Motor Sister, used with permission
Source: Motor Sister, used with permission

“Well, I hope that you can see

That nothing means more to me

Than you and I holding on

To all that we can be.”

    — “Anything” by Pearl

Couples who work together are not a new phenomenon. Family-owned businesses have been around forever. But when the couple is musician Pearl Aday of the band Pearl and daughter of legendary rocker Meat Loaf, and Scott Ian of Anthrax, and they collaborate to help form the band Motor Sister, then the family business gets a bit more interesting.

In part, the interest lies in a fundamental stereotype of heavy-metal and hard-rock musicians and fans; namely, they are unstable and not really meant for family life. But if you’re looking for a story about rock ‘n’ roll excess, think again. That’s because, not only has Aday and Ian’s rock-star life not undermined their relationship, but also they are actually showing how the lessons they learned from their musical careers — gratitude, respect and communication — are the bedrocks of a strong marriage.

And it turns out that family life rocks pretty damn hard.

Aday told me a story that illustrates the contrast between the stereotypes they face and the real life they actually lead. “I think maybe two years ago, Scott came home from on tour. We had a brand new baby, and Scott fainted from exhaustion,” she explained. “He had a vasovagal reaction to dehydration and exhaustion, so I freaked out, and the ambulance came to our house, and they took him to the hospital to check him out.”

“After it was all over the next day, our neighbor came by and knocked on the door and timidly asked, ‘Is everything OK, Pearl? Pearl, you OK?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, everything is fine. Thank G-d. Scott fainted, he’s exhausted, he’s home from tour, everybody’s tired, new baby, blah blah blah. And he was kind of making a joke, but it took me aback a little bit because he said, ‘Oh, OK, great. I thought I didn’t want to butt in because I thought maybe they got into a fight or something.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’”

“They thought, ‘Well, oh, he’s in a heavy-metal band, he’s got tattoos, there’s an ambulance outside, they obviously got into a fight.’ And it was like, no — extremely far from it. That would never occur. But that’s where his brain went. I wasn’t totally shocked, but kind of surprised to hear that.”

Stereotypes of heavy-metal and hard-rock musicians and fans abound — crazy, wild, unstable, violent. As an example, in 1985, the Parents Music Research Center (PMRC) said that heavy metal undermined family values and even caused suicide. Yet there is actually little evidence that the stereotypes of heavy-metal musicians and fans are true. Studies suggest that individuals interested in heavier forms of music actually have a higher level of openness to experience and interest in civic activism. In fact, studies suggest that heavy-metal fans are creative and gentle, and very similar to classical-music fans in personality style.

Stereotypes can be harmful even if they are benign. For example, studies of stereotype threat show that when athletes are reminded of their athletic abilities prior to a math exam, they score worse on that math exam than those who were not subject to a stereotype. And while at times these stereotypes may seem harmless, other times they are not so innocent, like the belief that heavy-metal musicians are violent.

Ian finds this bias odd. “I think people tend to think we’re a lot crazier than we are in reality. Even though I’ve been in a heavy-metal band pretty much my whole life, I’m not that stereotype of what people think of as heavy metal, whether that’s ‘Beavis and Butthead’ or what the ‘80s hair-metal bands looked like or things like that,” he said.

“I play in a metal band, and it’s very much a part of my life, obviously, in that music’s been part of my life since I was 5 years old, but I consider myself to be a very normal kind of person, and I think that’s the stereotype. I think people would be very surprised how we live on a daily basis. As a couple, with our son and even just how we go about our business, it really couldn’t be more normal, truthfully.”

And even though Aday grew up with one of the world’s most prominent rock stars (Meat Loaf) as her father, she also describes experiencing a relatively even-keeled upbringing. “I think now that we have a child, having grown up in a house with an entertainer father, I’m much more aware of what it’s like for our kid, because I still remember how it felt being a child and how it felt having my dad be away constantly. And I grew up on the road. I grew up at home, but it’s funny, because it wasn’t extreme in either direction in terms of constantly traveling or constantly at home,” she said. “It actually was a pretty even balance, and I think a privilege and a great opportunity in a way, because I would travel with my parents, and I’d come home to my fifth-grade class in Connecticut, where my home base was and be much more worldly than the other children and know words in different languages for things and I’d come home.”

“Some kids thought it was weird, and some kids thought it was cool. It’s really benefited me, so now having a child of our own, it’s exciting for me to have that opportunity to give him the experiences that I had when I was a kid because I think it was so valuable.”

