There are the cheesy, tender love stories and the boring, static ones; the heartbreakers and those head-shakers that never even make it past that cringeworthy pickup line. Scott Simons and Dani Buncher know theirs doesn’t fit easy description. Perhaps it’s because it’s still being written. Sure, several years ago, when Buncher came out to Simons, they stopped referring to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. The music however? That unspeakable connection that bound them together all those years, carried them through rough patches and made things work even when everything felt in wild disarray? Well, that, Simons says, was the singular element of their partnership that not only survived but blossomed. “It was our therapy,” Simons says of his and Buncher’s decision instead to forge ahead on their winding road of a relationship. Rather than lose the other, they chose to embrace their unparalleled connection, forming the synth-pop duo TeamMate. “Part of the healing process for the end of our romantic relationship ending involved us playing music together,” Simons, who shares vocal duties with Buncher and plays synths and keyboards in the band, declares. “Still existing today as a partnership is our best achievement.”
Well, that and TeamMate’s effortless unleashing of ear-wormy nuggets of pure pop precision. The breakout band’s debut LP, TeamMate, is stuffed full of massive choruses, bright, shimmering melodies, arena-scale drums and the sort of anthemic choruses not easily removable from one’s brain. “We’re shooting information off each other and the result is this collaborative piece,” Buncher, who plays drums in the group, says when assessing the duo’s seamless integration of musical talent. “We always just want to see where the sound goes.”
“Looking back we never said, ‘Let’s start a band together,”’ Buncher adds with a laugh. Though when two people understand one another on such a human level -- additionally having shared their most personal songwriting with each other for years -- it’s far easier to fight past the nonsense and attack each song with pulsing vigor. “We got to a point where we had matured and we had grown and we had been through so much shit together and we still made it out,” Simons says. “We could then look at our story and say, “Yah, we have something to say in our songs now!””
And so even on their most instantly catchy tracks, like “Don’t Count Me Out,” where chiming synths and pulsing drums give way to a shout-along chorus, there’s a definitive, sincere message bubbling beneath. “Lyrically, the song is an anthem to ourselves,” Simons says of TeamMate’s infectious first single off the new LP. “We've been through a lot of things together but we're still a version of together.” The Eighties-inflected, “Nothing’s Ever Over,” by comparison, Buncher adds, “really helped us find our direction for the album” and “set the tone for most of the new songs moving forward.” It also helped the duo manage the occasional hurdles involved in the songwriting process, like on the bombastic pop gem “Something Simple,” which proved anything but. “That was a song that took a lot of work to get it to where it is now,” Simons explains. “It started as a melody and music sketch I made and then sat on because we initially didn't think it was going to work for us. But as we collaborated it started to take shape over a few writing sessions. The story comes from a personal experience in a relationship of trying to force expectations onto something rather than just accepting it for what it is.”
Winding up together as a band was hardly a foregone conclusion for TeamMate. Having first met at West Virginia University, Simons stayed in West Virginia after college; Buncher took up shop in New York and then her native Pittsburgh. Both were pushing hard with their respective former bands and yet, much as they’d always done, the pair continued swapping musical advice with each other. “For years and years Scott would send me music and I would give him my brutally honest criticism or support,” Buncher explains. It was only after Simons asked Buncher to back him on drums for some solo gigs that the two realized their talents were best utilized as a unit. “It felt like something new was happening,” Buncher recalls of an early joint songwriting session with Simons. “We just knew where our musical ven diagram overlapped,” he adds, while Buncher says everything immediately “blended quite nicely.”
“Even when we started playing some shows, it was more of a laptop-bedroom project,” Simons admits. “It was just a very cerebral thing.” Gradually though, as both musicians began sharing lead-singing duties -- not to mention when Buncher’s drum was moved to the front of the stage and was now equal with Simons’ microphone -- the musicians started to feel like a legitimate band -- one in which both members literally and metaphorically stood on equal footing. “A lot of our songs now the message is ‘we,’” Buncher explains. “It’s universal but also a very personal message from the two of us. We’re both singing together in unison. You can’t necessarily tell whose voice is whose.”
Having grown as both musical collaborators, partners and, most importantly, friends, TeamMate are finally at a point of being realistically optimistic and excited about their future. “We’ve finally figured out who we are,” Buncher says. “It’s time to put out a record that represents our growth as people and our growth as musicians.”
“If we had told each other back in college: “You are going to date for 10 years, break up and then start a band and tour we would have never believed it,” Simons says.” The whole story that’s led to this moment is so convoluted and crazy but I wouldn’t change it. It’s led to this incredible collaboration.