Tim and Helen Spangler are married with songs
Several decades in, the husband and wife still keep the marital—and musical—sparks alive
It’s hard to separate Tim and Helen Spangler’s marriage from their music—the duo’s been playing together since the late ’80s when they were only dating. Now after marriage, kids, careers, the couple still plays together, a lush, heartfelt, harmony-driven folk-rock in the vein of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.
“We’ve never been one of those couples where the husband goes off and plays golf all Sunday and the wife has Bunko and book group,” Tim says. “We like spending time together. It doesn’t get old that way.”
Helen agrees, pointing out that how it’s a particularly important part of the fabric of their relationship.
“It can be really positive. If you’re exhausted, or don’t feel like dealing with the other person, you can still work on songs together. Both of us can escape and only focus on this thing, but together,” she says.
When they met, Tim was playing in a cover band, and, after hearing his future wife’s voice, quickly asked her to join. Through college, and after, they played together in various cover bands. They wrote original music, but rarely played those songs in front of people.
That was partly due to circumstance. “The places we played had a ’one or two original per set’ maximum. They weren’t particularly interested in original stuff,” Tim says.
And so there was a gap of about 10 years when, other than the occasional acoustic two-piece performance, Tim and Helen didn’t play out at all. Then in 2009, their 12-year-old son expressed interest in playing drums. Getting a kit and setting up the practice space reinvigorated the couple to start playing with other people again. The Spanglers started out by forming a cover band, but also launched a side band to play folk-influenced originals, and then another band to play original rock.
Not surprisingly, three bands proved to be a bit too much.
“I think we were so excited about playing and getting gigs that we couldn’t say no to anything,” Tim says. “We had all these different projects going. We said, ’This isn’t sustainable—we need to focus.’”
They scaled back to work more simply as a duo on an album under the moniker Spangler. They wrote and recorded everything, just the two of them, overdubbing instruments and vocals as they wanted. The resulting album is a gorgeous, harmony-rich collection of folk-rock songs.
The record never received a proper release show, however, because the Spanglers realized they needed a band to play these songs.
Eventually, they recruited additional players: Chris Reilly, who had played with them in a previous band, joined the couple on drums for Spangler’s debut show in early 2012. Later, they were joined by guitarist Adam Estell and guitarist Scott Katzman.
The newly expanded lineup made for a different sound, Helen says.
“It sounds different if it’s just Tim and I—usually an acoustic guitar and two voices, very simple sounding,” Helen says. “Then you add these guys in and Adam writes all these riffs and very lyrical guitar parts that totally change the songs. Everybody’s writing. It’s the same core song, but it’s better.”
While Tim and Helen are the primary lead singers and songwriters, everyone contributes harmonies. It makes for a better band and audience experience, Tim says.
“The core idea for the song is we look for ideas where harmonies can fit in. We try to remind ourselves that,” he says. “I don’t think we’re the kind of band that can get away with people not being able to understand what we’re saying or hear the lyrics—that’s not going to be ideal.”