It’s a dark world. Matt and Amber Hibbard still just want to spread some light.
The sun shone from every seam in their band Relick’s 2016 debut EP, Twin House. The couple is still cooking up some feel-good music on its upcoming release, Lotta Noise. So far, the record sports the kind of sweet harmonies that made the Carpenters a juggernaut in the 1970s, but with a quiet thread of uncertainty.
The couple tied the knot last December, but their musical partnership started years ago on the downtown Square. Amber was studying music at the University of North Texas and Matt, who grew up in Denton, was already playing in the local music scene. They started playing together. Eventually, they moved into a house on Elm Street and started creating the music that would become Twin House. Their creative partnership grew organically.
“He’d hear me working on stuff for school,” Amber Hibbard said. She studied vocal jazz at UNT, and Matt Hibbard was developing a gear habit. “And he was getting into home recording, and I’d say that for a lot of what we’ve done, recording has really shaped our sound.”
“I’ve been into old analog recording equipment,” Matt Hibbard said. “I went to school for that, and the recording just kind of came out of both of these worlds.”
Relick came out of the gate with a sophisticated sense of melody, which likely owes to Amber’s background in classical piano and Matt’s record collection.
“I got into music when I was in high school,” he said. “My songwriting probably started with being blown away from a few Beatles albums.”
The musicians have similar tastes and similar aspirations — they like to make music suffused with easy, happy sounds, with Matt’s guitar acting as almost a second voice. Amber Hibbard is a chief vocalist, though Matt occasionally sings lead. Amber calls Relick a guitar-driven band, though she fills out the sound with keyboards.
Relick’s upcoming record rides the wave of new synth-pop, with Amber’s restrained vocals — which showcase a confident, buttery tone. She’s not a singer who belts out stiletto-stomping, slash-and-burn R&B melisma. But that’s hardly a loss when you hear how effortlessly she can blend with her husband’s vocals. It’s a classic jazz trick to hold a note — no vibrato — and never lose the note.
For the pop-tinged confections that Relick makes, the understated vocals hit the sweet spot. The same holds true for Matt Hibbard’s guitar work — it sings when it needs to, but it does a lot of harmonizing, too.
“Sometimes you have to sacrifice virtuosity to get the sound you want,” Amber said. “When you’re writing a song, you’re creating a vibe. If the song is really about the lyrics, it might not be the best to make it about one instrument.”
Where Lotta Noise departs from Relick’s Twin House is in the breadth and depth of the songs. Stellar opening track “Powder Pink” sports a growling, fuzzy guitar and prettily pulsing and burbling keyboards. It’s the first track that shows Amber’s ability to get a little grimy with her feather-light mezzo. Things mellow out with the second track, “Today Sunshine,” but the keyboards keep up the pulse. “Green Eyes,” a song about a love interest’s most arresting feature, is pushing along by a reggae beat.
The Hibbards make no apologies for their penchant for making music that oozes optimism, even if it seems slightly out of place in a media-scape that drips with blood and lurks in the shadows (hence the appetite for the biting blades of Game of Thrones, the world-ending gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame and the persistent zombies).
“There’s been this trend of dark pop, but we’ve always wanted to make music that is lighter,” Matt said.
“Yeah, we wanted to keep that feeling of sunshine,” Amber said. “I like sunshine, and the morning is my favorite time of the day. I’m really happy with how the record turned out. I think we did what we set out to do. I think as we work on the next record, I’d like to get a more current sound, a more focused sound.”
The pair wrote about 25 songs for the album, but recorded eight songs. They recorded the project in their home studio — though it’s now in Dallas, where Amber teaches piano and Matt works as an audio engineer. They named their home studio Twin House in a nod to both their debut and their Denton digs. They’re also making music videos.
The record comes out on Nov. 8, but the Hibbards said they plan to release a single every six weeks. In the meantime, the couple said they’re building the band that will perform live and planning a short tour around the release.
“Right now, we’re really deciding how the record is going to be live,” Amber Hibbard said. “That’s a process, and it’s a lot of fun to figure out what your sound is going to be for shows.”