Riveting Riffs Logo One Pear Duo Have No Boundaries
Pear Duo Photo Two

Pear Duo comprised of pianist / composer and arranger Curtis Brengle and singer / songwriter and musician Julie Ragins recently released their new album No Boundaries, a wonderful and diverse collection of songs that are a mix of original tunes and cover songs. The husband and wife singing combo bring a wealth of musical experience painted across a vast genre palette to this recording. Their combined history has seen them perform with The Moody Blues, Chaka Kahn, Sheena Easton, Pointer Sisters, Ray Charles, Sergio Mendes and numerous other stellar artists. The affable couple sat down with yours truly and Riveting Riffs Magazine recently to talk about their new album.

Curtis notes the fact that they do have such a vast genre palette to choose from is what led to the title No Boundaries for this record.

“We are not going to limit ourselves to a particular style,” he says and Julie adds, “Much to the chagrin of every platform on the internet that wants to pigeonhole you in a single genre.”

Our conversation wanders in another direction for a moment as we ponder whether or not the music industry still wants to pigeonhole artists into specific genres.

Pear Duo Photo One AJulie Ragins says, “The first question everybody asks you is what kind of music do you play? They want an elevator pitch answer. They want to hear Country. They want to hear Blues; they want to hear Rock and Roll. They do not want (to hear you say well we are a group that is kind of rooted in a fusion of Jazz and Pop, but we also have a lot of elements of Soul and R & B, Rock and Americana. I think in some ways it is as bad as it ever was. If you want to load single songs up on Spotify sure you can have every single song be in a different genre, but if you want to load an album up on to Spotify you can choose one genre and no subgenre for an entire album. If you listen to our album you will notice there are straight up Pop songs, there is some Southern Rock, there are straight up Jazz tunes and we are not allowed to choose separate genres for each of those songs, unless we upload them as singles.”

Curtis Brengle adds, “They have a collection of genres that we have to choose from, so we can’t even make up our own.”

The song “Where Do We Go From Here?” written by Julie Ragins takes us through that journey of grief and finding new beginnings. It is both reflective and poignant.

Julie says, “It is me remembering back to when my father passed away. It was a very difficult time for my family. We are very, very close. I had an idyllic childhood growing up. The song is about the memories of all of us dealing with our grief in our own way. There is also the realization that everything is going to move forward and be exactly the same and yet nothing is going to be the same ever again. Even though my father died twenty-two years ago it is still kind of raw for me every time that we do it.”

We segue easily into Julie talking about the song “7 Fairway Drive,” and a transition period in the lives of the members of her family.

“I wrote both “Where Do We Go From Here,” and “7 Fairway Drive,” around the same time period and again it really is about loss. I lived in the same house since I was five years old and my father died when I was thirty. I still had my bedroom in the house. There was still my little room, with my trophies from soccer when I was a child and all of the kid paraphernalia that you accumulate over decades.  Our house was this place where we all would go to and it was a rock, it was consistent and it didn’t change.

After my father died, my mom made the decision to sell the house. It was very strange to one, lose my father, but we were also losing this place that was such a safe haven and it held so many memories for us. There is a line in the song, “It is not these old walls / It is the love that was inside,” I think that is what we all took away from it. When the house was gone, it was just a structure. All of the feelings, all of the emotions and all of the history, it still lives on. Ironically the house that my mom purchased in its place in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, halfway across the world feels very much the same (Editor’s note: Julie Ragins grew up in Alaska).  She filled it with the things that were in our old house and when we gather there it still has the same feelings in a lot of ways. I think people get very attached to houses. It was a bittersweet time and it was captured in that song.”

Julie Ragins tracked her own background vocals for the song “7 Fairway Drive.”

Curtis Brengle contributed his original and complex instrumental “Six Eight Tune,” to the album No Boundaries.

“The name was a temporary working name for a song that was in 6/8 (he counts out the beat) and I just didn’t think of a different title for it. There was no intent on my part to try and express an emotion and I wasn’t trying to express a time in my life. I just wanted to write a composition in six eight and that is what I did. Sometimes I will start things and I will get about eight bars into it and then I will go what happens after this? I have a lot of pieces of music with about eight bars on them that I started and I will come back to them and mess around with them, but nothing really happens. With this one I probably had it done in two hours. It was one of those pieces that wrote itself.

