Circe Link and Christian Nesmith, Part II: Working With The One You Love

You don’t talk to Christian and Circe for long before you realize that you are talking to two people who live together, work together, tour together, and yet still love each other deeply. For some couples that would drive a wedge in the relationship, but with Circe and Christian, there is a mutual respect and admiration that is palpable even if they aren’t in the room with you.

In this installment of my interview with Circe and Christian, they talk about how their music defies labeling, and working together.

[Part I of the interview can be found here: https://mccartneyfans.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/circe-link-and-christian-nesmith-part-i-musical-influences/]

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(Picture by Jennifer Dodge)

Me: You spoke about not wanting to be pigeonholed, and that leads me into another question I had. From what I’ve counted, you have eight albums, not including the limited edition The Pop EP that recently came out, and it’s interesting because I have yet to be able to find a way to describe your music because it defies genres, in a good way. Why is it so important, or is it an unconscious choice that you two do these wonderful styles, these rambling styles from song to song on your albums? Is it a conscious choice or an unconscious effort to not pigeonhole yourselves by fitting neatly into one particular musical genre?

 

Link: I think the earlier records seem to have a bit more cohesion between song choice, but as I’ve developed as a songwriter…well, I’ve never limited myself to what song I’m going to do. I try to choose the best song of the bunch. Having a lot of ideas, you sort through them and pick the one that resonates the most and hopefully that will be one of the songs that you end up putting on the record. I have such an eclectic taste myself and the kinds of music that I love so much are not the musicians who want to write the same song over and over again. I get bored pretty quickly and there are some records that I listen to all the way down, but even some of my most favorite musicians, I’m pretty unlikely to listen to an entire record of anybody.  Maybe that’s an attention deficit disorder. (laughing)

 

Me: (laughing) I’m sure it’s part of the inspiration if you’re able to have that kind of an interest where you can jump from thing to thing and still do it all really well like you guys do.

 

Link: I think that more modern listeners tend to resonate with a wider selection of genres and styles in their lives, versus people that were listening to music 20 or 30 years ago. There maybe wasn’t the exposure. It just really depends. I think on this last record, on Dumb Luck, we really tried to make a record of songs that sounded like they belonged together, but as far as picking a genre, there’s really nothing that applies.

     It’s actually been quite frustrating for us because music supervisors and DJ’s and the people that are involved in the music industry like to put a label on it so they can define it and market it, or talk about it, and it’s frustrating because “Americana” doesn’t really fit, “country” really doesn’t really fit, “jazz” doesn’t really fit, and “rock” doesn’t really fit. We’ve touched on all of those things, but we’ve been touching just on top.

     While it’s exciting, at the same time it can also be frustrating.

Nesmith: I also have to say that music choices are never “unconscious.” It wasn’t whether it was a conscious or unconscious choice. If you’re unconscious, that means you’re passed out or in a coma.

 

Me: (laughing)

Nesmith: Whether it is a decision with an end result in mind, I would say that that’s not the case, whatever that is inspired in us at the time. We still believe in the concept of making a cohesive record even though we tend to not listen to entire records ourselves.  But growing up with the album art form, it still is attractive to us to release 10, 12, 13 songs that go together, that have a nice flow, that take the listener on a journey. So you make those decisions consciously, but only in deference to the art itself, and never with a manipulative motive. We don’t want to try to appease a music supervisor or a particular genre radio station, and as she said, it’s hard to have someone get on your team when they don’t know how to market you. That’s a little tough. At the same time, I feel more proud of our body of work because it is more eclectic, and it is true to whatever the muse is saying at the time.

 

Me: That’s a really beautiful way of putting it. There aren’t many artists who are willing to do that these days, so it’s refreshing that there are people out there who are dedicated to the music versus the marketing of the music.

     In terms of how you two work together, it’s interesting that you two are life partners, but also music partners at the same time. Was that a choice that you made?  Did you realize that you really wanted to play together because you had similar interests and the inspiration was there?

 

Nesmith: Falling in love came second. That was impossible to resist. That’s just the way that happened.  Circe likes to tell the story about how I was less than enthusiastic about being involved (laughing), only because I had been in an acoustic band for some time years before she and I got together, and she went down more of a mellow, acoustic road while I have hard rock in my veins. That was not as inspiring. She had already made a demo, and when she did finally get it into my hands, I couldn’t deny the quality, the legitimacy, and I use that word in a very broad sense, of the music and the writing she was leaning toward.

 

Link: We know a lot of musicians in our group that are dating, or living together, or are married, but very few of them can actually write together. I’m really grateful that Christian and I are able to do that for so many reasons. But a relationship is such a rarified thing. Sometimes it’s frustrating, and then sometimes it’s glorious. It’s just like any partnership. There’s always going to be aspects of work to it, and compromise, and listening. The ability to actually get to that place where you can really trust one another is pretty beautiful, and we’re pretty lucky about that.

