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?
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.
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.