In fact, it is arguable that the lessons that Aday and Ian learned about making a relationship work started in their professional experiences. The first lesson that Aday learned was gratitude, which she learned in part from her father. “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten growing up was that if you have a talent, it’s a gift and you can’t squander it. And if you have to move forward in life sharing your talent, then that’s what you have to do,” she said. “And another thing that my dad taught me was that being onstage is a privilege; it’s not a right. You wouldn’t have a show if you didn’t have an audience. You owe everything that you can give. You owe a million billion trillion infinity percent to your audience, whether it’s two people or 2 million people.”

Aday’s insights are consistent with current trends in positive psychology. There is building evidence that gratitude, or realizing that there is goodness in one’s life and appreciating what you have in your life, is associated with improved emotional well-being. Theory and initial research also suggests that simple behaviors that show gratitude such as saying “thank you” may improve couples’ satisfaction.

Ian also had life lessons as he founded Anthrax that have influenced his approach to marriage. “I have a very strong work ethic. I knew from early on. I stopped going to college because I needed money to buy gear. I needed money to be able to go into the studio and make demos. So I was very motivated to earn money to help the band move forward, so that was my experience,” he explained. “That was something that was very important to me to get a band off the ground against all odds. I was a teenager trying to do anything I could to make money to get out of Queens, basically. And when I was 17, I started a heavy-metal band called Anthrax and basically got the ball rolling with that.

“I refused to ever take no for an answer.”

Aday agrees: “Tenacity. You have to have tenacity.”

As Anthrax is now considered one of the greatest metal bands of all time, it is difficult to imagine a time when the thrash metal style was discouraged. “What worked for me, and that’s just playing the music that I loved and never listening to what anyone else was trying to tell me what to play at the time. You know, ‘You’ve got to go learn a Van Halen cover set if you want to get gigs.’ We only ever did what we wanted to do back then in the early ‘80s in the face of everybody telling us, ‘What the hell is this music that you’re playing. Nobody cares about this kind of music. It’s never going to go anywhere,’” he said.

“That didn’t matter to us. We’re playing music because we love to play music. So that’s the best advice I can give anyone. If you’re picking up an instrument, and your intent is to start a band and to write songs and to share that with the world, well, you know you have to love it as much if not more than anything in your life and have that passion for it. Because to me, that’s what will show through.”

In fact, conscientiousness, or being principled and guided by an inner sense of what is right, has been shown to be associated with improved health and well-being. A meta-analytic review of 194 studies found that higher levels of conscientiousness was associated with lower levels of risky behavior, such as tobacco use, and positively associated with healthy behavior, such as exercise. This may be in part why studies suggest that conscientiousness is associated with longer life.

To be clear, Aday and Ian have in part lived the rock-star life. Ian and Aday acknowledge that they’ve done their share of partying in the past. In fact, that’s what brought them together initially. 

Ian says: “I was married for the first time in my early 20s. That ended very quickly. In my 30s, got married again. That didn’t last either. And then didn’t really even become involved in any kind of partying or the ‘rock-star lifestyle’ until the early ‘90s. I wasn’t even really a drinker until the mid to late ‘90s, when I was 33, 34 years old. I was coming out of my second marriage, and I spent three to four years for the first time in my life, partying pretty heavily.”

“And then I met Pearl in 2000, and we were both coming out of bad relationships — my second marriage and her first marriage. And we were initially just drinking buddies on tour together.  And then that became a romantic relationship, and 15 years later, here we are. Our partying together when we first met, that lasted a few years. We definitely raged pretty hard the first few years of dating and then living together.”

But at some point, they both noticed that something had changed. Ian attributes the change to finding each other and, therefore, being in a better place emotionally.

“And then it starts to taper off, because then you realize, ‘Hey we’re not miserable any more. We don’t need to be out five nights a week getting stupid drunk, so that kind of tapered off a long time ago,” Ian said. “For us, it was a natural thing — just the idea that going out so many nights a week and doing that and waking up and feeling crappy and losing days to hangovers, it does kind of get boring after a while. I remember Pearl saying [that] to me a couple of times over the years. You know, we would get into a conversation or whatever, and you’d say something like, ‘I’m tired of living like a college kid.’”

Aday added: “That was a conscious decision on our part. We’d been together for 15 years, but we didn’t get married and have a child until four years ago. We were always happy to run with the saying ‘No pets, no kids.’ We’ve both been married before. We can just pick up whenever the hell we want at any time. We were happy doing that.”

But she agrees that as time goes on, her opinions about their lifestyle changed. “It gets old. Been there, done that. Like how many times a week can we go do that. And it starts to become a little like — you go to gigs, and you see other people who are that many more levels ahead of you into drinks and you kind of go, ‘Yeah I know that feeling. I don’t feel like doing that; not tonight. It just kind of comes with experience.”

