Music News

So Happy Together

When Rachel Simring was looking to replace her ex-boyfriend guitarist back in Georgia, in 1993, she almost passed on Andy Ard. Two other musicians had already offered to play with her, so when the perennially shy Ard approached her with a hesitant "I don't know if you remember me," she politely took his number, not expecting to ever make the call.

Then she did make the call. After the other candidates failed to gel with her in the way she'd hoped, Simring invited Ard over to jam. The session, as she remembers it now, was chaos, through no fault of Ard's: Simring spent most of the time caring for a lost dog she'd found that day. "I was calling all these people, trying to find the owner, and we were supposed to be practicing," she says. "It was psychotic."

But the music that ensued -- Simring and Ard harmonizing to the plaintive strum of his acoustic guitar -- seemed to make perfect sense. Their voices blended well. They got along. After a few more practices, the pair decided to play a show together, though Simring had yet to decide if Ard was the partner she was committed to.

"What really sold me was at the end of the show, Andy gave me a hug, and he said, 'This has been fun. Thank you so much. I'd be happy to play with you again, because without you, I'm a dime a dozen,'" she explains. Sensing that she had found not only a musical peer but a friend, Simring decided Ard was a keeper. So the two cleverly christened themselves Rachel & Andy, began playing more frequently, and eventually became a popular local act in Athens, Georgia, then Atlanta, and now Denver -- where they officially relaunched last year. Their sound harks back to the sweet harmonies of groups like the Everly Brothers and more recent ones such as the Rembrandts.

"Automatically, when we say we're a duo and we say we're acoustic, people have [an idea] in mind of what that should sound like," he says. "We tilt more toward the Ramones than the Mamas and the Papas or Peter, Paul and Mary. My background's gritty rock and roll, and Rachel's voice adds a really cool dynamic to that."

While she's not so sure about the Ramones comparison, honey-alto-voiced Simring is quick to expand on misconceptions that plague the group. "When you tell people that you're an acoustic duo, they immediately want to stick you in coffeehouses," she says. "But whenever we play in coffeehouses, we have to turn ourselves down so much that we almost don't need our P.A. I've got a loud voice, and our act is very energetic. It's not necessarily the best act to stick in the corner of a coffeehouse when people are trying to read and have discussions amongst themselves."

In the early days, the two found diverse audiences in college bars, at fraternity parties and on the festival circuit, eventually establishing a sort of home base at the City Bar, a local Athens hangout. At the time, they played mostly covers, from Fleetwood Mac and Concrete Blonde to the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, eventually crafting their own material with Ard at the writing helm.

Damon Krebs, the bar's manager, remembers the duo's appeal to everyone from college kids to doctors and lawyers. "We don't do a lot of acoustic music, but Rachel & Andy had enough energy to keep everyone happy, drinking and dancing," he says. "They're talented, and she has a great voice."

The duo played at the Athens club and other local hangouts pretty consistently for three years before picking up and moving to Atlanta. Though the two didn't quit their day jobs (and still haven't, for that matter: Rachel runs Club Amigos, a company that brings Spanish classes to local elementary schools; Andy does Web site flash design and audio consulting), they continued to play in both cities, and they got the occasional positive review from local papers: "More damn fun than a barrel of naked monkeys" was how one local critic described the band's shows.

Sometimes the commentary wasn't so positive. On one return trip to Athens, Andy stopped to pick up the college rags, "just to see if they wrote anything about us," he explains. One publication, Red & Black, had given them some ink, though the journalist didn't share the fun-monkey sentiment. "Rachel should kick Andy out," the piece read. "All he does is sit and play that acoustic guitar and sing his little dittys [sic]. She's the real talent."

"I was more or less amused by it," says Ard, laughing as he thinks back, "because obviously they caught us on a bad night, or it was one person's opinion of the show. But Rachel was just furious. She was like, 'How dare they say that about you!'" Even now, the comment is enough to get Rachel's dander up a bit. "It was complimentary of me, but I wasn't flattered by that. Okay, I should kick Andy out, all he does is play his little ditties. Well, somebody's playing the little ditties, and it's certainly not me!"

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Mary Guiden