That is the history around that tune. I love Jazz of course and I love listening to Chick Corea and I love listening to Herbie Hancock. Those people were influential in my musical life,” he says.

The mood changes with “Soul Refill,” another song written by Julie Ragins.

“It could be anywhere and whatever that place is for you and that helps you to reboot. For us it was a place called Joshua Tree, the high desert in Southern California that is north of Palm Springs. We both loved it out there and we went out there a lot. We camped and hiked and we got married out there.

Anyone who lives in the city and especially one that is as intense as LA or New York or Chicago (Curtis adds or Vancouver) you get bottled up. There is a level of energy and intensity that at some point, at least for me that you have to release. The best way always for me to do that is to go to nature and to let all of that go. That is what “Soul Refill” is all about.

The sprightly “Texting and Driving,” with songwriting credits going to David Ferguson Tull and David Tull is vocally and instrumentally a fun tune, but the lyrics have a very direct message and the three of us muse about the tremendous possibilities that exist for this to be used as a public service announcement about an ever increasing problem on the roads despite laws being passed in just about every jurisdiction.

Curtis provides some background for the song, “Dave is a drummer friend of ours who has written a couple of records and all of his lyrics are like the “Texting and Driving.” It is hilarious. It is ironic. He happens to be Barbra Streisand’s drummer at this point.”

“When we heard “Texting and Driving,” we were literally falling on the floor laughing,” Julie says, with Curtis interjecting, “It has an element of truth in it,” and we really wanted to make an album that had a strong diversity of music. We thought what better way to bring a straight up fast Jazz song to the Popular music culture world. Bring them some Jazz that is harmonically interesting, lyrically hilarious and is challenging. That is not an easy song to sing or to play.”

“It is not an easy song to sing for sure. Then we had to change the key. He originally wrote it in the key of C, which is okay, but then it got to be the key of A Flat, so Julie could sing it. It was a finger twister in some of these areas. I had to practice it,” he says.

“We (singers) are always changing songs and making them harder on everybody,” says Julie.  Pear Duo Photo Three

The couple describe the song as a parody and one that they firmly believe people will learn from through the humor expressed and that may just stick with them when they are driving.

Our ears perked up when we heard Julie say “We singers are always changing songs and making them harder on everybody,” because earlier in life she did not give much credence to singers.

“I started off as a saxophone player in a fourth grade school band and I played saxophone through college. I started to play the piano when I was twelve. I remember in junior high school, high school and college I never wanted to sing. I never liked singers. I didn’t think singers were musicians. They just sang and they didn’t know anything about harmony or theory. They couldn’t read music and they couldn’t play an instrument. I really dismissed them as musicians and it wasn’t until I was much older and in my early to mid-twenties that I started singing. I realized that so many of the best singers out there are amazing musicians, as well,” she says.

Curtis says, “The first gig that I had I was seventeen years old and that was working with a singer. I always worked with singers throughout junior and senior high choirs. My view of singers has always been it is the only instrument that is connected to your body. The trumpet isn’t, it is an external instrument. Piano is not. Singers have to produce sound with their throats, their bodies and all of the physical things that they have. I have always respected singers and I know that they have different fish to fry. They have a whole deal about enunciation, pitch, breathing and style, so they don’t necessarily focus on theory, like I might.”

The Ronnie Shannon and Jimmy Holiday song “Baby I Love You,” has a quick tempo and really showcases both Julie Ragins’ vocals and Curtis Brengle’s piano playing. Julie’s vocals are at the crossroads of Blues and traditional R & B with a nice sprinkling of Soul.

