Songs We Love: Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones, 'As You Were'
So often, we celebrate a singer-songwriter's most personally revealing work as the loftiest of artistic achievements, an accessing of autobiographical authority, a consummate, confessional window to the soul. Certainly, there's tremendous power in testifying to lived experience and translating private rumination into public expression, but to privilege that angle on music-making at the expense of all others is to miss out on contemporary triumphs of classic pop partnership like Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones's new album, Little Windows.
Both Jones and Thompson have flown solo on past releases; on 2008's SheBANG!, for one, she toyed with textures of '60s girl groups and jangly '90s power-pop, and 2011's Bella found him framing romantic ruminations with alluring orchestration. While they've each had other occasions to team up — he with his parents, British folk legends Richard and Linda Thompson; she with pop-rock studio architect Mike Viola — for this Viola-produced 10-song set, Jones and the younger Thompson committed themselves to collaboration as a means of refining their craft.
What first appealed to them was the idea of singing side by side; their entwined voices, they found, glide to peaks and valleys with easy, ethereal empathy. Then came the songwriting, most of it done with a third co-writer, Bill DeMain, who'd previously flexed his pop smarts in the Nashville duo Swan Dive. Together, Thompson, Jones and DeMain achieved deceptively simple wordplay, bittersweet tunefulness and elegant economy. All but one of the songs clock in under three minutes; like some of the most enduring pop, they're little windows onto romantic hopes and disappointments that feel both intimate and inclusive.
Via email, Jones and Thompson individually weighed in on what they're after on this album, and the Latin-tinged tune "As You Were" in particular.
What is it about your vocal dynamic that made you want to build an entire project around it?
Kelly Jones: I've always felt we balance a singing style of country and pop in a similar, compatible way. And I know we love a lot of the same great vocal performances of the past, so that helps. But I think I've just always loved the way we sound together! Plain and simple. That's all I needed to know before jumping into a project with him.
Teddy Thompson: Our voices blend well together. All good singers should be able to sing a song together, but once in a while you get something special. We are very different singers with very different voices, but it works. I like to say that Kelly is the light and I am the dark.
A lot of coed duos in pop, country and folk have exploited the contrast between the singing partners' voices and genders with duets that place them in conversation with each other. It's more often been sibling duos like the Everlys that have relied on sympathetic vocal timbres and side-by-side harmony singing. You two tend to favor the latter approach. Why is that?
Thompson: From the beginning I had in my mind a girl/boy Everlys. And I don't think we ever really considered singing more than a line or two solo. It sounds so good when you're singing in harmony, it's a shame to break it up.
Jones: It feels good to sing at the same time. I think it actually ignites something in the pleasure center of the brain. I fall in love with Teddy every time we're singing together on stage! No, actually I can see us doing more conversational-style duets in the future, but Little Windows hit a stride with a lot of harmony, so without overthinking, we just ran with it.
Your album is full of classic pop confections, and yet a majority of the songs are wistful treatments of still-fresh romantic wounds. "As You Were" is a great example of both elements blending. What is the key to conveying loneliness while united with another voice, and of putting heartache across in effervescent fashion?
Jones: Melody is very mysterious. Why some words hit home when combined with certain pitches is beyond me. But when writing, I figure if these words with this melody and music move me, then they're bound to move someone else. You just have to trust that.
Thompson: I have always loved happy tunes with sad words. And sad tunes with sad words. Anything but happy tunes with happy words I guess. All those Everly songs were sad lyrically, the closet they get to happy is playful I think. And we tried to do that here on "As You Were." It's a wistful sentiment for sure, but the second verse has a wink: "I see you laughing with your buddies / I don't see what's funny, about a broken heart."
When you're singing with someone else you have to pick and choose your moments to decorate or deviate from the melody, which is a way to convey emotion. To give an extra kick, to dig in, if you will. But you can't be too calculated about it. You must be spontaneous yet connected to your partner. And above all you need to listen.
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