March 11, 2014 Updated: March 11, 2014 at 9:02 am
Finding somebody whose voice complements your own can be a strange trip.
"Harmony singing is such a mystical thing," said JT Nero, one of the lead singers of the Americana roots band Birds of Chicago. "There are voices that you think should be sympathetic, and they're not. And vice versa, with voices that seem like an odd pairing."
He's found his harmonic soul mate in Allison Russell, the other lead singer. Oh, and another thing - she's also his wife.
The musical partnership came first, he said, though the romance wasn't far behind. They've been a couple for seven years. They'll perform at Stargazers Theatre and Event Center on Thursday.
"That was the case with Alli and me," he says from a tour stop in Redding, Calif. "There's a weird alchemy that happens, and we always remember that. We are kindred spirits. We're believers in music - rock and roll, a continuing evolution of roots tradition and tapping into different veins. We both believe in that and in the vagabond life. We believe if you're going to be a musician, then it's going to be your vocation. It's got to be in your blood, and it always was for both of us."
Birds of Chicago released their first self-titled album in 2012. Nero is responsible for writing most of the lyrics, including the attention-grabbing words in "The Moonglow/The Tapeworm": "I got that moonglow. I got that tapeworm, and my stomach burns from the tapeworm."
"Birds of Chicago have a relaxed way with rootsy Americana: some of this, such as the opening track 'Trampoline,' could pass for mid-'70s Eagles, and other bits, such as singer JT Nero's 'Cannonball,' could have beamed in from Rod Stewart's early '70s output, scratchy voice and all. Meanwhile, his cohort, the Vancouver-based Allison Russell, could almost pass for Emmylou Harris from roughly the same period," wrote music critic Zachary Houle on Popmatters.com in 2012.
Trish Klein, of the folk band The Be Good Tanyas, first praised Russell to Nero in 2002.
"She told me about this incredible young woman who played clarinet and sang like an old soul," he said.
Russell was out on the road with her band, Po' Girl, while Nero was living in Chicago, working and playing in his band, JT and the Clouds. When Po' Girl finally stopped for a show in Chicago and Nero heard her live, it was musical love at first listen. They haven't been out of each other's lives since.
"It was a process of making more excuses to do things together," he said. "We'd show up on their records and vice versa. In 2011, it really became clear to us we had to carve space to do our thing."
That thing, of course, is Birds of Chicago, which is now their main focus, though most of the other musicians in their two former groups are part of the current band.
Nine weeks ago, the couple had their first child, a girl. It hasn't put the kibosh on their touring, and if Nero has his way, it never will.
"It's the work we want," Nero said. "Traveling the road is our normal, and it'll be her normal state until she's old enough to figure out there's some people who don't do it that way."
Contact Jennifer Mulson: 636-0270
Birds of Chicago
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Stargazers Theatre and Event Center, 10 S. Parkside Drive
Tickets: $15; 476-2200, stargazerstheatre.com