Floridian ex-pats Teach Me Equals go wherever their songs take them

As the crow flies

Floridian ex-pats Teach Me Equals go wherever their songs take them
Photo by Gabe Hernandez
Teach Me Equals with Dog Island, Bengal,Mr. Hymn, 8 p.m. Thursday, April 20, Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave., willspub.org, $7

The nomadic duo of Teach Me Equals – Greg Bortnichak (cello, electronics, guitar, vocals) and Erin Murphy (guitar, violin, keyboard, vocals) – crafts a sound that is in equal terms intricate, immersive, fucked up and deeply, deeply personal. A sonic reference point that comes to mind most immediately is the Kills, but that's less down to musical similarities than feeling like we're listening to two people communicating in a secret language when we hear their recent split EP with RedRumsey. Chamber music, shoegaze, early industrial, post-punk and (yes) pop all bubble up to the surface briefly, before disappearing back under the churning waters of a Teach Me Equals song.

The duo met in 2010 when Bortnichak's old band was touring through Florida and Sarasota resident Murphy – booking shows at the time – helped them with some gigs. What started as an excitable dialogue about the music they loved became much more serious when Bortnichak moved to Florida so they could devote all their energies to making this music real. After a couple of years of honing their songs, they "hit the road in 2013 and never looked back." And on the road they've stayed.

Well, almost. In 2014, the band connected with Vern Rumsey of unsung '90s Olympia punk legends Unwound, forming a deep creative bond that led to touring together and a split EP that was recorded with the similarly cult hero-riffic producer Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Afghan Whigs) in his house. Despite being in the presence of indie rock royalty, Bortnichak marvels at how low-pressure it was in the moment, but that didn't mean there weren't occasional "pinch me" moments: "Erin was in the booth cutting a vocal and Fisk looks at me, and he was like, 'Geez, listen to that voice, I can't believe you get to work with her day in and day out.'" The band ended up staying on at Rumsey's Olympia compound, a perfect base of operations to write and record in between tours.

And what they wrote was the soon-to-be-released new LP Fix History, their most bleak suite of songs yet. Equally informed by their Pacific Northwest surroundings of, according to Murphy, "giant trees and prehistoric fauna," and as Bortnichak puts it, "the sense of defeat and apathy we felt after this last election," Fix History is an anguished piece of work, but it was a catalyst to action in many ways. Bortnichak confesses that at first they "were almost kind of afraid of it, but [they've] made our peace with it now and it's very cathartic to own that material." Even more promisingly, they channeled these emotions into positive action, playing a continuing series of benefit shows for the likes of NoDAPL groups and Women Against Abuse. As Murphy explains, "I'm hoping that the new wave of music is moving towards benefitting causes that are outside of the arts, community-based causes, benefitting marginalized people ... it's the least we can do in this day and age."


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