South China is up to something terrifying. Buoyed only by their ghostly original music, they have to be locked in, night after night, usually just the two of them.

Did I mention the duo is married?

For most, it’s hard enough remembering to put the seat down and sorting socks. But Jeremy and Jerusha Robinson don’t seem so put off. In fact, they feed off their mutual endeavor.

Combining voices, an accordion here, a cello there – the music is sparse by design, and thus leaves little margin for error. Think of the haunted spaces that the likes of Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, and even solo classical cello pieces occupy.

On its first full-length CD, “Washingtons,” South China is quite comfortable with less is more, and wields discretion like a weapon. This allows for some surprises, as with the gentle horns on “Painting,” one of the record’s standouts.

In Biddeford, the pair fell hard for the Hog Farm Annex and the area’s burgeoning creative culture. Now, South China has been seasoned by a five-month sojourn on the road, returning home with better songs, a tighter sound and, hopefully, some nice things to say about each other.

Stream South China’s music at Check out the April 20 homecoming show at the Apodahion in Portland at

What are the best and worst parts of collaborating creatively with your life partner?

Jerusha: The best part is that we work so well together. It’s fun to communicate and feed off of one other. It’s very exciting when we come up with an idea that works. The challenge comes when one of us feels as though an idea isn’t working. It’s difficult to communicate that to your partner.

Jeremy: The worst part is the arguing. We’re very passionate, so disagreements are inevitable. But we also are able to be more honest with one another. It allows us to try more ambitious ideas and trust each other’s judgment. 

Describe your earliest musical memories.

Jeremy: My parents taught me on a green dinosaur piano. I thought I was doing great things, but I was probably just hitting the keys.

Jerusha: My grandmother made me get up in front of an entire congregation for a dinner and sing a Christmas song. I was 3 years old. Music was a huge part of my childhood, through choir, theater and whatever else came my way. 

Your music is elemental, with a deliberate “less is more” quality. How does the songwriting process work?

Jerusha: Well, our styles are very different. Jeremy has a looping pedal and likes to noodle around with effects. We’ll take some of his sketches that we like and develop them into songs. As for me, I like to sit down at the piano and work on chord structures in lyrics. At the end of the day, our music is the combination of those styles.

Jeremy: I like to improvise, and then present my ideas to Jerusha, and she’ll pick out the good melodies, the interesting bits, and decide that she could really develop an idea on her cello, for example. It starts with a lot of layers, then we simplify it. 

How has your classical training affected your approach to this project?

Jeremy: Well, I’m not classically trained at all. I learned from others who were more musically inclined all my life. When I was in a rock band in high school, I was sure I was going to be a singer or a bass player.

Jerusha: My degree is in voice, but I wasn’t very into opera. I loved early 20th-century art songs. I also prefer chamber music to large symphonies, and that really had an impact on the simplicity of my songwriting. I’m very attracted to particularly unusual harmonies. 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had on a Maine stage?

Jerusha: I love playing at the Apodahion. At our CD release party, we had almost everybody on the record on stage with us. Wonderful musicians, great friends, hearing everything come to life was really special for me.

Jeremy: I have a love/hate relationship with playing in public. I like to play live, but it’s more challenging for me. I guess any time we can play with our friends, all these bands we respect and love, that makes for a great experience. I’d have to agree that our CD-release party was a great time. 

You just finished touring in support of the record, including giving up your apartment in Biddeford. What did the road teach you?

Jeremy: The road taught us how to be ourselves on stage, as opposed to these personalities that get the audience’s attention. We’re pretty shy people. Once we focused on playing our songs the best we could instead of talking, we had much more success.

Jerusha: I agree with Jeremy, the best way to connect with people is by relaxing and paying attention to the music. So many people we’ve performed with are great storytellers, and we felt compelled to keep up. For us, we found it works better when we pay a lot more attention to our songs, and meet everyone afterward. We also learned that even perfect strangers can be generous and welcoming. 

Do you have new songs? What can we expect from the follow-up to “Washingtons?”

Jerusha: We do have some new songs. We participated in the RPM challenge out of Portsmouth; we recorded 36 minutes of new original music in February. The recordings are rough and raw, but we love the way they came out, and they work well live. The melodies are slower, and the music is more experimental-sounding.

Jeremy: We don’t really know which direction we want to go. More instrumental? More singer/songwriter? We’re going to try and see where the music leads us. Hopefully, this approach will help us release whatever’s ready to come out. 

Any advice for those in love and performing on the same stage?

Jeremy: It’s hard. Jerusha and I were very lucky in that when we met, we had both been in several bands, and then I started writing and she helped me. So we started this at the same time. I know a lot of people who are in love and couldn’t possibly play together. We worked out because we grew up together musically.

Jerusha: When either person has an idea, be sure to try it. You might think it’s not going to work, but be sure to give it a shot. Leave any stubbornness or egos at the door. I used to imagine some of Jeremy’s ideas in my head and tell him they didn’t work before hearing them. That was not a good approach. 

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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