From what they’ve seen in the world

The Lucky Valentines, who will play in Livingston on Friday, discuss making music in Fort Benton, art in the age of the internet, and life as a husband and wife duo
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Article Image Alt Text

Photo by Joseph Bullington

The Lucky Valentines, comprised of wife-and-husband duo Jamie and Shaun Carrier, of Fort Benton, perform at Uncorked in Livingston on July 20. They will play at Uncorked again at 6 p.m. Friday.

When a relative of the musicians Jamie and Shaun Carrier, known on stage as The Lucky Valentines, tried to get a musically connected friend in Los Angeles to take an interest in the duo’s music, the friend responded that it was all right but sounded “kind of pastoral.”

The description irked Jamie — their musical tastes spread worldwide, and they didn’t want to be boxed in as a backwoods rural Montana band.

“We would have every kind of instrument in the world if we had the money to buy it with,” said Jamie.

Eventually, though, Jamie realized that “this is who we are.”

“Hopefully there’s a sound of Montana in (our music),” she said. “If we represent something about our state, that would be a huge honor.”

Both Jamie and Shaun grew up in north-central Montana. They met and fell in love and married there. And they are still there. Jamie was raised on a farm outside Fort Benton, and Shaun grew up in Great Falls. Any inclinations they might have had to move to Austin or L.A. to try to “make it” went out the window as their kids were born. Now they live with their four young children in Fort Benton, where they own a coffee shop that earns them the three quarters of their living that playing music can’t — yet.

On the phone, Jamie explained that she had gone to L.A. once when she was 20.

“I’m not a very shiny person,” she said, and when she saw the billboards and the glitz, she realized, “I don’t think this is what I want to do.”

As she talked, children could be heard yelling and laughing in the background.

It’s not always easy being musicians in a small town like Fort Benton. For one thing, it means they put about 10,000 miles a year on their touring van.

But this is where they’re from, where they’ve chosen to make their stand — and their art.

As Jamie puts it, “Where you are is why you are.”

***

Jamie and Shaun met while both playing at a Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser in Great Falls.

“He played first and I was truly blown away. By the time I got up to play, I could feel him in the room,” she remembered. “The first time we ever hung out, we played music together, and we’ve just never stopped.”

They planned to get married in the spring, but Jamie “came from a very traditional family,” she said, and when she got pregnant they decided to move the wedding sooner. They ended up getting married on Valentine’s Day — hence the name of their band.

“I’ve never liked Valentines Day at all, actually,” said Jamie, laughing. “So it’s kind of ironic that we’re called that. At this point, we usually play somewhere on Valentine’s Day — it’s kinda like a date.”

She said it can be trying but also great to be in a twoperson band with your husband.

“You can fight in the car, and then just play the show, and love each other more afterwards,” she said.

Both she and Shaun write songs, and when they play out these days, it’s mostly original material. That’s in part because of what Jamie called the “attack” on small venues by music licensing organizations like ASCAP, which demand fees from venues if bands that play there do cover songs. It didn’t used to be a big deal to play covers in small venues, but Jamie said that the internet and social media have made it easier for the licensing organizations to track down and bill venues where covers are played.

When they opened the coffee shop, Jamie said, “pretty much right off the bat we started getting calls from ASCAP.” They wanted three or four thousand dollars for a license — money that they, and most rural venues, simply don’t have, she said. She thinks small venue owners would be happy to pay "if they could just charge a reasonable fee in the rural areas.”

“I guess it’s a strange time for music,” she mused, then caught herself. “I guess it’s always been a strange time. All the times have been strange ...” She laughed.

And, as in all other times, the obstacles of our age have created interesting and creative workarounds.

“It makes us rely on our own material and play it when maybe we wouldn’t normally,” she said. As a result, the pair has built up a three hour repertoire of original songs.

Both are gifted songwriters, but one of Jamie’s songs stands out from their last performance in Livingston this July. The chorus is the kind that is so simple but beautiful, so tragic but triumphant, so perfect, that you almost can’t believe it hasn’t been written before. It ends this way:

“I’m not going anywhere if it means spending another second with you.

If that means bedding with the devil, you can bet that’s what I’m gonna do.

Because I can’t see a god who could hold hands with me and you at the same time, while I was crying ‘why?’”

The song, Jamie said, is about a woman she knows, in her 70s now, who was abused by her father when she was a child.

“A lot of people tell me things, and I carry them very heavily,” she said. “I don’t think I could ever share that song with her necessarily — ’cause it’s almost like stealing. But I couldn’t carry it anymore.”

She went on: “From what I’ve seen in the world, that’s kind of the life of an artist. You see these things that are unbearable and do something to make them bearable.”

Maybe even beautiful.

––––The Lucky Valentines will play in Livingston at 6 p.m. on Friday at Uncorked. play covers in small venues, but the internet and social media have made it easier for the licensing organizations to track down and bill venues where covers are played, Jamie said.

When they opened the coffee shop, Jamie said, “pretty much right off the bat we started getting calls from ASCAP.” They wanted three or four thousand dollars for a license — money that they, and most rural venues, simply don’t have, she said. She thinks small venue owners would be happy to pay “if they could just charge a reasonable fee in the rural areas.”