Scott Simons and Dani Buncher faced a situation foreign to most of us. After a full decade of dating, they broke up — when Buncher came to realize she was more interested in women than men. Rather than melt down, they chose to work it out ... and, eventually, start a band about it.
"I lost my dad when I was 20; he passed away," explains Simons. "I felt like I didn't have a choice, to keep him in my life. And I think we have that decision to make with everyone in our lives, with everything that happens: I'm going to keep that person in my life, or not. The idea of not having Dani at all, just because of something that's not anyone's fault at all — that was way more daunting than whatever the hurt would be as we tried to work through it. It was just easier to come up with a version of friendship than to just have nothing at all."
Simons and Buncher first met in the late '90s, in Morgantown, where Buncher, a Pittsburgh native, was going to college at WVU. They met through friends. ("Whenever any of my friends from the drumline found out that I was Jewish," says Buncher, "everybody would tell me that they wanted to introduce me to their other Jewish friend, and that was Scott.") Simons, a native of Bridgeport, W.Va., had been playing in a Morgantown power-pop band called The Argument, which would continue to play and tour into the mid-2000s. The two began dating, and stayed together while Buncher moved to New York City to work in A&R for a few record labels.
"When you're in a long-distance relationship," Buncher says, "one of the things you do is make the most of the time you do have together, so it was kind of easy to sweep things under the rug and just enjoy it. There were probably internal things going on with me, some things I was starting to think about and question, as far as my sexuality was concerned. It wasn't until we moved in together in Pittsburgh that those things started making sense to me. We're face-to-face every day, and forced to kind of figure out what's wrong with our relationship. And for me, that's what started surfacing. This is why I don't feel connected in that way."
After the breakup, Simons moved to Los Angeles to pursue a songwriting career — he's written with a number of artists, including Allen Stone — and session and touring work as a keyboardist. He was also playing some solo material. Buncher, back in Pittsburgh, held down the drum kit for Pittsburgh bands like Big Hurry (now defunct) and Big Snow Big Thaw (with whom she still plays).
During the whole decade they were in a relationship, the pair never really played music together. ("Her parents would always — I would visit Pittsburgh and they'd be like, ‘Oh, you should set up and you guys should jam,'" says Simons with a laugh. "We didn't really jam.") They did talk about music, though. "Even with my old band," says Simons, "Dani heard every song, every demo, and she helped me get it out there. I've always bounced things off of her. She's made me a better musician."
But it still wasn't immediately natural to get together and play music — especially music that directly addresses their relationship, breakup and post-breakup life the way TeamMate does.
"There was a few years of this haze," says Simons. "I was in Pittsburgh for a year and a half, then moved to L.A., and my career, writing music for other people — it took me a few years to really sort it out.
"When you're writing pop songs for other people, you're often sort of vague about things — you want to be personal, but it's different. After a while, I began to realize, ‘Wow, we have a story.' And the more we were comfortable talking about our story with each other and with other people, the more we became who we are now."
Now they're a two-piece pop band with songs like "The Sequel" — which pulls no punches, with the opening line, "She said ‘I think I like girls' / I said ‘I do, too!'" It was the first song they worked on together.
"I sent [Dani] the demo for ‘The Sequel,'" says Simons, "and she said, ‘Holy shit, this is good, but you're gonna out me to the whole world!'"
"This song moved me," Buncher says, "but the first line — I remember, it was right around the time I first came out, and I was comfortable with a lot of things. But there were some people, I thought — I'll have to deal with people asking me about this now. But I loved the song, the energy it gave me, the reflection on who we were, was pretty cool. That really excited me."
On Sat., April 20, they release their first official album through Rostrum Records — an EP called The Sequel. In TeamMate, Simons (who had been signed to Rostrum as a solo artist) brings to the table the bright electric-piano work that characterized his prior solo work; Buncher, a drum instructor, provides deceptively complex percussion. The pair writes together, using video chat and sending demos back and forth, and recorded the EP in Pittsburgh with the engineers at Treelady Studios. In four tracks, they address everything from the breakup to the nearly universal issue of working within a long-distance relationship or friendship.
"With my first band, I was a music-school kid, trying to show off, like, ‘Look what I can do!'" says Simons. "And some people liked that. But with TeamMate, there's kind of a direct, plain-spoken story. People can relate to that. And you see her up onstage with me, it's not just one dude whining about things. It's two people working through things musically."