Abby DeWald, 29, Musician
Amanda Barrett, 29, Musician
Los Angeles, California
As partners in career, life and love, Amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald clearly have a good thing going on. Their music is a whimsical blend of sonic idioms, from folk and blues to cabaret and neo-ragtime. Their shows are a spectacular pastiche of theatrical curiosities, from elaborate costumes to puppet shows, juggling and interactive storytelling. As creators of the nonprofit organization You and I Save the World, Abby and Amanda bicycled cross-country in 2006 to raise environmental awareness, and have started a petition to reduce consumption of single-use plastic bags. Their passion for each other has spanned nearly a decade, and soars like the harmonies in their dreamscape of sound.
How did you meet?
We met at an art show. We were both looking at the same painting of a lightning bolt cloud with a tear coming out of its eye. Abby asked, “What does it mean?” and I said, “Love”.
How long have you been together?
Nine years this Valentine’s Day.
You work together and play together. Do you ever get sick of each other?
Not really. When we first started a band, I thought that [working together] would hurt our relationship, but it’s been a really fun project that we have gotten to create together. So much of our time is spent on all aspects of our music project, from writing songs to designing merchandise, to planning tours.
How did you start your band?
We were looking for a friend’s lost cat and we chased it into a stranger’s back yard. When I knocked on the door of the house, a man named Marty answered, and he had all these old guitars decorating his walls. We ended up not finding the cat, but we made a new friend and Marty encouraged us to play music together. His house was always full of musicians trying out new tunes. We developed our band by playing at his place. He called us “The Ditty Bops,” and we’re still not sure why.
Tell us about the creative process as a couple working together.
When we first started making music together, it wasn’t that easy. We had different ideas about where a song should go and we’d get annoyed with each other. So we started carrying around our own tape recorders to catch song ideas when they came up. Then, when we had an idea we wanted to share with the other, we’d play it and see if we could make a song out of it. Many of our songs were created in this piecemeal way. Seldom do we sit down and write a whole song from start to finish together.
What does each of you bring to the collaborative process?
We each make up lyrics and melodies. Abby makes up great piano and guitar parts and most of the chord choices. I make up most of the harmonies.
How has your music evolved over the course of your relationship, and vice versa?
We have both grown and changed through the years we’ve spent together and, thankfully, we’ve been open, patient and trusting enough to support each other through it all. Our music also goes through changes as we play around with different ideas, inspirations and styles. Our new record, called Summer Rains has a lot of slower songs that we’ve written in the last year, and we’re very excited about putting them
Your comic book The Environmentalist’s Dilemma and your 2008 calendar are both devoted to green issues. Tell us about your shared passion for the environment.
At home, we’re both car-free. We shop at the local farmer’s market, make our own muslin produce bags and grow veggies in our carport. We’re still collecting signatures for our online petition to reduce plastic bag consumption. Plastic is made from nonrenewable petroleum, and plastic litter threatens water quality and wildlife, as it is often mistaken for food by marine animals. Our petition asks you to commit to bringing a reusable bag to the store. It also asks the EPA to implement a national plastic tax on single-use plastic bags. In 2002, Ireland implemented such a tax and cut their country’s plastic bag use by 90%. (For more information, visit: youandisavetheworld.org)
What was it like touring the country entirely by bicycle? How did you make the decision to do it?
Abby got me into riding bikes. I would have never thought I could ride my bike across the country, but she believed I could do it, and soon I believed it, too. We had a great adventure. It really strengthened our relationship.
Many musicians complain that being on the road puts a strain on relations within the band. Would you agree?
On the road, we can’t imagine being without each other. We really rely on each other when we’re out on tour.
Do you ever fight?
We used to fight more than we do now. We got tired of drama, so we really try not to.
As our featured captivating couple this year, can you offer any advice for sustaining a healthy, long-term relationship?
Everyone’s relationship is different. I think it helps to be honest with yourself and your partner. Try to be compassionate and think twice before reacting or lashing out. Take good care of your own dreams and your own needs so you can really be there for your partner and support her in her dreams.
What are your upcoming plans?
We’re releasing Summer Rains independently in early March. You can get it on our Web site (thedittybops.com) along with information about upcoming shows.