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Duke and the Duchess 

Steve Earle side-couple The Mastersons follow their bliss

Former Son Volt guitarist Chris Masterson first met his future wife, Eleanor Whitmore, about nine years ago in Colorado at the post-show gathering of a music festival where both were side-musicians for bigger artists. Neither were looking to hook-up — Masterson was recently divorced and Whitmore had a boyfriend — but rather they picked up instruments and connected musically.

"We were both wallflowers," recalls Chris. "This party was a very collegiate affair with kegs and cowboy dudes holding tallboys, stacked two in a hand. We were kind of cowering in the corner."

"I heard her play," he continues, "and the musician — or the careerist — in me chimed in first."

Both musicians lived in Austin, so Masterson invited Whitmore to come by and play on an EP. In turn, he produced some music for her. But even after things turned romantic, performing and recording as a team wasn't their first thought.

"We started to talk about the logistics of self-releasing two records in the same household at the same time. "I was like, 'This is crazy; why don't we just make a record together?' That's when the lightbulb sort of started dimly flickering — before the onslaught of boy/girl duos."

The warm, organic harmonies and pretty roots-tinged rock of The Mastersons' 2014 album, Good Luck Charm, show the benefits of true collaboration. Though Masterson played in Son Volt and as Steve Earle's lead guitarist, he never longed for the spotlight. He's more of a team player.

"I've never been the kind of guitar player that stands on the side looking at center stage pining for that. I really like the idea of being a co-pilot or co-conspirator," he says. "The idea of the lone singer/songwriter never appealed enough for me to do it, aside from the local gig here or there."

It was actually Earle who hurried the dithering Masterson along. Eleanor had begun playing fiddle, mandolin and piano with Earle's wife Allison Moorer, when Earle invited her to join his backing band.

"This is around 2009 and at a certain point he says, 'I'm going to feature you in the show so you better have a record ready.'"

All of which gave The Mastersons further impetus to put out their self-released 2011 debut Birds Fly South. The attention helped them secure a deal with New West, who re-released the album as well as its sophomore follow-up, Good Luck Charm.

While Birds Fly South largely consisted of songs that had been individually penned, Good Luck Charm focuses more on co-writing and shared vocal duties. And while it's one thing to share a home, sharing a work of art turned out to be entirely different.

"Art is very personal, and it can be a challenge for a married couple to create a piece of work together," says Whitmore, joining us from an earlier interview. "We're very direct with each other, but we'll try to be better behaved when we're around our bandmates and other people."

"The greater the level of intimacy, the lower the level of professionalism," quips Masterson. "I feel to be able to get our individual points across as a team is no small feat. We're starting to learn how our machine works, and we're not afraid to deconstruct that and try different things. But it's starting to feel familiar, in a good way."

  • Steve Earle side-couple The Mastersons follow their bliss

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