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Teach Me Equals and their compelling collaborations

Push and pull

Teach Me Equals: Greg Bartnichak and Erin Murphy will blow your mind. Photo credit: Gabriel Hernandez

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There was once a show called Duets - please, lord, let this show actually be canceled, because I can't be bothered to look it up - where young performers from around the country were tasked to perform duets with professionals. What made this shitty show interesting was the unstated premise that collaborating with another person in a way that conveys the push and pull of two people really connecting was actually hard. Duets that match meager expectations are a dime a dozen; duets that tell a compelling story between two artists are a marvel.

Teach Me Equals are a two-piece based out of Sarasota, Florida. Made up of Erin Murphy and Greg Bortnichak, Teach Me Equals do not fall under the lazy umbrella of a duet. Rather, they embody the unique relationship that develops between two people that actually collaborate. Watching them perform means seeing two people that understand the conversation that occurs, not just between artists, but between their instruments, and the give and take of the songwriting process.

I caught Teach Me Equals on tour, as they stopped by a truck stop in Idaho.

"I was in a band that came through Erin Murphy's town," says Bortnichak. "We hit it off and decided that it would be fun to collaborate. So, we were originally gonna work on string arrangements for an Equines record, but then we got into more heady territory. So, we just started working together, about four years ago."

"The band actually formed within forty-eight hours of us collaborating," says Murphy. "We started with songs that I had written for my last band, which were too mellow or introspective for them. Over time, when we actually started writing together, we started pulling in the different electronic influences. Then we thought about how cool it would be to pull in a thicker wall of dynamics."

Bortnichak and Murphy play cello and violin, respectively. What they create out of those instruments is remarkable. Through the use of looping pedals and samples, Teach Me Equals create something much more than an orchestral pop band. Minimalist, almost Suicide-esque industrial beats accompany melodies that would work well in any genre. Through the looping and effects pedals, the cello and violin take on different, compelling lives.

"There was a show where Greg accidentally stepped on the guide beat on the loop pedal," says Murphy. "It was right at the perfect moment of the song, where we were about to go into a chorus, and Greg wanted to turn it off. I looked into the audience and saw people dancing. I said, ‘Greg, don't turn it off!' ... It was through moments like this that we really found out what kind of a band we are. Through f---ing around and landing on something."

Teach Me Equals' forthcoming debut album is a fascinating mixture between meditative electronics and upbeat electro-rock. Comparisons have been drawn between Teach Me Equals and The xx, but mostly due to the interplay between male and female singers. Still, The xx share the sense of intimate collaboration between the two main singers. Bortnichak and Murphy share more than vocals: their interplay as musicians shows an incredible amount of respect and adoration for each other as artists. The way that the songs bounce back and forth with ever increasing levels of musical mastery displays a delightful sense of exploration that exists between both musicians.

A tiny drum machine accompanies the pairing of Teach Me Equals - the less to distract you from the immaculate interplay between these two artists. The cacophony brought to the fore is enough to make you believe that the stage is full of people. This is a duet.

TEACH ME EQUALS, w/RedRumsey, Hamartia, Sounjaneer, 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 3, Northern, 414 ½ E. Legion Way, Olympia, $5

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