Resolving Creative Tension When Your Partner Is Also Your Bandmate
Ask Lennon and McCartney: Sometimes creative tension — and contention — can drive a band to be its best. So, what happens when a band contains romantic partners? How do the creative and the romantic clash, or — in the most ideal of cases — gel to make the union the strongest it can be? It's an age-old question that has created some of the greatest albums of our time, and also destroyed some of music's greatest bands (see: Cocteau Twins, Fleetwood Mac, Sonic Youth and many, many others).
Enter Mamiffer, a duo made up of Aaron Turner (ISIS, Old Man Gloom, SUMAC) and Faith Coloccia (House of Low Culture). Besides being partners in music, the pair are partners away from the stage / studio, recently celebrating the birth of a newborn. How does their collaboration work? Do personal feelings ever get in the way of creativity? We asked both partners these questions — find the answers below.
Do you actively celebrate Valentine's Day, or not give AF?
Aaron Turner: Yes, I / we do. It’s not a huge deal for us, though. If anything, of the two of us, I think I take it more seriously. In our relationship thus far, we’ve never done anything really involved / formal / elaborate on Valentine’s — mostly just going out to restaurants, watching movies, maybe exchanging small gifts. Neurotically speaking, whatever gestures I make are usually based on my need to prove to myself that I’m a good partner, rather than anything Faith is actually expecting of me.
Faith Coloccia: This is the first time I have given Aaron a Valentine's gift. It's probably because we have a baby now, or maybe because I have finally learned how to give gifts! (I did not understand this concept very well before Aaron and I got together.) [Laughs]
What is the most rewarding thing about being creatively linked to your partner?
AT: Mutual understanding of each other’s creative drive is essential to our survival as a couple. Beyond being creatively linked, the fact that we are both artists easily enables us to respect and give space to the essential practice of creativity that we each have. We value and encourage that in each other, rather than feeling jealous of it or trying to actively take that away from one another — and that is very lucky indeed, as we’ve both had prior relationships where that was certainly not the case. As far as what we do together, sharing specific important moments through our music-making activities has deepened both our personal and our creative relationship — profound things like a really good / transcendent show, and also seemingly trivial things, like a weird meal in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere while on tour. That we can both share in these kinds of things gives us an understanding that isn’t easily achieved in relationships where one partner is creatively active and the other is not.
FC: It is rewarding to have creative feedback and constructive criticism within our home, and touring together feels like a strange vacation. Being able to participate in each other's creativity is spiritually enriching, and really fun. Learning "professionalism" and how to play guitar and use certain pedals from Aaron has been immensely rewarding.
Do romantic feelings interfere with your creative process? Are there times when you've compromised too early, compared to your partner?
AT: This was a problem for me in the past, and is still is, though to a much lesser degree. The need to please my partner and to be seen as “good” has muddied my perception of what is right for the music — and again, this is all to do with self-perception rather than the reality of our partnership. I’ve made a lot of effort to cease taking critiques personally (this also applies to my work outside of the stuff Faith and I do together). It’s not that I try to ignore our relationship when working — in fact, learning to communicate better in the work arena has improved our relationship overall. It’s just learning how to understand the difference between having an inappropriate idea and being a less-than-worthy person. The recognition of the healthy divide between [the] individual self and constructed creative identity is an ongoing process, and definitely has benefited from playing music with Faith.
FC: No, romantic feelings help my process, and I don't compromise. Since having a child together, our relationship and the baby have helped me become more focused.
Do you value your time apart? When you're not on tour, how much time do you spend together?
AT: Time alone is good for both of us — and necessary for creative incubation. Ideas can be discussed and developed together, but usually spring from solitary practice. Additionally, there is a kind of connection with the inner voice that is stronger and more fluid through time spent alone. That said, Faith and I do spend quite a lot of time together since we work from home and live in a somewhat isolated environment. The fact that we get along so well makes this an enriching experience rather than a detrimental one — which is also part of why we’re able to be involved [on] multiple collaborative levels.
FC: We are both very good at giving each other space. I value him as a separate person with his own life. Each of us having our own interior worlds is holy!
How has performing in a band together affected your perspective on having children?
AT: We’ve just had our first child, and our belief that we’d be good parents was based in part on our experiences playing music together. We came to recognize that we’re good at cooperating, at communicating, in getting through difficult circumstances and dealing with high-stress situations. Tour was great practice for learning to stay on top of our game even when deprived of sleep, comfort and adequate amounts of food. Additionally, being able to make so many connections with other people in so many different places — including with other musicians who have children — made me more hopeful about bringing a child of our own into the world.
FC: Being in Mamiffer with Aaron helped me know that I would not go unsupported emotionally during my pregnancy and after the birth. Mamiffer has allowed us to get through the strangest tour circumstances together, helping us overcome obstacles and make connections. Making records together has helped us to face problems as a unit, and to create from a solid foundation. Being able to create with sound, and name / write lyrics together certainly helps bring human creation into the world with good intent.
What's the most romantic thing your partner has done for you while on the road?
AT: On our last Mamiffer European tour (on which Faith was seven months pregnant), we stayed in Paris for a few days at the end of it. Though that wasn’t part of the tour exactly, it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t already been over there to play some shows. It was definitely a very significant and meaningful thing for us to do as a couple — a way to celebrate the end of the tour as well as the coming birth of our son.
FC: Aaron always gets up before me on tour because he knows I'm lazy and take too long to get ready, and he goes out and finds really good coffee. It's always romantic! Although, the most romantic thing Aaron has done for me while "on the road" is hold our son while I performed a Mára show in Seattle. It was my first show since giving birth, and I was solo, so I was anxious. It was so beautiful to see him holding our baby after performing.