The Duo is an enduring and versatile musical format. Go back to the rock and roll 50s and you find the Everly Brothers. In the folk-laden 60s there was Simon and Garfunkel. Womack and Womack got us groovin’ in the 70s and in the 80s we bopped our hearts out to Wham and the synth pop of Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys.
From hip hop to indie rock duos, we’ve seen it all, and in 2017 the Duo is as popular as ever. Swedish DJ duo Icona Pop, Canadian indie duo Tegan and Sara and Australian pop duo The Veronicas have all topped the charts in recent years. UK country rock duo Ward Thomas released their second album in December and it’s been a smash.
For musicians, there are certain advantages to working in a Duo. With advances in music technology and the availability of high-quality backing tracks, it’s possible to play intimate, unplugged sets or to have a sound that can fill big venues. Fewer band mates inevitably means fewer egos and less drama and if you’re lucky enough to find your musical soulmate, who needs anyone else?
But what’s it like travelling and performing with the same person day in day out and what are the secrets of a successful Duo?
Into The Drift is a High Energy Duo consisting of Laurel Doucet on vocals and keyboards and husband Dave on guitar and backing vocals. Originally from Seattle they now spend most of their time at sea, entertaining crowds on board some of the top cruise lines in the world.
It wasn’t always the case. The couple met in 1979 on a college music program. After college, they travelled for most of the 80s with a Las Vegas-based show band, coast to coast across the USA, performing 6 nights a week with a full band at hotels, nightclubs, resorts and private parties.
With the advent of Karaoke and the increased popularity of DJs in the late 80s things changed. Many club owners began to phase out their bands. Laurel and Dave moved back to Seattle, took regular day jobs and continued gigging at weekends. This was tough going and after many years they began to feel the strain.
When they heard about the thriving cruise ship industry and its ever-growing need for on board entertainers, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back to music full-time – with the added bonus of travelling the world together.
The couple took three years to do their research, put tracks and promotional material together and do some local gigs as a Duo. In 2011 they got their first ship contract. Laurel says preparation and getting to know your audience is key:
“Take time to develop the repertoire and know your audience. Choose songs wisely for your particular crowd and have a lot of variety. During performances, talk to your audience. Connect and let them get to know you a bit. Tell them where you’re from, whether you’re married, or musical partners, anything to make that personal connection. People are always curious. And take time on your breaks to chat with people on a one to one level.”
Laurel and Dave’s long history together is something that shines through on stage along with their individual personalities, as Laurel explains, “People comment all the time that we just make it look effortless, that we anticipate each other’s musical style. We also have opposite styles, kind of “Lady & the Tramp”, refined and unrefined. Dave is the rough-around-the-edges rocker, and I’m more gentle and calm. It’s not intentional, it’s just who we are, and it reflects onstage in a very positive light.”
Opposites do attract and can make great musical partnerships but do they ever get on each other’s nerves?
“Well, of course after being married so long there are a number of things!” says Laurel. “I would say about Dave, that he gets absolutely lost in his guitar solos sometimes. He would probably say about me that I sometimes choose mellower songs than he would like to play. He’s the rocker in the family. But sometimes the occasion just doesn’t call for AC/DC or Led Zeppelin. There’s a time and place for everything.”
Gigging as a couple does mean spending a lot of time together, so your relationship needs to be strong enough to cope with that.
“We’ve been living on cruise ships for 6 years now, and yes it’s difficult. The cabins we get are very tiny, usually with bunk beds and no window. So we find ways to get out of each other’s way. One of us leaves the cabin to go work on music or get internet in port. Or we both go out on a tour or to explore wherever we are. It’s tough but we’re committed to each other and to our music, so it works.”
Here are Into the Drift performing at the Tamarind Club aboard the P&O Ventura. Their varied set list includes songs by The Pretenders, Pink, The Spinners, Eagles and more:
Versatility is essential for Duos as you need to appeal to different audiences and different occasions. Into The Drift have embraced this with enthusiasm. “We have developed our specialty shows. We have a Fleetwood Mac Tribute, complete with Stevie Nicks costume transformation. We also do an Eagles Tribute, Woodstock & Folk Rock, Carole King & James Taylor and many more. These shows have become some of our favourites to play because of the fantastic audience response.”
For information on booking Seattle-based High Energy Duo Into the Drift, including details of their extensive performing experience, videos, specialty sets and press kit, you can view their profile or visit their website.
Bird & The Bad Man are an Acoustic Duo based in the UK, with Sarah Bird on vocals and Andy (the bad man) on guitar. They’ve been gigging together for around five years. When Sarah met Andy she was bowled over by his talent:
“He plays keys, guitar, bass and drums and all of them really well. It makes us very versatile. We can offer low key acoustic guitar sets and up-tempo acoustic sets (as Andy plays percussion with his feet). We also offer keys sets. We often perform all day at weddings, with guitar and keys during the ceremony, guitar during the drinks reception, keys during dinner and either our up-tempo acoustic set for the evening, or our 6 piece band. We also offer a DJ package.”
Like Laurel and Dave, Sarah and Andy are a couple. Sarah admits they have the usual squabbles but insists they get on very well for the most part. As well as enjoying a shared love of funk and soul music, the couple make a good team on a practical level,
“We tackle different tasks between us. I’m in charge of promotion and confirming all the details for the gigs. Andy is in charge of musical arrangements, all of our technical requirements, equipment and he does most of the driving!”
Being a couple certainly doesn’t affect their professional attitude towards their work. Sarah says, “Sound and look are really important. Professionalism at all times is also key. I like to make sure I’m always available to talk to whoever has booked us and respond to them in a timely manner. I try really hard to work with the client and make sure we fulfil their requests as best we can.”
As for being on the road, Sarah has been a professional musician since the age of 15. She explains, “My parents were professional musicians and toured all over the country. They enlisted myself and my younger sister as part of the band (me on bass, her on drums – it was a family band). So the road is all I’ve known!”
Take a listen to Sarah’s gorgeous vocals in this live promo video, with songs by Florence & the Machine, Justin Timberlake, Take That, Aretha Franklin and Jess Glynne:
Bird & the Bad Man love to play at weddings, “Everyone is happy and there to have a good time. It doesn’t matter what time of the day we play, we get a huge number of compliments! Whether it’s subtle, beautiful music during the ceremony or filling the dance floor in the evening.”
For Sarah, the hardest thing about travelling is leaving her beloved dogs behind. Luckily, mum is on hand to look after them (and spoil them rotten) while she’s away.
For these duos, being a couple and working and living together is a positive. They also enjoy being in control of their own music choices and not having to manage a live band. If you have talent, versatility and a professional attitude and you do your research, prepare well and get to know your audience, the world is your oyster.
You also need to get on and love what you do because gigging full-time is hard work, as Sarah points out, “There is a lot more work that goes into this than people think and sometimes the days are VERY long. But, but I love every second of it. It’s an absolutely fantastic way to make a living!”
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