Music tells a story and lets musicians display their emotions. In the case of boy and girl duets, each singer tends to express their point of view about the same situation. As of late, there has been a re-emergence of this trend which has not gone unnoticed — it’s becoming so prevalent in our society that there appears to be a new boy/girl band around every corner.
Most recently, the Australian duo Angus and Julia Stone have come onto the scene with their own brand of acoustic folk-pop. Musical partners as well as siblings, their main appeal is based on the differences created by their opposing genders.
“I suppose there is a nice balance in hearing both male and female voices,” explains Julia. “When you hear them singing in harmony, there is something interesting about the different tones and how they can blend together.” These groups share vocal and instrumental duties, creating a certain type of boy-meets-girl tension that is not often found in other more homogeneous bands.
While of late there have been dozens of duet groups out there like The White Stripes, The Kills, and The Moldy Peaches, this kind of gender-oriented duo is not a new occurrence. As far back as one can look, there have been innumerable boy/girl duets.
The 1950s saw the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe singing onscreen with countless co-stars. In a more recent film context, who can forget Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s iconic songs from Grease?
In the “60s, mainstream music became a duet battleground where popular artists could pair up to fight their way up the charts with cutesy love tunes. These became all the rage with hits from Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and even Marvin Gaye who sang the motown hit “It Takes Two” with Kim Weston in 1965.
Many even caused controversy, such as the Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin track “Je t’aime…moi non plus” which featured orgasm sounds and the lyrics “I come and I go in between your loins.” Let’s just say the French population of 1969 didn’t appreciate it too much.
In contemporary times, examples of musical duets can be seen in album collaborations such as 0 and 9 by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan, or in individual tracks like “Train Song” by Feist and Ben Gibbard, featured on the compilation mix Dark Was The Night.
Duets are so common that it is almost always possible to find something which may appeal to every type of music lover. Borrowing from the musical work of the past decades, groups in the new millenium have expanded to create something different and original.
Canada’s own synth-pop duo We Were Lovers consists of Ash Lamothe and Elsa Gebremichael. “We’ve only been a duo for less than a year and we’ve noticed a huge spike in chemistry and interaction on stage versus when we were a full band,” Gebremichael explains. “We only have each other and gravitate towards one another without thought and without control. It’s completely automatic. We engage each other on stage and in turn we feel [it] engages our audience which, to put it simply, makes us very happy.”
Lamothe and Gebremichael feel that duets are appealing to listeners because the format possesses an intrigue which cannot be created in bands of four or five people. Two artists who collaborate create an intimacy resembling sexual tension, which the audience picks up on.
For Angus and Julia Stone, the live show is a unique experience in itself. “I think it’s impossible to not have some kind of chemistry with the people you are on stage with,” Julia says. “It’s the nature of music that your mind and body are releasing all kinds of chemicals that are tripping you out. I know for us when we are all together up on stage we are all on other planets. Sometimes we are on the same planet and at other times we are totally on different planets.”
Putting the performance aspect aside, the songwriting process can also add an interesting aspect to the sound of a boy/girl duo.
“Our songwriting can happen a few different ways.” Gebremichael says. “[One of] us will have an initial idea, whether it’s a guitar part or a vocal line and we expand on it. Other times, Ash will have a song idea with a few parts to it and I’ll write lyrics and a vocal melody or vice versa and we’ll work out the arrangements and extras together.”
On the other hand, the Stones view songwriting as a chance for some alone time. “We write our songs separately,” says Julia. “The songs that Angus sings, he writes, and the songs I sing, I write. We have collaborated on a couple of different occasions and that was fun. Mostly, though, for us, writing is our time to be apart from each other and from anyone else.”
Yet, it is clear that all forms of duets, from independent collaborations to boy/girl bands, have one underlying purpose: creating something of substance that has a real meaning to listeners. Life is full of events that can be viewed in varied ways, depending on who is telling the story.
That’s why they’re so prevalent in today’s society: duets tell all sides of a story listeners can relate to. And they will only expand in popularity as people search for music that resonates with their experience of the intricacies of human life.
Win the chance to see Angus and Julia Stone at Le National on Oct. 29. Head to www.theconcordian.com and find the “It’s More Than Gold, Guns and Girls” article. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know which photo appears only in the online version of the article. Contest ends Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. Good luck!