This article is courtesy of a partnership with our sister publication, Hold the Note Magazine, a magazine dedicated to the music of the Mid-Ohio Valley, and our home states of Ohio and West Virginia.
Todd and Morgan Stubbe, the local musical duo of the band Cradle & Grave, represent to us (at Hold the Note) what having a great relationship looks like.
Married in 2014 and expecting Little Boy Stubbe in early July of this year, one of the sweetest couples in MOV music seem to really understand what it takes to make their relationship work…but not just our romantic relationships can benefit from what Todd & Morgan have figured out for themselves. No matter what relationship(s) you’re in: from a partner, to a band, to being true to yourself, we feel there’s some good feedback in this conversation you’re about to read that can help strengthen any relationship.
So in honor of Valentine’s Day, we bring you the story of Cradle & Grave, plus tips for helping your band last the test of time.
Officially connected through the local MOV Dancing with the Stars competition, Todd & Morgan Stubbe had actually known about each other (and their mutual love of music) for years before:
“I remember years ago…” Morgan mentioned, “getting invites on Facebook from Todd to see The Steve Hussey Band (a band Todd used to play in) …” Later on, Todd was playing with a band called The Onion Brothers-around the time Todd and Morgan met and competitively danced together. But while DWTS may have been their official “meeting”, their love grew through music.
They started talking more about their shared musical love, and recorded some songs together. Todd referred to their first recording session as a “courting session”… but it wasn’t until one of the members of his band The Onion Brothers stepped down, and Morgan stepped in to replace him, that a duo project (Cradle & Grave) also became a more serious idea and project.
The description on their bio reads “A husband & wife acoustic rock/folk duo. Originals, covers, & a bit of improvisation. Vocal harmonies, guitars, & other noise making thingies.”
“Aside from our (own) playing, and just with music in general,” Morgan mentions “we always have music playing in our apartment or car. It permeates pretty much everything we do.”
“Morgan loves Lady Gaga (And Sinatra).” Todd shared “She loves songs that I’ve loved from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, & 00’s, and usually knows more lyrics to them than I do.”…“She sings the chorus of a first-time heard song word-for-word once it’s gone through its first pass…”
“When she’s driven my car, the satellite radio is left on the 40’s station. When I drive hers, it is left on contemporary christian…” Todd mentions, while noting that not only does he not find himself particularly religious, he is inspired by Morgan’s passion for her faith.
“She despises “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves. I love it.” Todd also muses. “Morgan very regularly introduces me to new artists…(I) find it fascinating that Morgan has created Pandora stations for these artists whose names I (he) didn’t previously recognize: Arctic Monkeys, Bell X1, Butch Walker, Elle King, Hozier, NeedToBreathe, Rock Kills Kid, Soul Decision, and Thumbprint – Some of these I just found on our list for the first time. Bell X1 is the only one of these I can recall purposefully listening to again while not in Morgan’s presence.”
When it comes to what they enjoy about watching their spouse play music, Morgan shared: “I love watching Todd play djembe. He gets so into it- moving, using his whole body, and it is so clear he is having the time of his life. His writing style is really unique too; I get stuck in rhyming patterns and he is more outside the box…He makes me a better performer.”
Todd also told me he loves Morgan’s genuine performances of each song she sings, and simply the sound of her voice: “Morgan sings in the shower, and when I happen to overhear, I struggle between trying to somehow capture the performance or simply basking in my fortunate situation.”
It seems safe to say these two find so many ways to appreciate each other. Sometimes the smallest things can be the biggest fascinations. Can there be any room for struggle, musically?
“When creating, there are rarely situations where we butt heads.” Todd said “I’d guess 90% of suggestions that are made by one of us gets almost immediate approval from the other. We are always open to brainstorming, trying things, and ultimately tabling some of those things that don’t seem to work.
