I Fell In Love With the Drummer

Jessica Dobson (Deep Sea Diver) on what it’s really like to be in a band with your partner.

Two days before the release of our third album Impossible Weight, I threw a snare drum through the glass of our guest bedroom window. Peter’s snare drum. My partner’s snare drum. 

I feel the need to clarify that I only meant to throw it onto the bed, but in my crazed haze of provoked rage, and anxiety surrounding the album release, I ceased to remember that things can indeed ricochet off beds. I’ve never been so ashamed. We’ve never laughed so hard.

Sometimes being in a band with the one you love is all Johnny Cash and June Carter. It feels transcendent and chock-full of incredible milestones; It’s a harmonious duet that seems effortless, and convinces us to keep going. Other times, we’re Sid and Nancy, spewing our own scrutinizing and insecure remarks at each other when our egos are bruised. This leads to a bunch of unnecessary clamor, when all we really needed was a day off to get the hell away from each other. 

I have been in the band Deep Sea Diver with Peter for 11 years now, the entirety of it as a married couple. One of the things I love most is that we get to experience the rejections and the triumphs at the exact same time. We were sitting on the couch, holding back tears on a conference call when our booking agent dropped us in 2015, right before the release of our album Secrets. We cried and celebrated on that same couch when KEXP announced our latest album was #1 in 2020. There are nights when we can’t sleep because we know that a song we have agonized over isn’t good enough. There are also nights where we laugh ourselves to sleep, knowing that we’ve just recorded our best work. 

Unlike most couples who have some sort of division between their work and home lives, we’ve never been able to figure out how to keep ours separate. They spill out over each other, and this is a double-edged sword. It’s impossible to go on a date and not talk about music-related issues, or get into some sort of discussion about how we’ll be able to afford to fix the tour van and manufacture new vinyl at the same time. There are always emails to answer and events to promote, and we have to work really hard at making space for ourselves personally and for our relationship. We are constantly around each other, and we can often find ourselves irritable by the end of the day when things aren’t going well musically. Sometimes our band members see the worst of us when we fail to keep arguments out of the practice space or on tour. This is the byproduct of not having a filter and saying what you mean at every moment. At our worst, we turn into “band bros” and functionally roommates, and our neglected relationship falls further to the wayside.

Next, we have the issue of financial stability. For us to continue to pursue this career, it’s a high wire balancing act of immense sacrifices and maniacal ambition. We don’t have a third member of our relationship holding down the fort with their steady nine-to-five job. We’ve done this cliff dive together and there is no plan B. The gravity of this is not lost on me. I’m acutely aware that most people our age have purchased houses, had kids, enjoy the benefits of health care through their jobs, and have at least one very hip-looking Airbnb cabin to further supplement their income. To be honest, this actually sounds pretty nice. They are building a future for themselves that is increasingly more stable and sustainable while we are hedging our bets that the music we make will connect with people, and hopefully in turn continue to create some sort of sustainability for us and the people we work with. We’ve always been able to make ends meet, and we own the fact that we chose this way of life — but god damn. It is helpful for me to remember sometimes how unbelievably hard it is for us to do this while maintaining our own personal sanity, healthy relationships outside of the band, and any efforts toward planning for our future.

Now, the topic that weighs heaviest on my heart: having kids. Parenthood and being in a touring band with my partner feel like two incompatible dreams. We’ve spent so much time and effort raising this baby that is our band, and in moments of fear I can’t help but think, Will we be abandoning one baby for the other? We keep pushing the kid conversation back with the phrase, “Maybe after the next record…” I do indeed have the desire to have kids, but truly, when is the right time? How much time will I have to take off? Will it kill any sort of momentum we’ve built in our career? We can’t afford to bring a nanny on tour yet; There’s no such thing as a stay-at-home parent in our situation. We will either have to bring that lil’ sucker on the road, or forever livestream from our house — and we all know everyone’s sick of that. But artists are some of the most resilient, scrappy, and pivot-ready people on the planet, and so are kids. So who knows: Maybe one day you’ll see Peter playing drums with a BabyBjörn on his back, and a tambourine in the kid’s hand. Anything can happen.

I spoke recently with Alaina Moore, who formed the band Tennis with her husband Patrick Riley, and she shared a similar sense of loneliness. “It’s just so hard to make a band work… You really end up focused on our own thing, and it just ends up being harder to create community.” I also spoke with Sarah Versprille and Dan Hindman of Pure Bathing Culture. On this feeling of isolation, Sarah remarked, “It feels weird to choose this life. Sometimes it’s hard to relate to others and talk about vacations and houses…” Dan echoed this sentiment: “Really loving writing songs, and making records, going on tours, playing instruments, singing into PA systems — loving that enough that you would do that into your late 30s together, and not stop because of this love… sometimes feels a little awkward socially.” When asked about the benefits of their relationship within the band, they both spoke about the ease and comfort they enjoy in writing together — that it is truly a safe and inspiring place for them both. And as Alaina also told me: “I feel like everyone wants to be able to share, on a deep level, their greatest passion and workday with someone. It’s nice to have those experiences be shared.” This is the connecting thread between us all.

Why do we choose to keep doing this together? Because at the end of the day, despite the sacrifices, this is the path that keeps leading to the most joy. It is not always the “optimal” path, but I can guarantee you it is the most soulful to us. We have learned to love the uncertainty and to be each other’s North Star when the creative or business world goes dim. The beauty of it all is that we started our relationship as best friends, and nothing — including the turbulent highs and lows of music — can take that from us. While it may not be a normal relationship by any means, it is one that is incredibly beautiful, sometimes terrible, and contains the fullness of the universe within its range of emotion and experience. And for that, it’s all worth it.

It took me four months to finally commit to cleaning up the shards of glass that remained in the double paned window. We hadn’t had any guests over to stay in that bedroom since the pandemic hit, and in a way, I think I liked looking at it. It’s a museum artifact — a strangely comforting representation of our lives that refuses to be gilded. 

Jessica Dobson is an American singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist who formed the band Deep Sea Diver. She has performed with several other bands including the Shins, Beck, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Deep Sea Diver released their third album Impossible Weight in October of 2020.