Andrea DeMarcus is totally cool with The Relationship Question. She knows it's coming. A Juilliard-trained double-bass player, she formed Cicada Rhythm with the man she's in love with, guitarist Dave Kirslis, which always raises questions like, "Did you hesitate to combine your personal and professional lives?"
And the thing is, DeMarcus and Kirslis really tried not to be both professional partners and a couple. After a brief relationship before her final year of school, the two reconnected in a strictly musical fashion.
"Dave and I tried to date for a summer like nine years ago," she says, "and it was fine, but I had one more year at school. When I came back after graduating, we really started sharing our music, and our time together, and that's when we got serious about the band and started booking shows. Having already tried to date, we thought that it was important just to pursue the music. Dave really wanted to keep it as professional as possible. But we found ourselves slipping into the old habits."
The music they pursued was a fascinating blend of American folk — the kind that dates back to the early 20th century — with a dash of country twang, shiver-inducing vocal harmonies, and an intricate instrumental interplay between Kirslis' fingerpicked guitar tapestries and DeMarcus' probing, propulsive bass lines. On the band's latest album, Everywhere I Go, the duo, backed by inventive percussionist Colin Agnew, keyboardist Jon Loyd, cellist Nat Smith, and pedal-steel player Mike Stoessel, have created a musical hybrid that fits them like a second skin.
"I really felt strongly about our connection," DeMarcus says, "and I think for us it was the manifestation of what came naturally. Dave was a DIY guy on guitar; he taught himself a lot, and he loved the fingerpicking style. So he came at it with that, and I loved old folk music, so I wanted that sound. When we came together it was pretty natural; I don't think we made it sound like anything it was supposed to be."
The musical alchemy the two discovered has led to a style of music that's easy to enjoy but difficult to describe in conversation. In fact, DeMarcus hates the question about what they play far more than being asked about their relationship.
"That's the dreaded question!" she says with a laugh. "Everybody wants to know in words what we bring to the table, and I always say, 'What you're seeing and hearing, that's what Cicada Rhythm is.' It's really impossible to classify it in a genre. It's American music; country, a little jazz, a lot of folk, and a sprinkling of classical in there. It's something you have to experience."
For both the band's music and lyrics, DeMarcus says they looked back past the best-known folk music of the '60s and '70s to earlier, more direct sources.
"I really think that at the core of folk music is grappling with being a human and how you interact with other humans," she says. "My songs, they're kind of emotional and true things to my soul and being. I rarely stray from my own experience when I'm singing. And I think that if you look at a lot of old folk music, or even Hank Williams, he was singing blues and heart-wrenching stuff, and that's what folk is to me. What you feel in your guts, that's what comes out."
In Cicada Rhythm's music, Demarcus' virtuosic bass playing stands side-by-side with Kirslis' guitar, which is an outgrowth of how the instrument spoke to her when she was a teenager.
"I started out playing piano, and I always kind of hated it," she says. "It was what my parents thought was best for me; and it probably was. But when I was in elementary school, it was the classic, 'Do you want to be in band or orchestra?' dilemma, and my dad refused to get me an instrument, so I had to play the one that was available. And it happened to be the bass. They only had one, and I loved being the only bass player; it was my thing, my territory. From then on, I fell in love with it. I loved how versatile the instrument was. It affords me the freedom to try to fill up as much space as I can without going over top."
And yes, for the record, sometimes being in a band with the one you love can be a bit trying.
"It can be messy, and it's scary sometimes, especially for our drummer," she says with a laugh. "It can be precarious, but having everything be as close-knit as possible, it makes us truer, and our music that much more important to us. For us, the music and love are completely intertwined. I'm a believer in fate, so I would take the romantic view that we found each in other in our voices; I think that we got lucky and we just fit."