One of our favorite “didn’t work” items was a falsetto part I recorded for a song called “Even Then”. It was vetoed by Morgan’s uncontrollable laughter when I first played it for her. It was outside my comfort zone, but I felt comfortable laying it down and playing it for her, and love the fact that we’ve made a running joke out of that particular horrible attempt at a viable enhancement to the song.”
*Note: There’s something to be said for creating an environment that makes it okay to try new things. But there’s also great value in saying when something isn’t working, and being able to set the e.g. aside long enough to understand that could be true.*
One challenge they did think of: The “click track”. What’s a click track, some of you may wonder?
“A click track is an artificial track with a ‘click’ that repeats as you want it to, through the headphones, while you are recording. The tempo can be adjusted of course, as well as many other things. Volume. Tone. What the click IS (could be a snare drum, a tin can sound, anything). It’s main purpose it to provide a consistent tempo.” According to Todd.
“Working as our sound engineer, and also originally a drummer (and a actuarial nerd)” Todd also told me, “I prefer we record songs at step 3 (studio rough/scratch tracks are their recording process ‘step 3’) to a click track…Morgan is on the non-click side. She doesn’t like it, but generally lets me win this argument.”
“I want to be a click track person” Morgan replied… “it is super difficult (for me) sometimes. He is of course ever patient with me and gives in to my woes of playing along with one. I was nervous in the beginning to attempt writing with Todd; I’ve only ever written one song with another person (Kevin, a guitarist from Crimson Cross, the Christian rock band I sang for in high school). But there was no need for any anxiety because like everything I do with Todd, there is an ease, a comfort, it’s just natural. I have to admit though I’m still not quite as relaxed as Todd is in practicing and in the studio. We’re both perfectionists however so I think we understand pretty well from where each of us is coming. The great thing is we always have fun.”
But in addition to having fun, there are some things that seem to really just help make their music (and marriage) work. I’d asked both of the Stubbes:
“I’m led to believe that any band can lend (at least part of) its continued success to a commitment to the relationships within. Even if it’s a solo project, self-work and commitment to understanding what’s really important to yourself can help with focus, communication and passion…
So would you happen to have any tips for methods you’ve found to be especially helpful with communication-across the board…with each other, with yourself, with other musicians, anything that can help perpetuate honest conversation, met needs, expression and/or growth as artists?”
Todd found this question a bit tricky without coming across as “greater than thou”. I wanted to make sure to note he’d kindly advised:
“Please take this as my best guess. I’m still learning in this here human life…”
Yet for me, one of my favorite nuggets of Todd’s from the whole conversation followed immediately after.
“Good communication, for me, is deliberate over-communicating. Some things are better left unsaid, yes, but better to be annoyingly clear than leave relationship-destroying doubt. Reciprocally, it’s making clear to others that your ears are open to such communication.”
“Genuine camaraderie and communication MAKE a band. I believe its more important than anything else: Experience. Raw talent. Anything.” suggested Mr. Stubbe. I dare to go beyond his statement and say they make ANY relationship: with bandmates, your partner(s), and even (and possibly most importantly) with yourself.
And with re: to communication? Here’s some extra how-to suggestions that work for the Stubbes:
“Communication with myself:
This is a biggie for the songwriting effort. Any time an idea pops into my noggin, I make darned sure it is documented. I have a “thoughts” folder in dropbox containing many song idea descriptions, lyrics, and iphone voice memo recordings. I pull from all of those when writing a complete song. Morgan has the analogue version of this with her stacks of handwritten notebooks of songs.
Communication with each other:
As a band this part comes relatively easy for us because 1) there are only two of us to coordinate and 2) we’re fantastic communicators in our marriage. I don’t mean to boast here, although I am pretty proud and grateful. Communication is everything, and we have it down…
Communication with other artists:
Open mic nights are great for this. We’ve only taken advantage of Todd Burge’s songwriting workshops a few times, I’m embarrassed to say, because it is a wonderful forum for artist-to-artist communication.” Todd also mentioned a recently launched open mic in a fellow musician’s home that he hopes takes off well. But for privacy purposes, we decided not to share that info. Yet open mics are great ways to communicate with-and collaborate with-other musicians. “We have a great community of musicians in the MOV- talented and all-around great people.” Morgan said, and Todd enthusiastically agreed.
