Formed in 2011, Teach Me Equals began and remains a showcase of an intense collaboration between its two members, New Jersey native Greg Bortnichak (cello, sequencing, guitar, vocals) and Floridian Erin Murphy (guitar, violin, keyboard, vocals). At the heart of their debut, Knives in the Hope Chest, is Murphy and Bortnichak's shared affinity for writing along the edges and exploring the limitations of their instruments. "At no point in the record is there a moment that both of us did not develop together," explains Bortnichak. Though the only instruments used in the making of the album are cello, guitar, violin - and, on a song or two, keyboard and Theremin - the album inhabits a massive space, one created through a meticulous recording process that included, at times, dozens of layered tracks. Informed and educated equally by the DIY/Lo-Fi scene - Bikini Kill, Unwound, Eric's Trip, the Microphones - and classical composers and jazz musicians, Teach Me Equals blend the minimalism of punk and modern composition with the epic expressions of Wagner and Coltrane.
Teach Me Equals' sound originates with wooden instruments and swells from that natural place to haunting and cataclysmic takes on chamber punk and pop songs with ease, just as a humid night can suddenly erupt with thunder and rain. It's this calm, empty scene along with the rough winds that the band wrangles into every track so effortlessly that gives their debut a visceral memory for listeners. Bortnichak and Murphy's vocal exchange and profound, poetic lyrics uncover the relationships between private and public, past and present, childhood and adulthood as well as larger themes such as gender roles and workers' rights. Standouts like "Dictionary of Imaginary Places" explore the realization of mature love in a mythic and biblical setting while chronicling the process of the two characters as they learn to forgive each other and themselves for unavoidable and self-perceived trespasses. Themusique concrete inspired "Coelacanth"combines a dense looped-arrangement for cello and a driving but tentative rhythmic pattern comprised solely of noise samples made with ¼" cables. However, at its core, "Coelacanth" is a lucid love song that draws from the 1938 historic re-discovery of the thought-to-be extinct Coelacanth for its metaphor.
Their debut, Knives in the Hope Chest, is a direct expression of both members' dedication to their ideals. Inspired by the rawness and tactility of DIY classics such as Unwound's Leaves Turn Inside You and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, Teach Me Equals built an entirely analog home-studio, recording Knives to 8-track ¼" tape. The beats are all homegrown samples derived from effects pedal manipulations, electrical noises, and old metronomes. The band mixed the record themselves then had it mixed twice more: first by Steve Marion (Delicate Steve, St. Rich), and then by Joel Nanos (Rad Key, Mumford and Sons).
Through their unique instrumentation and ardent live shows - more than 200 a year - Teach Me Equals has earned a faithful cult following, appealing both to those looking for challenging musicianship, clever lyricism, and those looking for pop music with an artistic bend. The duo destabilizes the modern concepts of pop music while both questioning and pointing toward its future, one fortunate to hold such an unrelenting band in its pens.