It takes a certain amount of faith to be in a band. For Andrea Summer and Tye VonAllmen, being in Cincinnati’s Artists & Authors is a test of all of their various faiths — the faith that musicians have in each other when they play together, the faith that a married couple has in each other in their relationship and the spiritual faith that sustains them through everything they experience as a pair. Many of those issues came to the forefront while they were working on A&A’s debut album, Beauty in Everything.
“A lot of it was learning how not to hurt each other’s feelings and be expressive and the relational stuff,” says Summer over coffee at Oakley’s Red Tree Gallery. “You want to give the other person creative freedom because you co-wrote the song but you have your own vision and opinion and that’s challenging to navigate. That goes infinitely deep into marriage in general. If you’re just going about your daily life as a newly married couple, you don’t necessarily spend time hashing those things out, but when you’re creating something together, it brings them right out.”
Summer and VonAllmen met while both were students in Cincinnati Christian College’s music program. Summer was already a budding singer/songwriter (she released a solo album, Lifeblood, under her own name, available on iTunes and CD Baby) and Von Allmen was drumming with a Punk band, The Curbsquirrels, when she recruited him in 2003 to expand from a solo act into a fuller band. The pair’s professional alliance turned personal and they married in 2006.
“When we got married, we decided to join forces and write together,” says VonAllmen. “That’s when Artists & Authors was formed.”
Summer’s solo work was already evolving when she crossed paths with VonAllmen, a process that escalated with his arrival.
“I was writing Folk songs by myself, and the more I wrote I figured out, ‘I’m trying to accomplish the sound of a band on this one instrument,’” says Summer with a laugh. “I originally wrote songs that were eight minutes long and no time signature and loose, and then my style became more band-appropriate and Pop-appropriate.”
Although Summer and VonAllmen had meshed as a couple, there was no guarantee that their creative union would be equally harmonious. They brought fairly dissimilar experiences to the table, which is a challenge even in the best musical situations.
“One of the reasons we were nervous about joining forces was because we didn’t know what to expect,” says Summer. “Even though you know you want to create music together, you don’t know what that’s going to sound like. You don’t know if you’re going to be pleased with their influence on you, which says a lot about marriage anyway. You’re going into it knowing it will be good but you’re not sure how pleased you will be with their influence on who you are, which is why it’s a risk and an adventure.”
By the time Summer and VonAllmen combined their creative talents, they had each come to a fundamental decision about their musical direction. Since both felt a need for change, the natural conclusion was to work as a unit.
“Tye wanted to take the pendulum swing from Punk to real ethereal stuff and I wanted to take the pendulum swing out of Folk and punch people in the face with music,” says Summer.
“In the nicest way possible,” VonAllmen clarifies with a laugh.
The couple’s organic combination of differing styles is at the heart of Artists & Authors’ lilting Folk/Pop melodicism, a sound that is both soothingly tranquil and viscerally energetic. With the release of Beauty in Everything, it’s not hard to draw parallels between their work and that of other faith-grounded husband-and-wife Pop teams (Over the Rhine and Innocence Mission) but the pair never preconceived what they would accomplish in the studio.
“We pretty much just wrote songs, had parts on guitar and piano and decided to start recording them,” says VonAllmen. “We lacked total vision in the beginning and we had no idea that the end result would sound like it does. We knew what we had to begin with and we were excited about that, but where it ended up was kind of a surprise.”
One of the sad aspects of Beauty in Everything lies in its dedication to bassist Trentin Manning, the impossibly young bass phenom who was tragically killed in a car accident last year and who had contributed bass parts to a handful of songs on the album. Summer and VonAllmen were deeply impressed by Manning’s enormous ability and devastated by his loss.
“He was the epitome of hard work,” says VonAllmen. “He didn’t have an easy life and he really felt that bass was his way of living and the way he was going to provide for himself, and he made it so. He played with us for over a year. He was so creative and talented, and we were blessed to have him around us for as long as we did.”
Summer and VonAllmen actually finished the edgily ambient Beauty in Everything last spring, but it took them the better part of the following year to finally be able to self-release the disc (available at area locations and at artistsandauthors.net). VonAllmen jokingly attributes the delay to laziness, but that seems far from the truth, as two of the biggest factors include his hospitalization last year for what they characterize only as “a serious illness” and his subsequent stint as road drummer for Seabird last summer, which led into A&A’s successful appearance at last year’s Midpoint Music Festival.
“We really wanted to create an event around it, not just pick a venue and put it online,” says Summer of the CD release. “We were very intentional — ‘We want the atmosphere to be like this, we want people to feel like this when they walk in the room, we want to create an experience.’ There aren’t a ton of venues that lend themselves to creating an intimate experience but have enough space for who knows how many people will come. We care more about the experience than the business plan.”
“It’s all about the moment,” says VonAllmen.
ARTISTS & AUTHORS (artistsandauthors.net) plays the Invisible Children benefit show 7 p.m. May 14 at Fountain Square. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.