Puerto Muerto's Christa Meyer and Tim Kelley talk divorce albums
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On the new Drumming For Pistols, husband and wife Christa Meyer and Tim Kelley of Chicago duo Puerto Muerto capped a prolific decade by brewing its strongest serving yet of dark, rootsy torch songs. Unfortunately, on the heels of promo copies came word that the couple, and most likely the band, was breaking up. This isn't the first time a group has produced brilliant work in the wake of relationship turmoil: Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights, X's Ain't Love Grand, and ABBA's The Visitors are just the well-known ones. Before Puerto Muerto hangs it up with a free farewell show at Empty Bottle tonight, The A.V. Club talked to Meyer and Kelley (separately) about their favorite divorce discs.
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
Christa Meyer: They obviously were able to focus their emotional energy in such a precise way that they came up with something great. I guess the couples were already separated at the time when they put Rumours together. We weren't quite at that point, so we had a different sort of tumultuousness. There's probably more sadness when you're still dealing with the question of, "Where are we going to go from here?"
Tim Kelley: I've always loved that record, but I don't really give a shit about what was happening with Fleetwood Mac in their personal lives. I think that if the songs are good, whatever was going on that made that music come out, it's fine with me.
The Mamas & The Papas, The Mamas & The Papas (Recorded while Michelle Phillips was exiled from the band for cheating on husband John Phillips with bandmate Denny Doherty)
CM: I never thought Michelle was as intrinsic to the band as Mama Cass, but she had a beautiful voice, and this definitely affected the creative sound of the record. There's a sense of unrequited longing that seems to infuse all their music, always a certain melancholy. Not the overt melancholy that's in our music, but definitely a sort of sad quality.
The A.V. Club: Now that we know about the weirdness between John Phillips and his daughter, does that change the way you hear this stuff?
CM: I know you should always be able to separate the artist from their actions—when you listen to Chuck Berry you shouldn't think that he peed on people—but I'm not big enough to totally push it out of my mind, especially when it's kind of beyond the pale like what he did.
TK: Honestly, I don't like to judge an artist's personal, moral life.
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells
CM: I don't know how much she helped him write, but there's definitely a chemistry between the two. Their former relationship lends a certain friction to the music, maybe a sexual tension. I wonder if it would come off as well if it was Jack White and some other guy. It will be interesting to see where my music goes. I think it really depends on what other musicians I end up working with and what my relationship is with them.
TK: I think it's great they could still work together and make such awesome music. I think it's worth it to keep making music with someone you enjoy making music with, and I'd be open to working in the future on Puerto Muerto. I think right now, since we're sort of in the middle of it, it's hard to say definitively that we're ultimately going to stop working together.
Carole King “A Road to Nowhere” (1967, co-written by divorcing couple King and Gerry Goffin)
CM: I think it just captures a feeling of doom and desolation that I think every couple that's in that circumstance feels, when you feel like you can't see your way out of the situation. It definitely captures that kind of lost feeling that most people have when they go through something like this.
Ike and Tina Turner, “You Should Have Treated Me Right”
CM: That was before their break up. I think it really captures that sort of feeling of rejection mixed with defiance that people feel when they are going through a separation or a divorce. It gives you a sense of strength that you need to get through tough times, so I just thought that song was relevant for me right now.
TK: I think Ike Turner is a genius and he may be a bit of a bastard, but musically whatever him and Tina were doing together was really great. I think they definitely had an energy together that added something to the music.
Puerto Muerto, Drumming For Pistols
CM: At the time we were just trying to produce a good album, driven by the climate in the United States, but it somehow reflected what was going on with us interpersonally, so that was kind of an interesting interplay—world events and personal events. I don't think it sounds like a sad record. I think it sounds like a record that someone would want to play when they're going down in a plane. If something really serious or traumatic is going on in your life, you kind of want that feeling of celebration, a mix of melancholy and joy. I hope that's in this record.
TK: I think when something as emotionally intense as a breakup is happening, it's going to reflect that in the music. On the last song, “Goodbye To The End,” one of the lines is “the softening of our regret,” and I think that was sort of poignant considering what was going on.