For Aday and Ian, this change in lifestyle opened up the possibility of another change; namely, having children. “But then I think after 12 years together, it was kind of like, ‘I don’t think we’re going anywhere. Let’s not try to not have babies right now. Let’s not try, but we won’t not try. And then that happened immediately once we said that,” she said.

“And then certainly having a child — if you’re going to intend to continue that type of lifestyle and have a child, then you shouldn’t have a child,” Ian added.

Ian has not only seen a change in his own behavior as he’s gotten older and started a family, but also among others in the rock and metal community. “And everyone we know, obviously we know plenty of people in other bands and their families, and everyone we know pretty much. You know a lot of it also comes with growing up. I probably would have had a different answer about this for you when I was 25. But you know being 51, certainly, and a father, that changed my life in many ways, but even before that, I put a lot of my toys away in my 20s or certainly in my early 30s,” he said.

“You start to grow up — at least I would hope that most people start to grow up at some point in their life. And most of the people that we know, even in the world of heavy metal are very similar; The kind of mundane 9 to 5 existence that we strove to not be a part of most of our lives — basically, that’s what we do. I’m up at seven making breakfast and driving our son to school, because that’s what you do in life if you decide to grow up at some point and become a parent and accept responsibility. And everyone we know is like that. I think I worked hard enough my whole life in a heavy-metal band to be allowed to be where I am now as a human being.”

And so as Aday and Ian grew together as a couple, they found themselves applying the same principles that they learned through music to their marriage.

Aday explains how she grounds her approach to the relationship in gratitude. “I think also we both really honor the fact that we are best friends, and I also believe that we both are very aware of essentially the gift that each of us has in our history of failed marriage, and remembering what that feels like, and how it felt to be in that situation, and how much better this relationship is than any other that we’ve had in our life,” she said.

“So it really is a gift for us. And I know that not everybody has it — a lot of people do —the gift of hindsight and looking back to what was actually a failed marriage and how horrible that was. And how far away on a different planet I am now and how great it actually is even if it starts to feel crappy or getting down in the doldrums. That’s really valuable, and you have to keep your eye on it and appreciate it and use it.”

For Ian, this gratitude is expressed through communication. Communication is generally considered a critical part of the foundation of a healthy marriage.

“It’s staying connected. I think that enables us to be really aware if there is a problem, or there is a disconnect, or there is a lack of communication. Because we do stay so connected. It’s not like if I go on tour, we don’t talk for days or something like that,” he said. “Thank G-d for technology, we’re on the phone, we’re texting, we’re FaceTiming all the time, whenever we can. Having that kind of lifeline back home, especially FaceTime, I think it makes a big difference, certainly because I remember life before the Internet and Wi-Fi and all that, and having to find a payphone somewhere to make a call home. I think staying connected is the key. If we would go days and days without talking to each other, it would be easy to fall into that trap of becoming like that. Even people who don’t speak, people who just text all the time, too, I think that becomes a problem because it’s not even real communication. You have to speak to somebody to know where they’re at.”

“I think Pearl and I staying connected the way we do all the time, it makes us very aware if something’s not right. And Pearl is way more communicative than I am. I’m learning, but just as people, it’s a difference in who we are as people.”

Ian also feels that the connection between the two allows for early detection of problems. “It’s usually very apparent when something is going on. And we just feel it from each other, like if there’s a disconnect, we’re not going to let it slip and fester. We’re going to address it and get it out in the open as soon as possible and talk through it.”

Like any other couple, Aday and Ian face challenges. Travel is one of the main ones. Ian and Pearl both have had to travel for their bands, and research shows that time apart can be stressful on couples.

“I obviously have to travel a lot for Anthrax and that takes me away from home, takes me away from my wife and my son. They do come out. They’ll come out for a couple of weeks and hang out on the tour. But, you know, it’s difficult. Being away is definitely difficult. I don’t know if you’d consider that a negative stereotype. That’s just a by-product of what we do,” he said. “Touring is how we make a living. It sucks, the traveling away from home for me is certainly the worst part. I don’t know if it was Alice Cooper many years ago who said, ‘They don’t pay me to play shows, they pay me to travel.’ Certainly, in the past five years or so, that’s become much more apparent to me.”

And parenting stress is never easy, including knowing the right balance of structure versus flexibility in raising kids. “We’ve got friends who have children who are extremely regimented and bedtime is this, lunchtime is this, playtime is this. And I’m really not like that. I think that children thrive with some sort of routine because it makes them feel secure and safe, and I feel that for myself as well,” Aday explained. “I don’t like to get too loose because I feel like I’m floundering — and I want to provide security for our kid in that sense. But I think since I did grow up traveling and on the road with a rock ‘n’ roll family, I appreciate a go-with-the-flow attitude and being able to go with the flow because that’s what life is.”

