Music: Well After 'The Fall'

European clubs spark the return of Cincinnati synth duo Perfect Jewish Couple after a 20-year hiatus

Lorelei K. Wilson

Perfect Jewish Couple

If you require any proof that music has a life beyond the immediacy of its release, Shari Lauter and Kelly Hale will be glad to testify.

A good deal of the evidence is found on Time Capsule, a new 7-track EP that chronicles the Cincinnati duo's mid-'80s recorded history with their two-person-and-friends collective, Perfect Jewish Couple. But before their musical testimony, perhaps a little historical perspective is in order.

Lauter and Hale met in 1980 as members of Get Christy Love, which lasted about three years. After the band broke up in 1983, the pair maintained their personal and musical friendship. As Lauter began experimenting with drum machines and synths, she contacted Hale about participating. When friends found out the two had paired up for work, they teasingly referred to them as 'the perfect Jewish couple," which they both considered a great name to adopt for their then-groundbreaking synth Pop-with-violin group. Two years later, PJC released their first 7-inch single featuring their first song together, "The Fall," and "Step Back," both of which received extensive FM airplay locally, as did their subsequent releases, a pair of limited issue cassettes.

"I was hugely influenced by Ultravox and John Foxx and Brian Eno and the whole New Romantic movement," says Hale, en route to his home near Berea, Kentucky. "To see that Depeche Mode just released something and New Order is still releasing things lets me know that we weren't that far off and that this stuff can be relatively timeless."

PJC had a decent following around the city and a reputation as an original band (they were among the cutting-edge first to accompany themselves live with pre-recorded backing tracks), but after four years, the duo began to pursue interests outside of the band, particularly Hale's acting career. By 1988, Lauter and Hale had both left the area — Lauter to Washington DC, Hale to Florida and a succession of other locales — effectively closing the book on PJC.

"I was in a relationship, my partner got a job out of town and I decided to join him and embark on a new career simultaneously," says Lauter. "Kelly left town around the same time. We figured we had a great time, a great run and it's time to move on."

It may be poetic justice that the band that never broke up should experience a resurgence two decades after their local heyday. Perfect Jewish Couple's reclamation began back around 2000, when Lauter was contacted by friend/collaborator Mark Stucker regarding an e-mail he had received through his Web site.

"Somebody from Germany contacted him literally out of the blue and said, 'Have you ever heard of this band Perfect Jewish Couple and this woman Shari Lauter?'," recalls Lauter. "He forwarded it to me and said, 'Isn't this trippy?' We had worked on a project a few years before; (but) my name wasn't on his Web site, the band name wasn't on the Web site. I think it was because he was from Cincinnati and an artist that these people took a long-shot."

Through additional contacts, Lauter found that "The Fall" had traveled around Europe in an organic manner between tape traders and club DJs in an old-school approximation of the instantaneous viral marketing that distributes a song in seconds on the Internet these days.

Lauter soon discovered that original vinyl copies of "The Fall" were selling for upwards of $70 on eBay. Subsequent contacts proved just how deeply ingrained PJC had become within the European music community.

"They had classified it in a style of music called Minimal Synth," says Lauter. "I'm like, 'Oh, so that's what we were.' We never really thought of ourselves as being in any genre, and I don't think at the time there really was a name for the genre."

Lauter and Hale had maintained contact after their relocations, but the pair lost touch for a couple of years. When they finally renewed the connection, Lauter told Hale what was happening overseas with "The Fall" and they talked about next steps.

In between other projects, including Drums for Peace, Lauter began revisiting old PJC tapes with the intention of releasing them to the band's new audience on CD, a format in which they had never existed.

"In the mid '80s, we were pre-recording backing tracks, then live we'd run the backing track and add on Kelly's vocals and my violin and some percussion," Lauter says. "Because we worked that way, we had everything recorded. I went through all those 10-inch analog reels and transferred all the tapes, then updated my studio to the digital era. I made the music breathe in the way that I always wanted to but didn't have the technological base in 1985."

Lauter and Hale are reuniting for a CD release show at the Southgate House this Sunday, a precursor to a proposed European tour that the pair will undertake to capitalize on their club notoriety.

"We wanted to start (with the CD) with our current fan base, who we believe are 30-somethings mostly in Europe who know us from our previous release," says Lauter. "You know — 'Here's that — and it sounds better because it's been digitally cleaned up — and here's six other things of the same era."

While neither have any desire to return to the grind of weekend gigs, both are open to collaborating again.

"Shari and I have both written things on our own outside of the temporary demise of Perfect Jewish Couple," says Hale. "I would like to integrate some of the things that I'm doing with things that she's done, which is the way we collaborated a lot anyway."

"We need to gauge the reaction to this current release," says Lauter. "We're both so versatile, there's a million different directions we could take and we have to feel what's right and what's the logical next step."

PERFECT JEWISH COUPLE performs Sunday at the Southgate House's Parlour.

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