In the band Loma, a test of relationships, musical and otherwise
Jonathan Meiburg proposed on the 25th date.
Meiburg, frontman of the art-rock band Shearwater, spent each night of a European tour mesmerized by the opening act, a duo called Cross Record. He wondered how just two people, husband-and-wife Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, could create such a mosaic sound. Even more surprising? They’d recorded their acclaimed debut album, “Wabi-Sabi,” in their home near Austin, Texas.
“They’d obviously put a lot of work into it and yet it had an organic quality to it,” says Meiburg. “That combination of freedom and restraint is always interesting to me.”
Two-thirds of the way into that 2016 tour, Meiburg popped the question in Belgium: Would the two relative strangers like to make a record with him?
“We were mutually admiring one another’s bands,” says Duszynski. “He just asked me about it one night and I didn’t even have to think about it, it was just, ‘Yeah, that sounds good.’ ”
Many musicians liken being in a band to being married. This new group, named Loma, almost ended prematurely in divorce. Ahead of their honeymoon tour — which arrives at Great Scott in Allston on Sunday night — the trio revealed how they saved their musical union and completed Loma’s eponymously titled debut album.
During the initial courtship, everyone was on their best behavior. Brooklyn resident Meiburg arrived at Cross and Duszynski’s country home to try writing together. Though Meiburg has made nine albums with Shearwater, it wasn’t his style to pull rank over the less-experienced Cross Record duo.
The nascent trio quickly knew the collaboration was going to work. The first song they wrote, “Joy,” features a hall-of-mirrors choral effect in which the harmonies reflect each other in an infinite loop. Its lyric is about finding new love.
“The energy of starting a new project has the same kind of honeymoon quality to it as when you first fall in love with someone,” says Meiburg. “Even though we had been on tour a long time together, we didn’t know each other all that well. So, suddenly, when we got into working together every day, you get to know each other in a very different way.”
Meiburg wrote lyrics for the admittedly shy Cross to sing. (“He tends to jam a lot more into a song than I do,” says Cross.) She, in turn, approached each song as if embodying a character. That approach paid off on “I Don’t Want Children,” a song so intimately confessional that one imagines it should only be listened to on headphones when no one’s watching.
“I actually wasn’t thinking about myself when I sang that, which is funny,” says Cross. “I’ve never heard a song about that. It’s kind of radical even to say that I don’t want children.”
The trio opted to keep accidental noises — a panting dog, a chair scraping on the floor — in their richly textured recordings. They enhanced the often-hushed chamber music by splicing in ambient sounds from outside the house. Meiburg, who is an ornithologist in his life outside of music, recorded the gossip of parakeets and braying of macaws coming from a neighbor’s aviary over the hill. Wandering through fields where bluebonnets periscope above wild grass, he taped the rhythmic “ribbit-ribbit” of frogs, cicadas shaking like maracas, and wind whispering to the leaves of a Bradford pear tree.
Duszynski and Cross were fascinated by their bandmate’s adventurous spirit. To research his upcoming book about the twin fates of the caracara bird species and the 19th-century naturalist William Henry Hudson, Meiburg spent a month paddling upriver in the jungles of Guyana. On a related trip to the Brazilian rain forest, he came face-to-face with a jaguar. He’s the Indiana Jones of rock music.
“At one point we were on tour in the UK and we just pulled over for gas somewhere,” recalls multi-instrumentalist and producer Duszynski. “[Jonathan] just looked outside the van and took off running in a field after some species of bird he hadn’t seen in a while. He’s always narrating the landscape for us and pointing out different species of bird.”
“It’s like being on tour with a tour guide,” jokes Meiburg.
Over a series of brief sessions every couple of months, Meiburg learned more about his new bandmates. Duszynski had wooed Cross after he’d seen her play a solo show. They formed a band, fell in love, and moved from Chicago to Texas almost on a whim. But the married couple didn’t yield all their secrets. Meiburg was floored when Duszynski called him to say that he and Cross were getting a divorce.
“My first feeling was, ‘Oh man, this was going so well,’ ” Meiburg says with a sigh.
The trio canceled a scheduled session and, for months afterward, barely talked to each other. Loma’s fate was in the balance.
“When we did get back together as a band, the energy was very much like ‘OK, this is what we’re putting our minds on right now,’ ” says Cross.
Loma joins a select club of bands (including ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, the White Stripes) in which divorced couples continued to make music together. Meiburg himself went through a marital split with Shearwater bandmate Kimberly Burke, but they continued working harmoniously together afterward. The strange power of music is that, sometimes, it forges a bond even stronger than nuptial vows.
“We’d come so far, really, before that happened,” says Duszynski. “It felt good to finish, to feel the energy of what we had put down and take it to its natural endpoint.”
Loma’s album includes a breakup song that Meiburg wrote late in the session. “Shadow Relief” isn’t specifically about his bandmates, but it was his way of acknowledging the charged atmosphere. Cross sings as if she’s wringing her heart out like a squeegee.
“They were both committed to finding a way to keep their musical partnership going no matter what — and Loma made sense as a way to do that,” says Meiburg. “Maybe I helped make that easier in some ways. I’d like to think so. They’re both such gifted artists.”
At Great Scott, Allston, May 6 at 9:15 p.m. Tickets $12-$14, www.axs.com