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QRD #36 - Valentine's Special - February 2008
about this issue
xo #3 - first time
Brian Hearts Katherine
complaints about humans - part 3
Valentine's Interviews with:
All in the Golden Afternoon
The Backsliders
Book of Shadows
California Oranges
Grappling Hook
Here Comes Everybody
List of Likes
My Glass Beside Yours
Northern Valentine
Paris Luna
Something About Vampires&Sluts
Shiny Around the Edges
Silk Stocking
The Wades
Windy & Carl
The Winter Sounds
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Valentine's Interview with Northern Valentine
February 2008
Northern Valentine is husband & wife, Robert & Amy Brown, & friends who join them from time to time. They have been writing & recording music since 1997 & have collaborated with a number of different musicians over the years. Everyone contributing to the music of Northern Valentine shares an interest in creating new sounds & taking an open, unique approach to instrumental music.
Their songs are built around themes, stories, conversations, scraps of sound, loops, samples, or spontaneous moments that happen while playing music with each other. Their music has drawn comparisons to other artists, ranging from Labradford, Windy and Carl, Ennio Morricone, & Eluvium to Mogwai, Seefeel, Earth, Godspeed You Black Emperor! & Spacemen 3.
Based out of their home studio in Philadephia, Pennsylvania, they have been known to take recording “field trips”, with portable equipment bussed out to remote & natural settings; from abandoned buildings & ruins to fields & forests. All of their recordings are available on their website, through their CD-R label, Baresongs Music.
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?

Robert – For the most part, we have our times to be in or get into creating music & that allows time for the rest of life.  Most of our music as Northern Valentine has been collaborative since we’ve been with each other, but we do take advantage of times to individually work on music as well.

Amy – Music is such a big part of our lives that I don’t think either one of us ever really turns music mode “off”.  We’re always talking about how to do new things with the band, even when we’re just out driving in the car.

QRD – How has your music changed by having someone you’re romantically involved with working with you?

Robert – We had different tastes in music growing up & different levels of involvement & study in music.  Our sound now digs much deeper into our personal musical experiences than I envisioned when we started working together.  It has changed in that we channel those experiences when we can & we musically feed off of each other & feel how a song is taking shape as we’re playing it.  I think a big part of the Northern Valentine experience now comes from us being around each other so much.  Whenever we want, we can pop into the studio & make a new song because we both live at the studio.

Amy – My music hasn’t changed because of the romantic involvement, but it has changed because of the partner I chose.  Being classically trained, making music with Robert & Northern Valentine has taught me to accept & appreciate the breaking of conventions.

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?

Robert – “Music time” is “music time” for the band, & all the other stuff gets done in its own right.  We both stay on track with making music in the studio or playing live shows.  I tend to not really think about anything other than music during those times... it’s like being in a trance.  It’s about learning to honestly approach each other & ask about what’s important... the music is important, but so are the people making it.

Amy – Practice seems to affect the personal stuff more than personal stuff seems to affect the practice.  We get along very well & there is little tension between us.  When it does rear its head, it’s usually due to something that happened during practice.

QRD – Do you think working musically together increases the strength of your relationship?

Robert – I think it gives us one more thing in common & a place to create something beautiful together.  I love sharing this part of my life with Amy & I’m happy that she enjoys it enough to sit down in the studio & come out on the road & do this with the band.

Amy – Most definitely.  It’s another way in which we can connect with each other.

QRD – Do you think the music ever suffers because of your relationship?

Robert – I don’t think the music suffers.  We may not agree 100% of the time about how something should sound or how something should go into a song, but we work through it & talk it out.  I can’t say that there’s anything that we haven’t recorded or played because of our relationship.

Amy – The music never suffers & the relationship adds infinite emotion.

QRD – Being in a romantic couple, do you try to curb lyrical content to or away from things in your relationship?

Robert – We’re an instrumental band, so lyrics don’t factor into it.  If we ever started singing, I think both of us would be equally shy about stepping up to write lyrics, let alone sing them.  I’m of the “action speaks louder than words” school of thought.  I’d much rather let my guitar & all the sounds that my instruments make tell the story.

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?

Robert – Our parents know both of us well enough to know what we are capable of inside & outside of music.  They are very supportive of what we’re doing.  My mom is great, she would support me if I told her I wanted to jet off into outer space tomorrow.  It might come across as more legitimate to our parents that we are both in the band & doing all of the recordings & shows together.

Amy – Not really because my parents have always liked Robert!

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?

Robert – Northern Valentine really started with the two of us when we started to find ways of contributing to the music that each of us was creating shortly after we were first in our relationship.  The relationship came first, but the music was kind of there in the wings the whole time, waiting.  I’ve done shows as Northern Valentine by myself, & it may come up that I do that at some points in the future; but to me, it’s not quite the same without Amy.  When she’s not there, it’s a version of something that would be bigger.  It’s still good & still fun, but somewhat incomplete.

