If love is a battlefield, rock bands are the soldiers. And when soldiers in the same platoon start fighting one another, that's when it really starts getting interesting.
Take Quasi, for example: Once married, now divorced, the Portland duo of drummer Janet Weiss and guitar-and-keyboardist Sam Coomes now draws the emotional charge of its stormy pop from the pair's common history. More scandalous yet is the case of Portland's Wolf Colonel, in which Jona Bechtolt, himself now no longer with the group, once replaced girlfriend Marianna Ritchey behind the drumset. Luckily, she had her drumming duties in Dear Nora to fall back on.
But with Ritchey and Bechtolt's new band, the Badger King, happy PDX couples finally have a duo of their own to champion. These two claim their love only makes being a band more fun.
Originally, the Badger King was a five-piece and roped in even more performers for its debut album, The Lighthouse, The Giant. "We started out as a full band," says Ritchey. "With drums, and live instruments and harmonies." Now stripped down to a minimal, torch-singing, computer-driven glitch-pop two-piece, the Badger King isn't so much a band as it is an extension of Ritchey and Bechtolt's relationship.
"We're kind of a single-income family," says Ritchey, the employed half of the tandem, who works as a secretary.
"She's my sugar mama," says Bechtolt, fondly.
It's unclear whether they're talking about the band, the relationship or both. And, when interviewing them, it's hard to get a word in to find out. These two are constantly carrying on dialogues where the other left off, chatting between themselves, finishing the other's sentences. It's cute, as are they, with their I-can't-believe-they're-of-legal-drinking-age looks. Make no mistake, though: The Badger King's indie-pop is neither juvenile, cloying nor precious. Love, it seems, can conquer all.
Willamette Week: You just came out with an EP of remixes [The Tongue and Tooth]. Is that more indicative of your live show, now that you're a duo instead of a full band?
Marianna Ritchey: We made that a long time after the album. When we finally got The Lighthouse, The Giant back from our label, it was so long since we'd played the songs that way.
Jona Bechtolt: Or heard any of them. Having so many people in the band, it's just hard to schedule everything and hard to be happy with everything.
MR: It's a lot more fun for me now--just to be dancing and singing and having a lot more stuff going on with the computer.
How is it being both a band and a couple?
MR: We fight, but it's never a big deal. Jona is very overbearing when we record, and when I write a song that he doesn't like, he tells me--and isn't necessarily very nice about telling me. But he's a very brilliant producer, and we have a lot of fun.
JB: The last tour we did, it was the first time it had been just the two of us, and it was just so great.
MR: Just like a cool road trip with your boyfriend, but then being on tour. It was great to not have to be in charge of a big group of people. It didn't feel like a tour, except doing shows. And the fights, we usually keep them on a professional level. They usually don't become about the relationship. I know so many people who say they're jealous, because so often when you really want to commit yourself to music, you have to leave your partner at home for months at a time. We don't have to do that.
You two must be used to being on the road, between the Badger King, Wolf Colonel and Dear Nora.
MR: Jona dropped out of school in eighth grade--he never went to school ever again--and went on a national tour with a band he was in with his brother, called Allegro. And they were very popular. They were sort of punk...what were you?
JB: Really crappy pop-punky stuff. Really bad, but I was young.
MR: Jona was, like, 13. So he has a lot more experience with things like that, even though he's, like, a million years younger than me.
JB: A million?
MR: OK, three-and-a-half or four.