"It's a weird roundabout way to get to a band," declares TeamMate singer-keyboardist Scott Simons. "But it happened."
Scott Simons and Dani Buncher fell for each other in West Virginia in 1998 and were in a relationship for 10 years when she came out of the closet.
That's when most couples say "later" and that's the end. Instead, they worked through it to become long-distance bandmates ... or TeamMate, as they are called.
Their story is documented in "Sequel," the bouncy electropop track that opens their debut EP that begins with him singing, "She said, 'I think I like girls'/I said, 'I do too'/she said, 'I'm so afraid cause I'm still in love with you'/so we cried all night, and then we cried all year/I said, 'You're the only one who could ever dry my tears.' "
Squirrel Hill native Buncher met Mr. Simons at West Virginia University, where he was playing in power-pop band The Argument. After graduating, she worked for Arista Records in New York, and then came back to Pittsburgh to work for Rostrum, the label that sprung Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller.
Rostrum was also home to The Argument, which broke up, leading to a Los Angeles-based Scott Simons solo project. Ms. Buncher, best known musically for being the drummer for the now-defunct band Big Hurry, was backing his solo stuff on drums despite the distance.
"Coming right out of the breakup, we never could've predicted that this is what we would do," he says from LA on a conference call, with her in Pittsburgh. "At the time we didn't know if we were going to be in each other's lives at all. I think anyone who's been in any kind of long relationship you just try to figure out 'how do we unknot ourselves and extricate each other and become two separate people?' Going through that process was really painful, and for me, I lost my dad when I was 20 and I didn't really have a choice whether I got to keep him in my life or not, and when it came to Dani she was one of the most important people in my life.
"I just feel like we had a choice where we could either write this off and say we're never going to talk again or we just find a new version of what we are. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't something we would have predicted, to be in a band that just kind of happened. We just started doing shows and it became therapeutic it became kind of celebratory."
Working almost 2,500 miles apart, they used conference chat and iChat to communicate musically. He started working on the song "Sequel" and used those first few lines as a joke or a lyrical placeholder, and sent the demo to his ex.
"She called me and said 'Holy [expletive], Scott, this song is amazing. We have to record this. But you're going to out me to everybody.' So we had this long conversation while we were doing this song even down to the day before we released the song, like, deep breath, 'Are we sure we want to do this?' because the first lyric, I think that set the tone for the whole project: Like let's be honest, let's be real, let's talk about our experience."
"It was at a time in my life where I wasn't totally out," she says. "I mean, I was out, but there were still a lot of people in my life who maybe hadn't gotten the memo at that time. It gave me the opportunity to stop talking about why we broke up and just send them the song."
What might surprise people is how poppy and upbeat it is, falling somewhere between Ben Folds and the Pet Shop Boys.
"I thought, Let's be honest and just tell our story, but let's not be a downer about it," he says. "Because we're really proud of where we are as far as people, as far as our relationship. And we want to celebrate that we did have a successful and great relationship. And I think that led to it being upbeat, but also I wanted to write for Dani's drumming because her drumming is so unique and so awesome that I think that needs to be an important element. There's something nice about the side-by-side of the serious lyrics with the upbeat music."
The formation of TeamMate as a band rather than a solo project required Mr. Simons to come out of the closet, in a different way, to Rostrum president Benjy Greenberg.
"We did a conference call with Benjy and we pitched him and I said, 'I don't want to be a solo artist anymore. There are people who do that amazingly and I don't think I'm one of them. I want to be back in a band again.' And Benji was on board from the beginning."
They both love pop and this band allows them to slyly indulge that sweet tooth. Ms. Buncher also plays in the very different folky band Big Snow Big Thaw. In TeamMate, she gets to play synth-pop and actually cover a Madonna song as they do with "Causing a Commotion," the only song on the EP that doesn't seem to address their bittersweet romance.
"I'm a huge Madonna fan," she says. "We definitely put our own little spin on it hopefully. We definitely wanted to keep it very true to the original, because the original is so good. And it's a big favorite of mine. I don't think we ever set out to record it for the EP. I just think we had it as a cover for the live shows. I've been in lots of bands and I think this is the first band that's ever allowed me to do a Madonna song -- and I tried."
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576.