Amy – The relationship just barely came first & I think part of what attracted us to each other was musical energy.  I wouldn’t want the relationship to lack the music, but I could live with that.  The music without Robert, now that would be impossible!

QRD – How do things work with band members besides the two of you to get the same level of connectivity while playing your music?

Robert – To me, it definitely seems that the band has attracted people who think & operate in similar ways to how Amy & I do.  The other people we’ve played with all seem to have an innate gift that makes it feel like you’ve known them forever & they get what’s happening with the music.  Jeff & Marc, who are playing with us now, & Matt, who started out with us a few years ago, all feel like other parts of my brain at this point.  Music just flows out of all of us & songs just start, sometimes from out of nowhere.  It feels very much like we’re each plugged in to what the others are doing.  Marc is also Amy’s brother, so there’s a higher level of connectivity & musical relationship there as well.

Amy – It varies from member to member.  There have been people with whom we’ve just clicked, & when that happens the music reaches a level of connectivity different than that which we achieve as a duo.  There have also been people with whom we just don’t musically mesh.

QRD – Do you find music related gifts to be romantic or more like giving someone an appliance?

Robert – Absolutely.  In fact, I’d rather have a music related, homemade gift or just more time to spend with Amy.

Amy – Musical gifts are great.

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?”

Robert – We both have day jobs & those are a part of why we can do what we do with music.  Everything from touring & paying for gear to making our own cd’s & hosting a website happens because we have some income from other sources to help fund band activities.  I know it is possible to have the job, family & all of that, & still have the music as an important part of life.  I am reminded of that & encouraged by people we meet who have found that balance of life.  Music is a lifelong endeavor.

QRD – Do you ever switch off instruments to give each other ideas?

Robert – Sometimes, yes, though I am very visual & I like to demonstrate, draw it, play it, hum it, etc. in order to describe my ideas.  If it’s a musical idea, I usually try to illustrate it by playing it out on an instrument.

Amy – We do this all the time!

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?

Robert – When we have a great set, we all feel it & feel like what we put into it has paid off.  Even if one of us hits a bad note or misses a beat, we have done well with just laughing it off & having fun with it.  I think that’s a good lesson to learn as early as possible.  When you’re performing & everyone comes together & it just has that sound, I definitely feel highly connected at that point.  I let that carry over in how I feel about Amy off stage.  I think it strengthens our bond by having accomplished something together & I think it helps me to remember to feel that connected to her when we’re off stage.

Amy – I think the energy flows both ways.  When we’re already feeling connected, it definitely has a positive effect on the set.  Conversely, when a song or a set goes well, I think everyone feels the energy, & it makes me feel more connected to everyone with whom I’m playing.

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?

Robert – I think people tend to see me as the dominant member, maybe because I’m the business side of the band & usually the primary contact for all of our scheduling & booking... or possibly it’s just because I’m a guy & this kind of music is still seen as a male dominated field.  I’m always impressed with Amy’s musical skills & how much energy & thought she puts into what we’re doing, & I want her to get as much recognition as she deserves.  She comes up with great songs & riffs & she understands much more about the technical aspects of our music, & I personally think she’s more fun to talk to than I am!

QRD – Do you feel a need to have separate projects where you just work on your own?

Robert – I get that itch sometimes & some of that creativity funnels through Northern Valentine.  One of the recordings that we released is just some solo stuff by me.  I do enjoy doing working on some solo project & side project music, & I know everyone else in the band has similar interests, or are in other bands as well.  It’s about balance for me.

Amy – Sometimes, & this has happened before.  We have songs that are “mine” & songs that are “Robert’s”.  However, I think these pieces can only be improved by the addition of each other’s ideas.

QRD – Musicians often run into fans with crushes, is their a secret to recognizing when something is getting inappropriate instead of being band promoting?

Robert – Maybe it’s just the nature of who we are, but I don’t see fan crushes happening to either of us because of who we are & what we mean to each other.  We love each other & nobody gets priority or attention over Amy in my life.  I treat everyone we meet with the same level of respect & regard, but at the end of the day, I know I’m going home with Amy & I’m very happy to know that.

Amy – If fan crushes have happened, I haven’t noticed!

QRD – Any advice for other musician couples?

Robert – Listen to each other & love & respect what each of you brings to the music & to each other.  Don’t let personal baggage get into the music... simply make music because you can & should.

Amy – Yes.  Don’t let the relationship get in the way of the music, & don’t let the music get in the way of the relationship.  It’s a delicate balance, but when it happens it’s a beautiful symbiosis.

Official Northern Valentine Website
Northern Valentine  on MySpace

Other QRD interviews with Northern Valentine:
Northern Valentine interview (March 2009)
Father's Day Interview with Robert Brown of Northern Valentine (June 2009)