The couple collected the songs they created during three years of “family music nights” in their Seattle basement and put out an album.
Daniel Spils and Brangien Davis don’t know what to call their music, really.
Marriage rock, maybe. Or D.I.N.K. rock, as in “dual incomes, no kids.”
They knew what to call themselves, though: The Argument.
It’s a perfect, smirk of a name for a married couple who collected the songs they created during three years of “family music nights” in their Seattle basement and put out an album.
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“This is an expression of a marriage,” Spils, 48, said one recent Sunday. “It’s more inward.”
So it was a surprise to family and friends when, last fall, Spils and Davis, also 48, started posting one song a week on Facebook. Each audio file was accompanied by an essay crafted by Davis, a freelance writer and editor who has written for The Seattle Times and Seattle Magazine and taught at Richard Hugo House and Seattle Central.
Spils has been a musician all his life, most notably as the keyboardist for Maktub, the Seattle R&B band fronted by musician and comedian Reggie Watts, now the musical director for “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” (Spils now runs a team of software developers and records music, sound effects and voice overs).
In all, The Argument released 11 songs: Spils writing the melody and Davis the lyrics. The songs are intelligent and spare, reminiscent of Michael Penn or Liz Phair. They’re small yet potent, like truffles.
Davis pulled from stories she had read, and others she had lived.
“Emphasis” is about a cousin who died of alcoholism.
A song called “Ogallala” is Davis’ ode to the endangered, once-massive aquifer she learned about after seeing the Ken Burns documentary, “The Dust Bowl.”
“Stringlyjack” was inspired by a New Yorker article Davis read about a condition called Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which makes people compelled to chew on their hands — and a contraption one family made to keep their son from mutilating himself.
The response to “The Argument” — available for streaming on iTunes and Spotify, or Amazon for the CD — has been “inspiring,” Davis said.
“I was pretty nervous about it.”
She recalled her father calling from Los Angeles: “Hey, this is real! This is not a joke!”
The couple’s home is an artistic project, as well. It is a Northwest Modernism jewel designed by World’s Fair architect Paul Thiry, who also designed the Frye Art Museum and KeyArena. They bought it in 2010 and have spent the time since bringing it back from the neglect of its previous owner.
The basement is filled with Spils’ collection of musical instruments, including a euphonium and a mellophone, which is a French horn that operates like a trumpet.
He’s also geeked the place out with thick black sound curtains that add intimacy. And he created a “vocal tent” where Davis sits before a microphone onto which Spils has attached a piece of blue tape with the handwritten urging: “Sing!”
“I get very shy about singing,” Davis said. “So that does kind of help.”
She’s always had a secret desire to sing, but Spils only heard her in the car or the shower or at a couple of weddings, where she sang John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and The Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love.”
Then one day he was noodling around with some recording equipment on his piano and asked Davis to improvise something to sing along with it.
“It was hard for me to make up lyrics on the spot,” she said, so she just sang a la-la-la tune. He was struck by her controlled vibrato, her ability to drop to low notes.
The song would become “Halibut Cove.”
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m recording in my basement!’ ” he recalled. “And then I thought, ‘Holy crap, Brangien can sing!’ She has character to her voice.”
Davis waved him off.
“Daniel kind of tricked me into this one,” she said. “After that, he said, ‘I want to make an album.’ ”
It made sense. Spils has been creating music since he was 14. He studied music theory at The University of Alaska Anchorage and jazz piano at Cornish College of the Arts. He answered an ad in The Rocket for what he thought was an “R&R” (rock ‘n’ roll) band. Turned out it was R&B. He played, recorded and toured with Maktub for almost 10 years.
Davis, too, came here for the music scene. She had been working in Washington, D.C., as a legislative assistant for the American Association of University Women and was struck by “Singles,” the 1992 Cameron Crowe movie set in Seattle.
“I saw that and thought, ‘Oh, man, I want a piece of that,’ ” she said, going as far as renting an apartment two blocks from the “Singles” apartment building at 19th and E. Thomas on Capitol Hill.
She developed a writing career, first at Amazon and then at various publications.
They met at Amazon, but didn’t start dating until they met again when she was hired to blog for his company. They married at the Olympic Sculpture Park seven years ago.
Spils calls the album “The soundtrack of our lives.” There’s a maturity about it. You can tell that they’ve learned things, being married.
“I wanted to look forward in my life,” Spils said. “I didn’t want to write for my 20- to 30-year-old self. I just wanted to write and not embarrass myself.”
And yet, Davis isn’t sure they will ever play for an audience, beyond their friends and family. Maybe a wedding. Maybe.
“People say, ‘You’ve got to play live!’” Davis said. “And we just blink and stare.”
Said Spils: “We will compartmentalize that decision for now.”
They are happy just to have made something together, and that they wrapped it up with cover art by friend and artist Pawel Nowakowski of the Copenhagen design firm THANK YOU.
It is a painting of flowers. Colorful, beautiful — and smeared.
“Perfect, but a mess,” Spils said. “Like a marriage.”