Spouses in Bands Make Musical Chemistry

Emma Dahl

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Illustration by Asa Mease

Bands tend to be conglomerates of friends and peers. Maybe bandmates knew each other in college or maybe they shared mutual interests before they started making music together. But sometimes, bands are created by married couples who work together to make great music, and the harmony in their relationship is translated through their music.

One example is The Weepies, a folk-pop singer-songwriter duo comprised of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen. Before they met, they were each fans of the other’s music. Reportedly, Tannen would play Talan’s album on repeat, and Talan felt a deep connection to Tannen’s music. Eventually, they met at one of Tannen’s shows and developed a bond through their music, which resulted in the formation of The Weepies. Their music is characterized by a simple, friendly kindness, a soft hush and an embracing tone. You can hear the tone of their relationship in the songs they write––simple, honest and caring.

Another well-known married musical couple is Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes. They were only married for about four years during their run as The White Stripes and were divorced before they found international fame. Despite their marital break, they remained together as musical partners and continued to release albums and singles that found a large, adoring audience. When Meg was criticized for her simplistic drumming style, Jack would often defend her. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “Meg is the best part of this band. It never would have worked with anybody else, because it would have been too complicated … It was my doorway to playing the blues.” Part of the appeal of The White Stripes is that their music isn’t oversaturated and overcomplicated; the simple trio of guitar, drums and vocals that Jack and Meg bring to the table is their secret to successfully producing infectious, soulful music that has appealed to a large audience.

Associate Professor of Politics Jeanne Morefield and Professor of Politics & Paul Chair of Political Science Paul Apostolidis, her husband, are in a blues and bluegrass band called Piled High and Deep, along with Professor of Biology Dan Vernon and Associate Professor of History John Cotts. Morefield explained in an email interview that she and her husband love playing music together because of the unique connections they have built academically and musically.

“But at the same time, the spark of creativity that goes into making music is similar to the rhythm of teaching and writing. We both feel extremely lucky that we get to share this amazing overlap––between the life of the mind and the power of music––with each other. In fact, after all these years, neither of us really know what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone who didn’t share these things!” said Morefield.

Good music can be made from the heart and creative impulse of a single person. But when it’s a collaboration between two people who have a deep emotional connection, it communicates a different message than a single singer or songwriter could produce. It’s not necessarily better, but it offers a different and broader perspective. Music born out of musical partnerships is analogous to the expansive worldviews you can form by integrating another person’s mindset into your own.