Supposedly, there is a war on Christmas, and Thanksgiving might bring about your family's dark, alcoholic side. But no holiday divides the nation quite as bitterly as Valentine's Day. In the red corner, you have those who must reluctantly conjure up greeting-card-style devotion to their indifferent significant other. And in the pink corner, you have those painfully single folks who feel slighted by Cupid's missed arrows.
It was around V-Day last year when Travis James, 32, and Alaynha Gabrielle, 20, came up with the idea to write showtune-style electronica music with lyrics based on cliché romantic spats. Thus, Couples Fight was consummated. Their first release, Breaking Up, offers quarrel-filled jams such as "Um, Who Was That?," a happy hardcore song about stalking your ex, and "Cover Song," which offers this choice lyric: "First you stole my heart, now you just steal the covers."
Most modern music is about romantic relationships and, specifically, breakups. Yet, very few breakup songs — with the exception of Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know" — are sung from the perspective of both sides of the split. In Couples Fight, you get the bonus of hearing both sides argue about things as mundane as where to eat for dinner. "I picked last time!" Gabrielle sings; "I cooked last night," James counters. Never before has a lovers squabble been so damn catchy.
"The idea was fairly random. A couple of my peers have a penchant for arguing in their relationships over typical subjects," James says. "We thought that making cute, clever little dance songs in reference to that would be cathartic and fun and palatable for a lot of people."
I met Gabrielle and James in the smoke-filled back room of the nondescript Central Phoenix home where James crashes in a shed in the back. Gabrielle wore black-and-white-striped leggings and a chain necklace, while Travis wore his trademark "No Gods, No Masters" hoodie while goofing around with a fingerboard, using his knees as ramps. The two were acting like best buds and if they didn't mention it (or someone hadn't spilled the beans to me), you'd have no idea the duo weren't an item anymore.
Yes, the title Breaking Up is meant to be taken literally. Gabrielle and James were together for approximately two years. They became romantic after James brought vodka to a protest for Gabrielle, but they called it quits last summer. They are shy on the details — understandably — but James chalks it up to this: "We broke up to make the band awesome."
He quickly adds: "And because she's a slut."
Gabrielle, after slugging him in the arm, says, "He wasn't a sugar daddy enough for me. Usually, when you date an older man, you expect to get some type of money out it, and he was absolutely draining me financially."
"I'm pretty much homeless," James shrugs.
But the couple, if you can still call them that, remained friends, something they admit took practice. Hey, if Jack and Meg White (not to mention Fleetwood Mac) could do it, why can't Couples Fight? I didn't exactly come to this interview expecting to pose as Dr. Laura, but obviously Couples Fight are open about their relationship for a reason.
"It's cathartic humor, but it's also ironic because it actually happened," Gabrielle muses. "We're just making fun of it."
When asked how the album was recorded, James grins and points across the room. "We did it over there in that laundry room with just a USB mic."
The music is a pre-programmed hodgepodge of electro samples — James and Gabrielle only sing over the beat, despite their musical backgrounds, a choice they say frees them up to do other interesting things. However, in concert, Rick Hill of Sad Kid will play guitar, and Couples Fight plans to add more synth and percussion in the future. They're also considering doing covers of various duets.
"There's a couple we considered," James says. "There's 'Dead Ringer for Love' with Cher and Meatloaf, there's 'It's All Coming Back to Me Now' with Meatloaf and somebody else, there's 'I Would Do Anything for Love' by Meatloaf . . ."
The oddest thing about the project is that Couples Fight hasn't actually played a show yet. Its first gig will be the Broken Hearts Ball, to be hosted in the same room where this interview is taking place. Joining Couples Fight for the night will be skate punk outfit The Linecutters, folk punker Jessie Williams of Tucson, and Sad Kid, which recently changed its name from Sad Boy Trumpet Club to pay respect to its "many female, trans, and genderfluid homies."
James excitedly describes what the night will include while giving me a tour around the room. There will be an '80s prom-style balloon drop from the ceiling and a piñata filled with condoms, candy, and razor blades. "Then we've got these," James says, holding up two giant cardboard cutouts of silverware, "but you're not allowed to know what they're fork yet."
Gabrielle giggles. "Awful, just awful."
There also was supposed to be a "Worst Breakup Story Contest," but that idea got nixed real quick.
"I didn't really think that one through," James says, hinting at some of the horror stories he's already heard. "I just kind of blurted that."
"The saddest piece of shit that we can find [at the show] is probably going to win something," Gabrielle says, nodding. "We know some sorry-ass motherfuckers."
In fact, other people's problems were the main inspiration for their music.
"We put out a call for people to submit recordings — secret or otherwise — of couples having actual fights. And then our plan was to use them in live shows or maybe on CDs," James says. "Our roommates ended up having actual fights about the fear of being secretly recorded. So it turned out to be pretty awesome."
"The best part about the arguments in our songs is they're about ones we've never had," James says. "And so like, that's a point of pride for us."
So what does the couple actually fight about? Well . . .
"Which one is more goth? Who's the most punk out of us?" Gabrielle says. "Not cleaning. Dude, I don't even know. We argue, like, debate-wise, like who's right."
James bursts into laughter, then says, "She's wrong all the time, so we fight about that a lot. Clearly, I'm the punkest and the gothest of the two of us. I haven't turned on a real lightbulb in months! I live in a shed in the dark."
"You have lights!" Gabrielle balks.
"They're Christmas lights."
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"You claim to have such a fucking hard life. You have a fucking laptop and you just sit on your laptop with your electricity and your blankets . . ."
"I love my life. It's other people that say [my shed] looks like a jail cell."
And so, as if to better illustrate this chaotic, contradictory relationship, Couples Fight terminated our interview as the two began bickering. Ah, love. What a pile of shit it can be.