     I think that both of us respect each other’s talents enough that when someone says, “I don’t like that. What about this?” the other person doesn’t get put out of shape about it. Or if they feel really strongly about the suggestion that they’ve made, then they’re going to counter with saying, “Here’s why I really want to do this,” and the other person will listen.  We know that we’re really safe, and I think that that’s a really interesting place to be. No matter who you write with or perform with, but specifically when you’re writing music with people,  you need to be able to have that kind of security and comfort that anything goes. Anything goes and there’s no criticism, and if somebody says, “Oh, I don’t like that,” it doesn’t mean they don’t like you, it just means to try something else.

 

Nesmith: Writing is baring one’s soul, so the best romantic relationships are built on trust so that either person can say something or feel something and know that their partner is not going to dismiss immediately anything that they say, is going to honor that and trust that and hopefully give the best response and counsel that they can. The same thing happens when you’re writing a song. You come up with an idea and you’re going, “Oh, I really like this,” and the other person can say, “Yeah, that’s cool, and we can even make it better,” or “Eh…I’m not really getting that,” and then the originator of the idea can say, “Okay,” or “Oh no, no. You don’t see where I’m going with that. Let’s keep following this for a minute.” It’s all about trust between the two people.

 

Link: It’s a very cool dance. It’s really a dance of respect and patience.

 

Me: Yeah, I was just absolutely amazed at what you guys are talking about because you don’t often see couples that don’t work together who are at that place in the relationship, but to have that doubled relationship is really amazing and impressive at the same time.

 

Nesmith: You said that don’t work together?

 

Me: That don’t work together in the sense that they live in the same house, they work at separate jobs, but don’t even have that kind of trust in terms of being able to express their opinions freely.

 

Nesmith: Yeah, absolutely. The creative aspect aside, just to have that trust to make the relationship work is like not having the jealousy aspect. Circe and I, right from the beginning, were clear about there’s nothing to be jealous of because we love each other so much.

 

Link: Also, how can you resist? Not that you’re Julia Childs, honey, but it’s like having Julia Childs for a cooking partner and you say, “Okay, let’s make a soufflé because this person really knows how to make a soufflé.”  You’re totally going to let them take the lead on doing that and making the soufflé. I just think how could you resist having that at your disposal? That’s how I feel with Christian. I’m lucky enough to get to work with him, and to have worked with a lot of other really brilliant musicians.

     I don’t enjoy deferring. Unless it’s something where I really have to have that lyric, or I really love that note and I really don’t want to change it, but as a rule I like to defer to the more experienced musicians, people that have that music theory, and the guys that are going to see a larger picture. I think I come to the table recognizing some of my own limitations as a writer, where Christian actually excels.

 

Nesmith: To counter that, Circe’s instinct and her ability to grasp visual ideas and set them to melody and lyric far surpass mine. I have a greater knowledge of theory and I have a greater knowledge of chord structure and melody, but that tends to be more mechanical, where Circe’s muse is a lot stronger than mine, so she gets to use me as a chef, if you will, but I also get to use her as a vegetable! (Circe and Christian laughing)

 

Link: I’m your rutabega!

 

Me: (laughing)

 

Nesmith: I get to take her incredible instrument and paint with it.

 

Link: It’s true. I think art is a really good metaphor for it because when we first started working together, there was a number of people he would work with and he would say, “I love painting with voices,” and that kind of synesthesia made a lot of sense to me

 

Nesmith: I’ve never cared for my own voice, but I love working with really good singers that will allow me to express my musical vision through their voice, and so then we can build beautiful background vocals or craft a lovely melody, or even achieve an emotional delivery of a lyric that the artist may not have seen before, and that goes to my skills as a producer.

 

Me: I just love hearing you guys talk about each other, it’s so adorable!  You can tell there’s a lot of love there.

 

Link: (laughing) Yeah. We love each other.

 

Me: That’s definitely good for the partnership, I’m sure. That sort of goes along to the next question which is what have you two learned from each other? You’ve touched upon that in the last answers, but what would you say that you’ve learned from the other person that you may not have known before, musically?

 

Link: So much. For me, very technical things such as diction, pitch, emoting while singing. I was not a natural musician, so for me it was quite an undertaking to be able to deliver a vocal performance that didn’t sound deadpan, because I thought the lyric was enough, and it’s not.

 

Nesmith: I’m going to disagree with her there. I think that the emotion I heard coming out of her was all there, but for me it was trusting the muse and being patient and diligent. Because I have a large musical vocabulary and I’m a multi-instrumentalist, I can throw things down on a recording very quickly and they can be okay, but to really pay attention to what’s the core of the artistic direction…okay, so there’s a little more work, a little more patience. You’ve got say, “Okay, let’s do it again until it’s right,” and that’s something that she’s really far better at than I am.

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on March 10, 2014.

One Response to “Circe Link and Christian Nesmith, Part II: Working With The One You Love”

  1. […] Part II of the interview can be found here: https://mccartneyfans.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/circe-link-and-christian-nesmith-part-ii-working-with… […]

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