“Bands with three or more members who’ve managed to keep it together for more than a couple of years, in general, are amazing.”, Todd also said. “They’ve figured out how to communicate – how to gel – and that comes across in their studio and live performances.”
Morgan also added “Self-communication I think is what makes artists artists.
We have that knack for feeling more intensely, and I think as a whole we are more in tune with our own minds and bodies. I feel within myself (I took this to mean deeply and internally), and writing music is my way to communicate that to the outside world. I’ve never been good at speaking exactly what I want to say, but writing or singing it always feels right.”
“Communication as a music duo definitely starts with our marriage”, Mrs. Stubbe concluded.
“From the beginning, Todd has advocated and shown the example of what it is to be truly open and honest.
I’ve never really had that in a relationship before – always seemed like I wasn’t allowed to be myself because that wouldn’t be quite good enough. Nothing is off limits to talk about with Todd.
And part of what makes our communication easy is that mutual trust: it’s not just him being open, I’m open too. That vulnerability, then, is what also allows us to make good music together- it’s as though Todd is privy to my mind and heart before the words come out on the page, he is part of the process before the world gets to hear.”
How to improve communication?
“…We take time for it. If you don’t make time to be with each other face to face, it’s going to be hard to know what’s up. We are definitely in a unique situation, in that Todd is self-employed and I’m a happy housewife. We get to see each other probably a good bit more than most couples, but we don’t take it for granted and still spend intentional time talking. Meal times and car rides lend to some of my favorite conversations. You can’t be afraid to speak to each other even if all you have to say is that you had a great day just knowing you could come home to their love.”
It’s true that “Bands/relationships fall apart for all sorts of reasons.”
According to what Todd has observed: “Often, time reveals that certain personalities just won’t meld.
I’ve found another one of the biggies to be when one of the parties feels like he or she will continue to contribute more than any of the others, or that one of the specific others just isn’t pulling weight. I’ve been guilty of placing myself, in my mind, in both positions.
A key to longevity could be the acceptance of all the parts, regardless of each’s perceived contribution. If you’re the songwriter who also builds and buys all the recording studio stuff, you’ve gotta give equal props to the guy who strikes a triangle or shakes an egg in the band.
Give everything you’ve got to the project, and be okay with the fact that striking a triangle may just be all that guy’s got. If he’s in the band, he’s an equal, for as long as he wants to be. He’s probably adding a lot more than you think, or he eventually will. Embrace and communicate with this mindset.
There’s something really cool about songwriters hiring the most musically proficient musicians to back them on recordings and live shows. There’s no match for quality musicianship. For me however there’s also something kind of sad about seeing a guy perform every note to perfection without any clear love for his bandmates nor desire to be on stage at all. To get that rare, lifetime, *band* I think your foundation has to be the personal relationships. Technical skill is tough to learn, but it can be (learned); and a foundation slip can set you back years. From both a band and a marriage perspective, Morgan and I have got a heck of a formula with some serious glue. The outlook is pretty good with this one.”
And we think if you take the time to listen to yourself and those in your life, your outlook can pretty good, too.
Check out the musical stylings of Cradle & Grave, and/or come out and see these two awesome lovebirds, at the places below:
- Debut EP preview: www.hubbywifeduo.com/music
- Videos: www.hubbywifeduo.com/video
- Upcoming shows: www.hubbywifeduo.com/shows
- Fri Feb 24 8-11pm at the new AMVETS, Parkersburg
- Fri Mar 17 Undo’s, Marietta, OH
- Fri Mar 24 Colony Club Theater, Gallipolis, OH
- Fri Apr 1/Sat Apr 2 The Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV