Win tickets to see Us the Duo at the Fillmore
Dynamic duo built a massive following via social media before releasing two albums and film soundtrack smash
The story of Us the Duo, aka Michael and Carissa Alvarado, is adorable.
The L.A.-based musicians met on the set of a music video, hit it off, and got married one year to the day after their first date. For wedding vows, they wrote a song, “No Matter Where You Are,” and uploaded it to YouTube—and it caught the attention of Hollywood movie producers and Oprah Winfrey.
Meanwhile, the Alvarados have built a massive following on social media by creating six-second song covers and uploading them to Vine. The couple wrote songs about their love story on the autobiographical debut album, also titled No Matter Where You Are, and are currently touring the U.S. and promoting their terrific new LP, Just Love.
Us the Duo will perform at the Fillmore in San Francisco on August 19. We have a pair of tickets to give away to the show (fill out the form below this interview). Diablo caught up with the Alvarados while they were on a tour bus driving through in the Midwest.
Thanks for calling. Where in the world is Us the Duo right now?
M: We are somewhere in Ohio.
A-ha. Lots of talk in the news today about Ohio being a crucial state in the upcoming election. Is that what you’re hearing, since you’re right there?
M: (Laughs) Haven’t heard that today. As artists, we don’t have a political stance publicly, because we don’t want to alienate anyone. Our purpose is to show up to the venue and do the best we can to make their day a little better. I’m happy to say that politics doesn’t come up much at our shows—most of our fans are just excited to be there and its nice to give them a chance to perform our songs and spend some time together.
I love the range of songs you pick for the six-second songs on Vine. How spontaneously do you choose a “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” or “Crazy”?
C: It all depends. Sometimes we think of things and plan it out, but sometimes its right on the spot. We were in the parking lot at Disneyland and ready to go in, and we heard a song in the car and said, “We have to do that!” So, we recorded it right here.
What’s the record number of takes you have done to get a six-second song just right?
M: Maximum or minimum takes? (Laughs) I know we’ve gotten in one take on the first take, but I’m not sure what it was. The max would be, maybe 45 times—and it still did not work and we threw it away. Super frustrating.
You have written so many lovely songs about your relationship. What happens when there are dark days? Do you worry about putting your relationship out so publicly in the long run?
C: Finding a balance is the key. We’re a married couple and we work together, and that obviously brings lots of challenges. We make sure to find our own alone time and do things individually, that is so important.
I will add that it is important to write about those dark times as well. We have written about hardships and anxieties—not everyone is in love, and those darker songs are relatable and just as important.
Everyone wants to use social media effectively but few do. Us the Duo figured out how to do it—what’s the secret?
M: For us, it is all about capitalizing on trends. We saw Vine as this new app was growing—at one point it adding something like 100,000 subscribers per day. We noticed that there was only comedy, and little skits, but not much music. So we thought of the six second cover song. It had not been done—and we found out why—you have to be creative to make something that’s entertaining in six seconds.
Another factor is that social media is always changing. We noticed that the younger demo started to leave Vine and go to Snapchat. People get bored of one thing and and move on to another. So we had to come up with Snapchat shares that were thoughtful and funny.
Your “Tell Your Own Story” campaign is another smart use of social media. How did that start?
C: We have always very close with our fans, and we reached out for them to tell us stories so we can turn them into music. It’s so cool to hear these great stories, amazing stories that we have not experienced and would have never heard about if it weren’t for the fans. A lot of these people don’t have an outlet to get their feelings out—this gives them a chance to speak out and share the story, and our song helps them, we could not be happier.
MTV just turned 35 years old—I’m quite a bit older than you, so I remember the way MTV drove the pop music industry in the 1980s. I’m wondering what your exposure to MTV was, and if you ever think about how much different music is in the age of social media than it was in the MTV heyday.
M: MTV was a small portion of my childhood, but enough to realize it as this place where musicians broke. I wasn’t alive for “Video Killed the Radio Star”—I wasn’t even allowed to watch it until I was about 10, because my parents did not want me to see Spring Break. (Laughs) But I do remember seeing the world premiere of the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” video, the one with them in an airplane hanger, and I remember that back then you had to have this channel to show your video. It’s crazy to think about that today, when you can just upload the video yourself and make your own channel.
I did a story years ago about a marketing executive who wanted to get her company’s olive oil to Oprah Winfrey. She had to FedEx a bottle to Oprah’s house at Hana, Hawaii, and Oprah used it to make a salad, and liked it so much she promoted it on the show. How did Oprah find out about Us the Duo, and promote your music?
M: We sang our wedding vows at our wedding, and uploaded the video online. Little did we know, Fox was putting together an animated film called The Book of Life, and they had a scene that needed a wedding song. They couldn’t find the right song, until a producer saw our video on YouTube and said, “This is it, we need this song.”
So, they called us and said we want to use your song in our movie, and animate it to [you singing it]. Can you be here in an hour? Right there, that was amazing. But there was also a campaign called Life You Want, tied to Oprah’s tour. Oprah saw a preview of the movie and loved it, and said that our song had to be the lead single of the movie.
I think it was the first show we did on the tour—Oprah walked on stage in the middle of the song and hugged us. It was an unreal moment to have Oprah insert herself into our song, and it was a really cool way to get in front of demographic that we never would have reached otherwise.
People must use that song at weddings all the time.
C: We are doing a meet and greet at every show—at least one couple always says “we’re dancing to your song at our wedding” or “we used your song at our wedding.” It’s kind of amazing.
Finally, we’re running this interview and giving away tickets in advance of your show at San Francisco’s Fillmore. What experiences have you had in the Bay Area?
C: We’re really excited about being in the Bay! We have hung out there a few times, and have had the best time there. I’m excited because I’m 100 percent Pilipino, and there are a lot of Pilipino residents in the Bay Area. I hope they will come out to the show!