If you spend a lot of time on Vine and YouTube you’re probably very familiar with Us The Duo. The husband-and-wife pairing rocketed to fame last year, becoming the first artists in history to sign a major record deal after sharing music on Vine. Now – with a chart-topping debut album and sold-out tour under their belts – they’re starring in the Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply #ProjectWarehouse campaign.
I spoke to Carissa Rae Alvarado about her musical journey, how she came to form a duo with her husband and the life-changing power of social media. It’s inspiring stuff, so grab a cup of coffee and get stuck in…
The music industry is renowned for being difficult to crack. How did you initially get your foot in the door?
I was part of a few different girl groups at the beginning of my musical journey. But as I got older I realized that scene wasn’t for me and I decided to go solo. It took me a while to figure out my sound, but I soon discovered a passion for acoustic music and started writing my own songs. I collaborated with other musicians and posted some videos on YouTube, which gained a decent following and led to performance inquiries. I also got my foot in the door by playing a lot of church benefits and college gigs – these helped get my name and voice out to a larger audience.
So how did Us The Duo come together?
I met Michael in 2011 at a music video shoot in LA. I was helping out the artist, who is a good friend of mine, and he happened to know Michael through YouTube. Michael was in LA helping his buddy move from North Carolina, and I noticed that they didn’t know anyone else at the shoot so I decided to introduce myself. We ended up having a blast, chatting and goofing around on set, and when he returned home to North Carolina we kept in touch via social media.
During a Skype session we realized that we were in love, so Michael quickly packed his bags, moved to LA and asked me to be his girlfriend. Exactly one year after that we were married! It’s crazy how quickly things happened, but the statement rings true: when you know, you know. After we got together we recorded a few YouTube covers for fun and noticed that our fans really enjoyed them. So that’s when we decided to become a duo… Us The Duo.
You made history as the first artists to sign a record deal from Vine. Why did you and Michael decide to use the platform and how did you get noticed?
It’s actually funny it all came about. One evening Michael was surfing through the app, which was new at the time, and he noticed that people were mostly using it to share comedy and there was hardly any music on the platform. He ran over to me with a brilliant idea and said, “Babe, we need to film a six second cover for Vine!” I had no idea what Vine was about, and in that moment was watching TV in pyjamas with our dog. My reaction was, “Do we really have to do this right now? I’m tired and I don’t even have makeup on.” But he explained it to me and agreed it was a good idea. I changed into a nicer blouse and we filmed the cover from the nose down so that people wouldn’t see my sleepy eyes.
The reaction was amazing so we started sharing a different cover every day, filming in the same half-faced style. We caught the attention of some very well known Viners and they reposted our videos. In 30 days we had over a million followers! It was mind blowing!
The numbers kept growing, as people loved our creative mashups and the mystery of not knowing what we looked like, and then somehow Good Morning America heard about what we were doing. They invited us onto their show for a performance and dramatic reveal, and after the nerve-wracking experience of performing on live television for the first time our inbox blew up with emails from different record labels.
Since signing with Republic Records in March 2014 you’ve had so much success, but what have been the biggest “pinch me” moments so far?
Last year was a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest, but there were many “pinch me” moments that will stay with us for a lifetime. Our song ‘No Matter Where You Are‘ was featured in The Book of Life, and it’s always been a dream of ours to have one of our original songs placed in a movie. Both of us were in tears as we watched it on the big screen.
Another memorable moment was the day we met Oprah. I mean, come on… OPRAH! Need I say more?! We had the wonderful opportunity to travel with her on her motivational tour, and on the first day she surprised the crowd (and us!) by walking up on stage mid-song. She hugged us and said, “You guys sound great!” My mouth was wide open and my jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t stop smiling and had to pinch myself at the fact that Oprah not only knew who we were, but enjoyed our music. I cannot wait to tell our children these stories someday.
What was it like to work with Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply on the #ProjectWarehouse shoot [pictured above]? Have you always been a fan of the brand?
Working with Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply was a lot of fun for us. We feel like their style and vibe matches our music perfectly. I’ve personally always been a fan of the brand and jumped at the opportunity to work with them. Their clothes are so fun and carefree, which is the spirit that we want others to feel when they hear our music. It was fun to bring our instruments with us to play while shooting – it brought little element of our style into the shoot.
How do you put outfits together for stage and is it difficult to pack for a tour? I imagine space can be tight.
The way I put outfits together for stage really depends on where we’re performing. If it’s a corporate event I’ll wear a cute cocktail dress and heels or a coordinating crop top and midi skirt. For an outdoor music festival I usually chose a more playful outfit – perhaps a floaty white dress with boots. And, as for touring, packing is definitely tough! We were lucky enough to have a very creative tour manager who crafted a little walk in closet on the back of our tour bus, so we could hang our clothes up. It was also helpful to have some awesome brands send us outfits for our shows. All of this really helped lighten our packing load!
Which other women working in the music industry, past or present, inspire you?
There are so many inspirational women in the music industry. Cher, when she was part of the duo Sonny and Cher, is a great example of how to complement your other half. And the same can be said for June Carter when she sang with Johnny Cash. Not only were these ladies beautiful and very talented, but their ability to work and do what they loved with the one they loved is incredibly inspiring. I often study their chemistry on stage.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
The best career advice that I’ve ever been given is to stay true to ourselves. It’s so easy for us to be swayed by the opinions of others: fans, the label, friends, haters, etc. But what we need to remember is that we got to where we are now for a reason. And we did it by staying true to who we are as people and as musicians. This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to advice – because we welcome constructive criticism – simply that along this crazy journey we need to remain rooted in our faith and values. Individually, together, and in our music. Because once we start to lose ourselves, people will sense it.
And, finally, what is on the agenda for Us The Duo this year?
2015 is going to be full of new music! We are thrilled to be writing and working on some new tunes and can’t wait for everyone to hear. So stay tuned for some new and different sounds from Us The Duo!
Download Us The Duo’s album, No Matter Where You Are, on iTunes and follow Carissa and Michael on Vine, YouTube and Twitter for more music. Many thanks to Ralph Lauren Denim & Supply (especially you, Stephen) for helping bring this feature together. Find out more about Denim & Supply’s #ProjectWarehouse here.
Images courtesy of Ralph Lauren and via PR Photos