The two songsmiths stress that their collaboration demands actual “face time,” not virtual FaceTime. “On the last record there was a song we’d part-finished, that we both considered worth pursuing,” says Fearing. “We sent lyric ideas back and forth. What would have taken an hour in-person took about three weeks. I feel we both really need to be in the room. You can get stuck on your own, and you need that inspiration from the other person.”
Fearing cites flaws in technology as another factor. “I’ve never had the kind of Skype connection where you can rely on it for the three hours that you want to work on a tune,” he says. “It’s sure to cut out right at the part where you’re trying to figure out the crucial line. Technology gets in the way and wrecks it.”
To write Tea and Confidences, Fearing and White convened two intensive writing sessions. “For the first record, we had very short songwriting sessions over many years,” recalls White. “This time, we had a week during a blizzard in Halifax, then a week [during] that beautiful summer in Salt Spring Island. It was a mixture of meticulous line-by-line writing and instinctive writing in the moment.”
“Joelle would ask me a question with music, and I had to answer her with words.” – Buck 65 of Bike For Three!
The pair view the distance apart as a creative asset. “There’s something about living far away that compresses everything into a certain amount of time,” says Fearing. “When you just have a few days together to see what you can do, that really sharpens the brain.”
Bike for Three! is another international duo collaboration. The project comprises Canadian songwriter and rapper Buck 65 (aka Rich Terfry) and Belgian electronica songwriter, artist and producer Joelle Le (a.k.a. Greetings From Tuskan). They’ve released two albums, 2009’s More Heart Than Brains and 2014’s So Much Forever. Their unconventional creative process involves a conscious decision to never meet or perform together, and neither Terfry or Le ever change the other’s work.
Terfry says, “We met through Myspace back in 2006. Joelle friended me, so I listened to the music on her page. I really liked what I heard and I sent her a note saying so.”
The idea of working together just came up, as Terfry recalls. “She sent me a fully realized piece of music to write to,” he says, “and it eventually made the first album, unchanged. I’d just moved to Toronto after six years living in Paris and was going through a tough breakup. Then this stranger sent me this incredibly beautiful piece of music she said was inspired by the idea of us working together. The beauty of it was almost too much for me ‘cause the place I was in was the furthest thing from beautiful.” After months of wrestling with the piece, Terfry added lyrics to and sang over the instrumental track, a process that has been followed ever since.
Choosing to never meet adds a mystique to Bike for Three!’s songwriting relationship, Terfry observes. “We both acknowledged that the fact the person we were working with was unknown to us was a big part of where the creativity was coming from,” he says. “Through these songs we allowed ourselves to have a conversation with one another. It was as if Joelle would ask me a question with music, and I had to figure out a way to answer her with words. Sometimes it is easier to speak to a stranger than someone who is close to you. I found myself through the music, really opening up to her in what I was going through.”
Whether the collaborating songwriters are working in the same room or 5,000 miles apart, whether they’re co-writing via cyberspace or right there in person, co-operative creative expression always finds a way.