Interview with California Oranges
QRD – How do you turn music mode on & off in your relationship with each other? Or do you find yourself pretty constantly collaborating on music even if it’s songs about cooking?
Verna – Music is not as big of a factor in our relationship as you’d think, even though it’s obviously a very important part of our lives. We don’t often work on music together outside of band practice.
John – Our work schedules don’t match up well. I think when we do get time together, we’d rather just hang out than work on music.
QRD – How has your music changed by having someone you’re romantically involved with working with you?
Verna – John really encouraged me to break out on my own as a songwriter & singer. I don’t know if I would have done Beanpole (my 4-track side project that I did in which I wrote, sang, & played all the instruments) without John’s encouragement.
John – Verna has really helped me grow, first as a songwriter & now a singer & musician. I tend to spend most of my time writing & working on songs. Practicing guitar technique or singing has really interested me. Over the last few years I’ve gotten better at both. My vocal skills have noticeably improved. I think I’m finally able to sing.
QRD – How do you keep things professional rather than getting personal in the band? Like not letting being upset that someone’s not doing their house chores spill into band practice?
Verna – When we get to our band practice place, we’re both all about making the best use of the limited time we have there. That means being focused on the music.
John – We only practice with California Oranges one night a week, so we have to make the best use of that time.
QRD – Do you think working musically together increases the strength of your relationship?
Verna – I think that the fact that we’re both musicians helps a lot with understanding priorities. For example, John didn’t argue with me last year when I told him I just had to spend a ton of money on an upright bass.
John – I made sure she got a good one that she’d play for a long time. I did have to convince Verna that I needed a Mac Book.
QRD – Do you think the music ever suffers because of your relationship?
John – I think the music is stronger because of our relationship. Verna’s great at putting the finishing touches on my songs. We recently finished a Christmas song Verna had started writing when we first started the Oranges. She had the verses & I wrote the chorus.
QRD – Being in a romantic couple, do you try to curb lyrical content to or away from things in your relationship?
John – After we ended Holiday Flyer, my lyrics started to become more abstract. I try not to write songs about relationship issues. Verna’s lyrics are more like little short stories.
Verna – I never even thought about taking John’s lyrics personally (maybe that’s because I still don’t know what they all are!).
QRD – A lot of families kind of look down on musicians as immature, do you find that going out with another musician has eased relationships with your parents or in-laws?
Verna – I’ve actually never dated a non-musician. I bet it would be cool, though, to have a boyfriend who loved music but couldn’t play anything. Maybe that would create an extra air of mystique for me. As far as my parents go, they love John. I think that after some of my other musician boyfriends, John was a shining beacon of light for them.
John – Having had non-musician girlfriends, yes there is an air of mystique at first. Then they become annoyed that you’re spending too much time with the band. They can only see you play so many times. Remember “That Thing You Do”? “I’ve seen your band, Guy”. When I met Verna it was cool because she understood the need to play music. It’s like getting up & getting dressed. It’s just something you do. My parents love Verna.
QRD – Which came first the musical collaboration or the relationship & do you feel that at this point that you could have one without the other?
Verna – The relationship happened first, but the musical collaboration started very soon after ? I started playing cello with John’s band Holiday Flyer within a month or so of dating. We’ve been together a long time, so at this point the personal relationship is definitely more important than musical collaboration.
John – We will always be doing some kind of music project together. I don’t think music defines our relationship, though.
QRD – How do things work with band members besides the two of you to get the same level of connectivity while playing your music?
Verna – I am so lucky to be playing in a band with four people that I am in love with (although I don’t love the other three in exactly the same way that I love John!). We all have been friends for a long time & work really well together.
QRD – Do you find music related gifts to be romantic or more like giving someone an appliance?
Verna – I wouldn’t say they fit either category. They are more like groceries ? we must have them, or else we’d starve. Unfortunately, having two musicians in one household means that all the extra money gets spent on music. But at least we don’t have to argue over that fact! We both would rather invest in the band then fix our broken gate.
QRD – The musician life style has an inherent lack of financial security & healthcare. Do you find yourself thinking, “How can we start a family & continue our musical careers?”
Verna – We both have full-time jobs outside of music, so the financial thing isn’t so much a concern as the time thing. Music takes up a lot of time, & so does raising a family. This is actually a big concern of mine ? we’re both in our 30’s & should probably get going on that family thing. But I’m very reluctant to get into a situation where I’d have to drastically cut back on music.
QRD – Do you ever switch off instruments to give each other ideas?
Verna – I switch off instruments to give myself ideas ? some songs are easier to write on piano, or on guitar, than on bass. I try not to play John’s treasured Martin acoustic guitar, because I’m afraid that I might put a scratch on it….
John – I stick to that guitar for songwriting. Usually by the time we show each other a new song it’s almost finished. It just needs some fine tuning.
QRD – A lot of people say they feel most spiritually connected to another person is when they’re on stage & the set is working. Is this what you find & how does this energy flow into your romantic relationship?
Verna – I can’t say that this is true for me. There are three other people on stage besides John & me, after all…
John – I think the whole band is spiritually connected to Ross’s new snare drum. Does that count?
QRD – Some couples start to get seen as a unit with one member as dominant. Do you ever want to get one of you more recognition?
Verna – I don’t really think we’re seen that way. We were involved in the music scene separately before we were together. & we both continue to play music because we love it. It’s not a recognition thing.
QRD – Do you feel a need to have separate projects where you just work on your own?
Verna – It’s nice to have different projects, just to mix things up a bit. John has another band called Desario, & I play in an orchestra for a musical theater group. It’s not so much as we feel the need to have separate projects ? it’s more like we have the desire to pursue additional musical endeavors.
John – Desario wasn’t about having my own project. It was about being in a band with some guys I’ve been friends with for a long time.
QRD – Musicians often run into fans with crushes, is there a secret to recognizing when something is getting inappropriate instead of being band promoting?
Verna – Well, if you’re both in the same band, you can keep an eye on each other! Actually, I’m pretty clueless about that stuff. But it’s never been a problem.
John – I may be a little clueless about that as well. I’m sure it’s for the best.
QRD – Any advice for other musician couples?
Verna – You have to be careful mixing two passions. It’s hard enough having to break up with a person or with a band, but having to lose both at once can be devastating. But if it works out, it can be really great. Just try to save a little money to fix a broken gate every once in a while!
John – As with any relationship, resolve any disagreements right away. & never take them to band practice or the studio. Hey Verna, let’s fix that gate.