There’s a famous quote, “The couple that plays together stays together. Three local bands on this year’s Borealis Music Prize longlist put a literal spin on that quote: they play music together. It’s a dynamic unique enough to warrant an interview with them all.
Those bands are The Domestics –whom you called “the best folk/country band in town” during this month’s People’s Choice Polls (#PollLeak), Gary & Whit, who strike a rare balance between simplicity and sophistication that is both powerful and quiet, and lastly, Land of the Lakes, who offer a great take on indie rock, and make the genre all their own.
At What Point, or Why, Did You Start Making Music Together?
Ian (The Domestics): Our first project together was the RPM Challenge in 2008. Sandy wrote some songs and I was keen to add some additional instrumentation. We had a great time and it stuck.
Gary & Whit: We started making music together about 2 years ago. Gary was writing for what he thought was going to be a solo album. He was stumped on a song and asked me (Whitney) to step in and see what I thought. We ended up basically starting from scratch and creating a whole new song. That song is “Warfare” on our album. We often joke about what that title might suggest about our relationship as a married couple and as artists.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes): Danielle and I started playing music together from the get-go, we started dating way back in the spring of 2002, our last year of high school. When we first started dating, I thought, “Cool, a girl who likes the same kind of music as me and is a musician too!” I was playing in our high school band, The Racing Turtles, at the time, and she would come on stage with us to play a song or two or sing backup. Danielle and I started writing together in the winter of 2003, and released our first album, called Blue Sweaters, under the band name The Corduroys. We released a number of albums under that name (none that I care to show anyone).
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): Yeah, we started pretty much as soon as we first met. Matthew had already been playing in junior high and high school bands for years and I fancied myself as a singer in high school. I think at first Matthew was excited to have someone who could add keyboards and female vocals to his songs, to add that dimension to his recordings. It was my introduction to songwriting and recording. We’ve evolved quite a bit from there.
Does Your Level of Comfort with Each Other, as a Couple, Help in the Creative Process?
Ian (The Domestics): Absolutely. We can be fairly direct when offering criticism or suggestions. “That tune is awesome – finish it now” is always nice to hear. “That’s not your best” can be tough to hear, but we know that it’s coming from a place of encouragement.
Gary & Whit: We think it does. It means we are comfortable enough to tell each other when one of us has a terrible idea. Sometimes we are probably too comfortable and it means that we forget that each other’s creative ideas can come from a really personal place and we need to be gentle in our criticism. We have managed to find a good balance.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes) Yes and no. We are both very comfortable playing with each other. We aren’t worried about showing each other ideas, but we can be very critical of each other’s compositions and performances sometimes. I’ll admit that because of Danielle’s criticisms over the years I’ve become a better singer, songwriter, and overall musician. We have different ideas about music and had different musical backgrounds growing up that come together very well in our songs, I think. We have roles that we both kind of fall into during the writing/recording process. I generally record and mix all our music and take care of the backing tracks (drums, bass, guitars, etc). We do write songs together, where I’ll come up with an idea for music and Danielle will work out a melody and lyrics, though many other times we write separately, Danielle will write her songs and I’ll write mine. I sometimes help Danielle arrange her songs by coming up with guitar and bass parts and working out structures etc. She’ll do the same with mine, suggest ideas, what works and doesn’t work. Danielle is really good with melodies, harmonies, and lyrics. I’ve always been amazed with how easily she comes up with her melodies, how poetic her lyrics are, and how brilliant her choices are for harmonies. Lyrics and melodies are the aspect of songwriting that I’ve always struggled with the most while it comes to Danielle with ease. I tend to work bottom up, music, melody, then words, whereas Danielle works top down, melody, words then music.
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): We are brutally honest with each other. If we don’t like how a song is progressing, or the melody, or even way it is being sung, we voice our opinion. Somehow, in spite of that, I don’t think we feel too self-conscious showing each other early drafts of songs. So, I think that helps us bounce ideas off each other.
How Big a Fight Do You Get in Over Creative Decisions … Any Bigger Than a Non-couple Band?
Ian (The Domestics): We don’t tend to fight over creative decisions. The process is quite collaborative beyond the initial song writing, which is usually done independently, so songs will evolve naturally with contributions on both sides. Most conflict is rooted in volume levels of amplifiers and the need for “more pedals.”
Gary and Whit: We sometimes get pretty heated with each other. We are both very stubborn and strong-willed. That also usually marks when it’s time to take a 5-minute break. When your creative ideas are being challenged it can be hard to swallow but in the end our disagreements usually result in a song, or whatever we are working on, turning out better. We’re not sure if our fights are bigger than any non-couple band, having no experience in that area. One difference might be that we can’t just leave a rehearsal or a gig and not see each other for a few days. We have to then make supper, walk the dog, get groceries, sleep in the same bed, and wake up next to each other. Life goes on, so we have learned to resolve conflicts fairly quickly.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes): Danielle can be very blunt sometimes, to the point that I sometimes get a little insulted/hurt. We fight all the time while recording, I’d say more than non-couple bands, and recording sessions can get a little tense.
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): and stick to our guns over a melody, chord progression, instrumentation, etc., if we really believe in it. Like on our most recent album, I had a whole other idea on how to end Dark Places and Matthew insisted that it sounded good if we just reprised the end of the chorus. It took a long time for me to hear it that way and to concede that it was best. I think we’re confrontational and stubborn as a couple and as bandmates but it has worked for us thus far.
Is There a Song or Moment in Writing Music Together That Stands Out For You? Why?