Curtis says, “It was definitely fun to record and all of these pieces were fun to record. Julie changed up the background vocals to make it a lot more interesting. We added a tambourine on there. We added little things, but we didn’t want to add a lot, because the point is how much music can you get out of the piano, voice and the guitar? We have always focused on that even with our first record and this song was just piano and voice. We wanted to do as many styles of tunes as we could just using two instruments and not a band. That is what we ended up doing, although for “Baby I Love You,” Julie (also) played guitar. We added some percussion things and some tambourine. It is always sort of an experiment. Before, we choose tunes we sit down with them and we play them then we ask how is the tempo? How fast it is going to go? How much syncopation am I going to do, especially with guitar and voice? If I do a whole lot of syncopation is that going to distract from the tune? We have to work these things out and to talk about them. We say things like I think it ought to be a little slower or I think it ought to be a little faster. That has everything to do with the singer. They have to be able to breathe and they have to be able to spit the words out. They have to be comfortable in delivering the song.”

Julie continues, “This is a song that I have sung a lot over the years and over the decades. It was a song that I never grew tired of and when Curtis and I used to do duo gigs locally in Los Angeles we would play it for fun. It was one of those songs that just kept sticking. It evolved. We enjoyed the fact that it is a cover song and it is Aretha Franklin’s tune, but at the same time we bring something to the table with it that is fresh and different. Hopefully we have something different to say, even though it wasn’t a song of ours.”

The second song on No Boundaries is the Edwin Lucie song “Lay My Head,” and if you close your eyes you can hear a bit of Ray Charles in Curtis Brengle’s piano playing. Julie Ragins souful vocals enhance that mood.

The album is published by their own publishing company Ginsky Music a nod to Julie’s father whose last name was Raginsky when he immigrated to America from Russia.

So just how did this incredible musical husband and wife duo meet? Well that depends on which one of them you ask.

Julie begins, “If you ask me I hired Curtis for a gig in January of 1997. I was doing a project with a friend of mine and we needed a piano player for a gig that we were doing at The Baked Potato in Los Angeles. He agreed to do the gig. If you ask Curtis…

Curtis picks up the story from here, “I remember this a little differently about how we met and Julie really doesn’t remember (this part) at all (Julie pipes in and repeats “at all”). There was a club in Chatsworth, which is a suburb of Los Angeles and there was a place called Skoby’s and every Monday night there was a jam session. All of our friends would go. Everybody would stand in and you traded cards, you talked shop and you met new people. In this case a friend of mine introduced me to Julie, as she was walking into the club from the front door. We sat there and yapped and she said I have to go now, because my father and my brother are here. I need to go sit down with them. She wandered off to visit with them. I was single and I thought I wonder if I could marry this girl.

A year later she calls me up on the phone and she says hey do you want to do this gig? I can’t pay you much, but I can buy you pizza. She identified herself as Julie Ragins and I didn’t recognize the name. It had been a year and I had spent maybe two minutes with her. I got to the rehearsal and went oh yeah it’s you (Julie starts to laugh at this point in the telling of the story). That is how I remember it, but Julie just remembers hiring me for the gig and doesn’t remember the stuff from the year before.”

Back to you Julie, “I do remember being at Skoby’s because it was the only time my father and brother were ever there. I do remember that night; I just don’t remember Curtis (they both laugh).

As for the name Pear Duo that came about mostly out of marketing necessity explains Curtis, “First of all Pear was really a play on words. The Duo part came about, because it was a domain problem. Anytime you look up pair somebody owns that. We decided to go with Pear Duo, because there was no domain name and therefore we could make a website. It was really a practical solution to a problem.”

“You could find us in a Google search that way. If you typed in Pair we would never be found,” says Julie.  

As for the story behind why they decided to form the duo Julie says, “I had been touring since 2005 with The Moody Blues and in 2014 Justin Hayward their lead singer and guitar player decided he wanted to do a solo tour, so I joined him on that. He allowed me to sell my merch on his tour. That is quite incredible. I had an old CD that I did years ago that I pulled out of the garage and I put a new picture on it and I started selling it. I thought maybe I could fit my car back in the garage again one day. People really warmed up to it (the CD) and they were buying it. After a few tours people started saying hey I have that one, do you have another one? The idea behind trying to create another album was overwhelming, so Curtis and I came up with the idea of recording songs that we like in our studio in our house. We did a ten song album with one original and the rest were cover songs that we did in different ways. People really liked it and after a while people started asking where they could see us play live.

