St. Louis' musical couples share their secrets on making art together

Gene Starks and Devon Cahill of Letter to Memphis.
Gene Starks and Devon Cahill of Letter to Memphis. Allan Crain

St. Louis' musical couples share their secrets on making art together

People often compare being in a band with being in a relationship. After all, in both situations members celebrate shared passions, argue over creative pursuits and hold the hair of their best friend when they're puking up PBRs.

But what happens when the band/relationship analogy becomes literal? Can love thrive when two people constantly share personal and creative space?

Here in St. Louis a number of acts have seemingly found the winning formula for combining affection with artistry. Sure, love on a stage comes with its own set of frustrations, but for the couples we talked to, the positive far outweighs the negative.

"When Gene and I are performing the songs we wrote together, I feel supercharged next to him," says Devon Cahill of her guitarist fiancé Gene Starks. The duo has performed as Letter to Memphis since 2011, and Cahill, who plays ukulele and performs vocals, relishes the special energy that fuels their craft — and their hearts.

"The creativity and connection makes all the everyday work seem trivial. I feel fortunate to get to share those moments with the person I love, work hardest with and who knows me best in life," says Cahill.

That's a sentiment Cree Rider also supports. The guitarist for the Cree Rider Family Band has been in a relationship with his fiancée Cheryl Wilson, for five years, with more than two of those years spent together in the band.

"Sharing something we are deeply passionate about and working together to create something that is bigger than either of us" are Rider's favorite aspects of collaborating with Wilson, a vocalist in the group. "To have someone you love at your side, working with you and pushing you along, is extremely rewarding."

But, like in any relationships, band couplings aren't always smooth sailing. Partners for six years, multi-instrumentalist Jerry Rabushka and percussionist Isaac Cherry of the Ragged Blade Band have learned to weather the storms that come with performing together.

"If you have a disagreement about something in the band, it can make for a rough evening since you can't just leave the person after a rehearsal or a show," Rabushka cautions. "The other issue is talking too much about the band — we both are guilty! Sometimes Cherry says, 'Let's stop talking about the band and just be partners.'"

Communication certainly seems key, as vocalist and guitarist Susan Logsdon has also found. She and her multi-instrumentalist husband Michael started Scarlet Tanager four years ago and strives to express themselves truthfully and respectfully.

"Helping each other grow as musicians and artists requires a lot of honesty," Logsdon says. "Though we are very good at hearing the honesty and taking the advice from each other, it still can be hard."

And of course, certain things happen for our musical couples that many traditional lovebirds simply don't experience. Kit Hamon has been performing with his wife, Beth Bombara, for nine years, and they've become skilled at using humor to endure amorous overtures.

"Sometimes at shows, an audience member will approach one of us and bashfully ask about the other's relationship status, or even creepily request the other's phone number," Hamon says. "It's tempting to just give out the phone number and see what happens."

Band life can be a headache sometimes. Just ask Sunyatta McDermott, who launched CaveofswordS in 2010 with her similarly talented husband Kevin to memorable results.

"Our first show, he smacks me really hard across the face with the headstock of his guitar. Oops!" McDermott recalls.

"I was so nervous, I accidentally smoked [her], and she didn't divorce me or even really get mad," Kevin marvels. "We have also kissed onstage and in the studio, shocking the hell out of each other because we were both holding our guitars that were plugged into different amps."

But in the end the creative differences, the neverending practices, the communication breakdowns and, yes, even the electrical shocks are worth it, according to our musical couples. They even have some words of wisdom for others who are considering sharing a stage with their own loves.

"Be patient. Be professional. Be clear on the difference between what's personal and what's business," recommends Wilson of the Cree Rider Band. "Know when to compromise and when to just be quiet and have a whiskey."

"The best part is definitely sharing all of this together," encourages Scarlet Tanager's Logsdon. "The ups and downs, the crazy amount of work and the satisfaction that comes from doing what you love are all amazing things to share as a married couple."

"There are those moments onstage when we catch each other's eyes, and it feels like we're right where we are supposed to be."

Scroll to read more Music News & Interviews articles (1)


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.