Michelle and Jesse Fernandez

Michelle and Jesse Fernandez perform as Hello Robot.

There’s a palpable connection between musicians who love and perform with each other. You can see it, feel it — and on the best of nights —bask in the magic it brings. I noticed it the first time I was in the same room with Michelle and Jesse Fernandez, and they hadn’t even played a note. They were just setting up, and when they started playing, I was sold.

I’d heard Michelle at a mutual friend’s musical get-together in Nags Head last year. A lovely lady with an equally lovely voice. I don’t remember seeing Jesse there, and that was likely because he was in the midst of a battle against the Big C. I read an article about his impending induction into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in which he stated that he is lucky to be here. I dare say, that after having heard them, listeners on the OBX are lucky, too. The acoustic duo perform as Hello Robot.

Q: Who is your greatest musical influence?

M: Outer Banks musicians. When I first started dating Jesse, we would go to these very memorable music parties. Everyone would bring an instrument and a bottle of wine. The musicality was amazing and inspiring to me. I thought, “I want to be a part of this. I want to do more than listen. I want to play.” I’ve also had a lot of encouragement from Laura Martier, Ruth Wyand, and Shelli Gates. They’re all such natural performers. They’ve been supportive of my music and taught me to just be myself.

J: Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They made me want to play music.

Q: What is it about music that touches you?

M: I love the feeling you get when creating a song. Total freedom.

J: As a player, to produce a good sound vocally and instrumentally I believe you have to be in the moment. The beauty of music…to do it well, you have to be in the moment.

Q: What was the first concert you attended?

M: 10,000 Maniacs.

J: Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes. He was so good it almost made me want to sell my guitar.

Q: Are you self-taught?

M: No, I took my first guitar lesson at College of the Albemarle from Nick Hodston. It was a group class. I immediately loved it. I also took some guitar and songwriting lessons from Ruth Wyand.

J: Yes…no formal education, but I’ve learned from my peers and all the fantastic players I’ve had the opportunity to jam with.

Q: Was there someone in your life that motivated you to pursue music?

M: Jesse. When we first met, I had just bought a cheap guitar for $50. He took one look at it and loaned me one of his guitars to practice with. After a few lessons, I started writing my own songs. For me, it was just easier to practice my own songs than someone else’s. I was so shy about playing them, though. I would make Jesse turn around and listen. He was so encouraging that on my next birthday he surprised me with my very own Martin guitar.

J: My brothers, Joel and Fico.

Q: If you could perform with anyone, who would it be?

M: Alabama Shakes. I love their sound.

J: Nick Drake. Just to learn the secrets of his tunings.

Q: What one song have you heard that you wish you'd written?

M: “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile.

J: “Guinnevere” by CSN.

Q: McCartney or Lennon?

M: Lennon

J: McCartney…although, they are way better together. 

Q: Where were you the first time you performed onstage?

M: I was in Wanchese performing a couple of original songs at Ruth Wyand’s songwriting class recital. I was 30 years old.

J: I was 27 at Sebastian Beach Inn, Florida. 

Q: When you write a song, is it positive or negative inspiration that drives you?

M: Definitely positive.

J: Both.

Q: Do you have any hobbies that aren’t music-related?

M: Traveling. Walking. Playing with our dog, LeeLoo.

J: Surfing and driving my wife crazy.

Q: Your favorite album?

J: “Graceland” by Paul Simon. The blend of Americana with African beats and harmonies created a very unique sound.

M: Magnolia Soundtrack by Aimee Mann. I just love all the songs and her style of writing. She’s very poetic and rocks at the same time. And “Graceland" because it makes me think of Jesse.

Q: Your favorite song?

M: “My Baby Just Cares For Me” by Nina Simone. It’s just one of those perfect songs you can glide to.

J: “Waiting Around to Kiss” by Michelle.

 

Transplanted to the Outer Banks from the wilds of the L.A. area, singer-songwriter Scott Sechman has shared stages with Bill Medley, Tom Rush, Al Wilson and the Grass Roots during his ongoing music career. He has contributed to Mojo and various online outlets. His column, Beyond the Music, appears Fridays in Coast.

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