Ian (The Domestics): I brought Sandy a sketch of a melody and chorus that had run through my head one day and asked her what she thought. She told me to finish it immediately. I did, and that’s how “Saint Peter’s Isle” came about.[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5fTeNvQCiY” ]
Gary and Whit: Our song “Through the Fire” came together in a pretty cool way. We were both just writing lines to this song and we didn’t know what it was about and we didn’t really see where it was going. Once it was completed we talked about it and realized we were both working through things related to different family situations that each of us was dealing with. In the end we wrote this song that was just what each of us needed at the time. Writing together is sometimes really cool like that.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes): This is a hard question to answer… Especially when we’ve been writing and recording together for more then 10 years (hard to believe). I think for most musicians, your newest album is always the one you are most excited about, and with this particular album it was during the tracking/mixing of On These Days that stood out to me. Danielle wrote the song and I helped arrange and come up with the structure, guitar, bass, drums etc. Danielle had this beautiful melody and hand clap rhythm idea over a I/IV progression (my favourite). I/IV isn’t a new idea for us, I over-use it, but the concept of the song was a little different from what we usually do. I remember thinking that it was going to be hard to put this song together. It took us a while to work out the order and how the song was going to proceed. You have to remember that we originally recorded this album as an RPM and were working with a short amount of time and hard deadline (which is how we work best, honestly). I didn’t think we’d have enough time to finish the song, especially since it wasn’t started until more then halfway through the allotted time. The part that took the longest was putting together the drum patterns for the song, working out how it would build, etc. I recorded a lot of takes until I got it down. The addition of the echo on Danielle’s vocals is what finally brought it all together.
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): I think this last album we are both really proud of. It’s odd to think that after writing music together for 13 years, we feel like we are finally hitting our stride, and in the span of one month we were able to create something we are proud of. Part of being overly critical is that you are somewhat aware of your own weaknesses. Also, with this last album, I stepped up to the plate more with songwriting then in the past; I wrote melodies to songs or ideas that Matthew had. He is just such a prolific songwriter and there are always so many demos around. But this time, I realized that I know what kind of songs showcase my voice more and what kinds of songs that I would like to sing. So I’m proud of that and I think it’s great that we’ve both progressed to this point in our abilities.
Are Your Musical Tastes Outside of Your Own Music Different in Any Way?
Ian (The Domestics): We both love a wide variety of music. One of the only differences would be our opinion of the Pop-Punk genre. It played a part in some of my formative years. Sandy has very little patience for it. She believes that punk was fine the way it was and wonders why they went and changed the system.
Gary & Whit: We tend to overlap in a lot of the music we like, which may be a result of living in the same house and having to put on music that we can both enjoy. There are always small variations but we both generally love a moody ballad by a great singer-songwriter.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes): Yes they are, though there are a lot of bands that we both really enjoy. I grew up on the Halifax and east coast scenes of the 90s listening to bands like Eric’s Trip, Sloan, Superfriends, etc, as well as American alt rock bands like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, Guided by Voices etc. I’m a big fan of 90s alt rock and shoegazer and so I have a soft spot for noisy guitar stuff, which Danielle doesn’t really care for. We are both big fans of bands like Belle & Sebastian, David Bazan (Pedro The Lion), Kate Bush, to mention a few.
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): Absolutely! Matthew listens to a lot of 90s alternative or 90s revival bands (Yuck, Youth Lagoon). I get a lot of enjoyment listening to polished pop nowadays (Taylor Swift, Sia, Lorde, Oh Land) or arty/edgy/weird music that is also accessible (Grimes, Joanna Newsom, Deerhoof). We listen for different things in music. Matthew seeks out bands with great guitar tones. I’m always drawn to interesting singers.
How Do You Differ from Each Other, That May Be of Benefit to the Music You Make?
Ian (The Domestic): Sandy is inclined to run while I am apt to amble. The combination makes for a reasonable pace.
Gary & Whit: We differ in a lot of ways. Gary is a doer and when he gets something in his head, he doesn’t stop until it’s finished. I tend to be a procrastinator in a way. I’d rather sit on ideas and hash them out in my head before I set anything to paper. I think in the end, both characteristics are valuable in our songwriting because we work on songs for a long time, kind of moving in and out of each other’s processes, until we really feel that we got it right.
Matthew (Land of the Lakes): I grew up playing in blues, rock and indie bands, jamming and improvising with friends, making it up as we went. Though I did take classical guitar and piano lessons when I was younger and I know all my theory and sheet music, I’ve never thought of myself as that type of musician. I’ve always played by ear and jammed things out with bands. Danielle tends not to work that way. She comes from a classical background (her undergrad was in music with piano). Danielle works her parts out and writes them down, which is definitely to our advantage because she is really good at voicing and harmonies. I’ve learnt a lot over the years playing with her, and I think we’ve both influenced and taught each other new ways of looking at music. Danielle also has a very open mind about music, listening to everything from Joanna Newsom to Grimes to Philip Glass to Taylor Swift and top 40 pop. She has taught me to not outright dismiss certain genres of music and musicians and to really listen to the heart of the songs. It has opened my ears up a lot.
Danielle (Land of the Lakes): I think we have different musical strengths. Matthew is an amazing guitar player and is so meticulous about his guitar tone that I think it is one of the most striking things about our music. He is also the type of person that would write a song a day if he had the time to sit down long enough. And he’s a wizard in the studio. We write most of our songs during the recording process. I think I bring a different song-writing style to the table. He comes to me for help with melodies and harmonies. I like to think I’m good at that.