Pear Duo Photo FiveWe didn’t have a following and we had never actually done a gig (as a duo), so we came up with the idea of doing house concerts. We booked thirteen or fourteen house concerts across the country in 2016. We crossed the country and played the concerts with no idea of what was going to happen. We made money and we did it again. We drove seven thousand miles in our little sedan.

We thought if we are really going to make a go of this we should make an album that is more original music and to try and create something that artistically is more our own. We spent a good while thinking about what kind of songs we wanted to do and where we were going to get them from.  We ended up reaching out to some friends of ours in LA who are wonderful songwriters and who contributed songs to the album.”

Curtis continues, “In Los Angeles we were working with a whole bunch of different people. We didn’t see each other on gigs that often. One day we looked at each other and we said you know what, we have a piano in here and I have recording equipment. We went out and bought Julie a microphone we just started recording. That is really what happened. We decided to make a record and after the record was done we thought what are we going to do with this record? We started selling it and tried to get gigs with it.”

Julie picks up the conversation from here, “It is difficult to maintain a high level of working in Los Angeles. As you get older it gets harder to get gigs. This gave us an opportunity to create something for ourselves instead of working for somebody else. That is very intriguing to us.

I had an epiphany a couple of years ago. We just finished performing at the Hollywood Bowl with The Moody Blues for their 50th anniversary of (the album) Days of Future Past. There was a sixty piece orchestra and it was an epic gig. There were 18,000 people. It was sold out. I noticed there was probably thirty feet between me and the front row and I couldn’t see past the third row. I had my in ear monitors on, so I couldn’t hear the audience at all. Once the sun went down the whole audience was just a blackout. I realized what a disconnect there is in most big venues today. You don’t have much connection with the audience. Afterwards there was a handful of people who were invited to come backstage and they were friends of the main guys or they were a few famous people that they let in, but not fans, never fans.

About three weeks later Curtis and I were out doing some house concerts for our duo project. I was about ready to walk into somebody’s living room where there are maybe thirty people in the room and I was nervous. I could feel it in my stomach. My mouth was getting kind of cottony and I realized that you are so naked in that environment. It is a visceral connection and you are only a few feet away. People are looking you right in the eye and they are really listening, so you better have something to say. It just made me realize how disconnected from an audience large venues had made me feel.

I found so much joy with connecting with the audiences (in the house concerts). Then afterwards being able to have a chat with every single person who came to the show and have a beer or a glass of wine and have a little bit to eat. You just get to meet everybody. It is a little bit hard to explain, but that personal connection made everything so much more special to me. It is like when you go to a big party and you don’t talk to anybody and you don’t meet anybody. You go home feeling a little more empty than if you had just stayed home in the first place.”

Curtis adds his thoughts about smaller settings versus large venues, “Like Julie says when you are up on a big stage like that what you see is (maybe) the drummer next to you and a big fat light coming down to you from the lighting guy. It is almost like a wall of black in the audience. You can’t see anybody and you are not interacting with the audience. Like Julie said backstage it is not like a whole lot of people are coming back there. Actually, I don’t want them back there. Everybody is changing and you have things to prepare and to talk about.

When you are in these really intimate environments it is a lot of fun. You get to connect versus when you are doing a (big) show and you don’t have a chance to speak. I am sitting there running a keyboard rig or playing piano or conducting something, so it is definitely (in the smaller environments) a joy to be down there in the trenches.”

Julie adds some final thoughts to this part of the conversation, “Curtis has a great sense of humor. He tells little stories about how we met or a little anecdote about being on the road or sometimes he talks about harmony and theory and stuff, the little education parts of our show. He is really funny. That is something that neither one of us ever really got to do before, because we were always hired by somebody else to do a job and that job is to support the artist that you are working for and not to call attention to yourself.”

We learned two things from this conversation, one it does not really matter if you agree on when you met, but what is important is you fell in love and you stayed in love. Secondly, to quote an old cliché that you make good music together and Pear Duo, Julie Ragins and Curtis Brengle certainly do that.

Please take time to visit the Pear Duo website and buy their new album No Boundaries. You can also follow Pear Duo on their official Facebook page here.   Return to Our Front Page

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This interview by Joe Montague  published January 27h,2020 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Pear Duo  unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved