Their musical partnership started in a flash, and their personal relationship developed rather rapidly, too.
But it took almost three decades for guitarist Andrew Stern and singer Laura Arias, who record these days as 3 Pairs of Boots, to make what Stern says is the best music of his life, in a style he confidently describes as “our wheelhouse.”
In his real house for many years, Stern has had a recording studio, and while working on a recording project with a lyricist friend in the late 1980s, he placed an ad in the San Francisco Weekly looking for a singer.
About 50 people replied, Stern remembers, and he went to where they lived to conduct interviews.
“Almost everybody, other than Laura and one other person, were even good enough to bring to the studio,” Stern says.
Stern and his friend had a plan: They would audition the two finalists, then huddle up afterward and decide whether either singer was good enough for the project.
First up was a male singer, who Stern says “was fine.”
“And then Laura came in, sang one song one time. I turned off the tape deck and said, ‘You’re hired,’ ” Stern says. “So much for the plans with my writing partner.”
Stern adds, “Whatever ‘it’ is, she has it in spades.”
After that, Stern, his writing partner and new singer Arias got together three times a week to write and record. Stern says the music-making part of his relationship with Arias was ahead of their personal relationship for the first five months or so, “then once it turned, it was neck and neck.”
They married within a year of meeting. And as Stern ran a tax accounting business and he and Arias raised their child in California, they continued with music, weaving their way through myriad styles. They included “full-on” rock, as Stern puts it, as well as French-English pop.
“Along the way, we discovered this whole sort of Americana-rock-folk-country thing,” Stern says. “We had an opportunity for a song placement years back, and we cut a track and looked at each other [as if to say], ‘Oh, this really is us. This is our wheelhouse. We should go here.’
“It was kind of back to our roots when we started in our teens as musicians,” he adds. “I was influenced by not only the English guitar players but The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield and Poco and CSN. … I’ve been here the whole time; I just didn’t really know it.”
Gone South, the first 3 Pairs of Boots album, arrived in 2019. Working with a drummer, Stern and Arias spent most of that year making the follow-up, Long Rider, which was released Jan. 29.
Several tracks on Long Rider were inspired by Bernice Ende, aka “Lady Long Rider,” a horseback-riding explorer they met. Stern and Arias subsequently contributed songs to a documentary about Ende.
“We feel like we’re, in a sense, long riders — I think many people are,” Stern says. “You’re on this long, winding, meandering route, headed toward — you’re not really sure where. But something is pulling you to keep on searching for that feeling of falling in love, whatever it is, that you get with music.”
Music is a key ingredient to Cook’n & Country, a video series starring Stern and Arias that made its YouTube debut Jan. 6. Five episodes are in the can, and they plan on shooting five more, with songs from Long Rider prominently featured.
“It’s quaint and clunky and fun,” says Stern. “I love to cook, so it seemed like a good mix.”
“Essentially our whole house has become a production studio,” Arias says with a laugh.
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Eric Wolfinger