Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. Just the simple question, “How did you form your band?” provokes Melissa Ludwig and guitarist Mitch Connell to launch into a complicated love story. It happens to be their own, and it’s all over not just our interview but also the now-married couple’s live shows and the lyrics for their new debut album Now That You’re Here.
From anyone else, the story might induce winces. Ludwig, 32, and Connell, 39, met here three years ago playing in Hollywood Rehab, a dude-rock cover band equipped with what the couple jokes was a PA-system loud enough to play arenas. Oddly enough, Ludwig sang AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Zepplin, while Connell played lead guitar. Not that it was ever their intention, but Hollywood Rehab never made it to arena-sized gigs.
“Basically, it was like a VH1 Behind the Music compressed into a few months,” explains Ludwig, taking a brief break with Connell from moving into a new house. “What ended up happening is that Mitch and I fell in love, and when we announced to the band that we were in love and were going to be together, uh, everybody quit.” Maybe sensing my next question, Connell jumps in, “We were both married … to others, so it kind of freaked everyone out in the band.”
After playing in Hollywood Rehab for several months, one day something just changed, says Ludwig. “It was a series of dangerous text messages that spiraled out of hand,” she halfway jokes about the impetus that caused both musicians to leave their marriages. For a more serious take, try parsing some of the lyrics on Now That You’re Here: good starting points would be the dark rocker “Drink it Down” and “Husband’s Lullabye.”
Another strong influence on Now That You’re Here is Ludwig and Connell’s new life together. The album’s best song, “Get to You,” the first the couple co-wrote, includes the chorus “Now that you’re here, I don’t know what to do. I must destroy everything I ever knew to get to you,” over polished pop guitar riffs. Graceful in both honesty and arrangement, the song cements that rare synthesis of romantic partners in creative endeavors.
From the start of their relationship, Ludwig and Connell made music a central focus. “Once we found each other, it just became obvious that this is what we want to do,” says Ludwig. “We share the same goal and the same dream and until that changes I don’t see us doing it any other way.” Ludwig still handles lyrics and melodies, while Connell chimes in on guitar.
Together, they created the Americana-influenced Melissa Ludwig Band and have since pursued the band full bore. Ludwig’s autobiographical lyrics and soulful vocals are backed by Connell’s intricate guitar licks and grounded by drummer AJ Navarro and bassist Douglas Turley. Onstage and off, both Ludwig and Connell are goofy and self-effacing, teasing each other as often as they make doe eyes, which makes their dogged determination to achieve musical success seem almost effortless.
In reality, “Every single night after work, it’s band related activities,” says Connell. As a band, they gig around San Antonio’s restaurant scene, their acoustic adult contemporary sound a good match for laid-back eateries like the Cove and Tycoon Flats. The couple, who both have day jobs, used their gig money to record Now That You’re Here, which they had mastered by John Cuniberti (Tracy Chapman, Dave Matthews Band, The Grateful Dead). The result is a slick, professional album that sounds miles away from its restaurant patio music roots.
Ludwig and Connell view Now That You’re Here as the first leap toward something bigger. They’ve been booking weekend shows around the state and are planning a national tour in 2011. Despite recent band line-up changes, Ludwig and Connell are in it for the long haul, together. “I can’t imagine doing it without him any more,” says Ludwig. “I can’t imagine my songs without his guitar parts on them. I wouldn’t even want to play without them.” •
Now That You’re Here is available at melissaludwig.com.
Melissa Ludwig Band
8pm Sat Oct 23
2926 N St Mary’s