“I think it makes it easier for a human to be able to understand how to go with the flow because not everything is going to be exactly the same every day in real life when you grow up. I appreciated having that experience when I was a kid, because I think it’s added to the person that I am today; which is, I’m easy, I can go with the flow and adapt to many situations. Almost any. I want our child to have that as well, because I think that it adds an ability to feel more comfortable with yourself and with other people.”

Aday feels that gratitude and connection is one of the main coping strategies she uses when she is feeling negatively about the relationship or has conflicts. “So you can kick yourself in the ass, or I do when I think, ‘I feel so disconnected. He doesn’t understand. He’s in his other world, and he gets to keep living the life that we used to live together, and I’m just a housewife, and when the dark cloud starts creeping in. And then I kick myself in the ass and I say, ‘Wait a minute, this is Scott. I’m not going to find a better best friend than him. So get with it. Get it together, this is worth it.’ I picture dating, and it’s horrifying to me to think of. I would never ever want to do that because I have everything I could ever want here,” she explains.

What results is that Aday and Ian feel that they have less “fighting.” Research suggests that how couples resolve conflict predicts whether they stay together.  One study examined 373 couples over the span of 16 years. Forty-six percent of those couples divorced in that time. Those that resolved their conflicts in a constructive manner (e.g., calmly resolving problems), rather than destructive (e.g., yelling and screaming), were more likely to remain married.

“I don’t think we have a stereotypical fight. We never really fight. We have discussions,” Aday said.

Ian concurs. “Yeah, we don’t fight; Yeah, certainly discussions. Like, for instance, just me. Something that I tend to do is I may have a million things going on in my brain, all different — band-related stuff, business-related stuff, whatever, and I’ll have a whole bunch of stuff going on, and it will certainly be affecting my mood. But in my brain, I’ll think, ‘I don’t need to burden Pearl with all of this crap. I’ll deal with it; it’s all going to work itself out; I’ll get through this. All of this stuff is going to figure itself out; it always does. Whatever. I don’t need to bother her with all of this crap.’

“But then that will affect, even unconsciously my interactions with Pearl. And then that’ll cause something. Me not expressing the fact that I’m having a shitty day will then cause Pearl and I to have a shitty day, because I didn’t even think it was worth it to tell her that I’m having a crappy day. Maybe she can help me; maybe she can’t help me. But at least she’ll know where my head is at when we’re having communication.

“Just talking and having a day together and just going about our business, she’ll at least know where my head is at, instead of my being silent about it and not expressing what’s going on. And that’s a problem. I tend to get stuck in that sometimes, and it’s something I get frustrated with because I’m like — why didn’t I just tell her that I’m having a shitty day. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on that I’m dealing with. I just get stuck in that moment, and we talk about it, and hopefully, it’ll be a year before that happens again.”

Much of their ability to implement these strategies comes down to the lessons Ian described; namely, tenacity. Aday adds: “It’s hard. I think we’re lucky in the sense that Scott and I are both extremely stubborn humans, and neither one of us want our marriage to falter or end. So we do go through periods of time — I think we did just recently, where we feel like ‘Dude, I feel really disconnected from you.’ It’s one of those things again where there’s too much going on. You’ve been away for a long time. I want to hang out with my boyfriend. You can lose that for a while. It’s hard, but because he and I are so tenacious and such, dare I say pigheaded humans, it works to our advantage in that sense in terms of keeping our relationship going and healthy, because we are like ‘G-d damn it. I don’t accept this.’”

And so from this foundation, with Jim Wilson, Joey Vera and John Tempesta, Aday and Ian helped form Motor Sister. But for Aday and Ian, who also played together in Aday’s band Pearl, this collaboration feels like a normal outgrowth of their relationship.

Aday explained: “It feels fluid to me. I don’t feel a difference. I think we’ve both been to the rodeo. We both know how it works, and there are never any surprises. I don’t know what it is. We both just work fine together. It’s easy.”

Ian added: “I think it definitely helps as far as getting to do Motor Sister together. Whenever I’ve gone on tour, and played guitar in Pearl’s band. Anytime that we can travel together is certainly better than one of us being away. So I think that definitely helps. Getting to make music together is the best-case scenario as far as I’m concerned. Yeah there’s a lot of mutual respect. So I think that answers that potential problem.”

So there it is: A couple defying stereotypes by working together, and working hard to make the marriage work through appreciating one another, communicating and working to resolve problems.

Sounds pretty rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Michael Friedman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Manhattan and a member of EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board. Follow Dr. Friedman on Twitter @DrMikeFriedman and EHE @EHEintl.

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