwelcome dose of hair metal.
Pet Legs (Ian): We like a lot of the same stuff. Pet legs is more pop-influenced, but we listen to everything. sometimes Rebecca’s taste can go a bit more into punk, or really narrative-driven things that aren’t really my cup of tea. I’m into some types of jazz, metal, or electronic music like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin that she might not choose to put on. I still have a place in my heart for some dude-rock from the 90s that she finds a bit questionable.
How Do You Differ from Each Other, Creatively or Personality Wise, That May Be of Benefit to the Music You Make?
Blankets: This album was a completely new endeavour for Kate, while Chris has been involved in projects before. Kate spends a pretty short amount of time with an idea before building on it, while Chris is a bit more meditative. We both love laughing, so having fun together was a big part of this project.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): In terms of our approaches to music, we’re very different. Even though we both contribute music and lyrics on our albums, he generally starts with a musical progression, riff, or idea, while I usually begin with a concept or story. That said, despite our differences, we’re both pretty comfortable collaborating with each other. Sometimes that’s the most fun part – figuring out how both ideas can work together.
Pet Legs (Ian): She’s an idea person and usually has a good sense of how a song or album might sound, or what themes the lyrics might get into. That gives me a musical focus and I try to help build the songs in ways that express those ideas. We also have different senses of melody. She can come up with a hook or a very direct lyric for the chorus that really sums up what the whole song’s about, where my melodies might wander a little bit more and might I use more scattered images in the lyrics. I also like that we trade singing lead, depending on the song.
How About, Not THE favourite, But A Favourite Song of Yours on the New Album?
Blankets (Kate): Not THE favourite, but A favourite song from the new album for me is “Lullaby for a Passed Life” – My grandfather had just passed away and I wrote and recorded it alone in one sitting. It was a very cathartic, emotive moment for me that showed me the intimacy in making music from a vulnerable place. I was nervous about putting it on the RPM for those reasons, but also felt a bit of healing and encouragement in sharing that energy with Chris as we compiled the album.
Blankets (Chris): “I Don’t Know Why” was conceived somewhat in the middle of the RPM process, a point where we had both loosened up a bit and could rely comfortably on each other for moral and musical support. I feel as if this rang out in the final cut of the song, natural, fun and not a bad tune.
Pet Legs (Rebecca): For me, “Light Blue” is a special song. My grandma Ruth passed away last summer, and while the lyrics aren’t about her, the feeling certainly is. The chorus swam around in my head for months. I think this album as a whole has a calmness that is different from much of what we’ve recorded in the past.
Pet Legs (Ian): I’d say “Radiation Fog”. That song really sets the tone for the whole album and that’s why we called the album after the song, which I don’t think i’ve ever done before for any of the music i’ve been a part of. Rebecca’s vocals and lyrics were beautiful, and i was happy with the colours I was able to put on the song with the production.