From struggling musicians to acclaimed folk-pop hit

Us The Duo may have landed a major recording deal, but they still remember their early days when they had to sleep in strangers’ homes and shower in mould-infested bathrooms


The Moneymakers:
US THE DUO, an American husband-and-wife pop duo — comprising Michael, 27 and Carissa Rae Alvarado, 23 — who made a name for themselves with six-second song covers on Vine. Last year, they inked a record deal, making history as the first Vine musical act to be signed on by a major record label. Their full-length original album, No Matter Where You Are, reached #9 on the iTunes Pop Albums Chart and they’re currently working on new music due to be out later this year.

THEIR HOME IS: A rented three-bedroom house in Los Angeles.

THEIR RIDES ARE: Three cars — two Mercedes Benzes and a Jeep Wrangler that’s Michael’s “quarter-life crisis purchase”.

WHAT’S IN THEIR WALLETS? Almost no cash. Instead, they rely heavily on credit cards, though Michael keeps a few US$1 notes and US$5 notes for tips and a folded US$20 bill hidden in his wallet for emergencies. He also has his driver’s license, three business credit cards, a debit card, his Walt Disney World Annual Pass and his poker card. In Carissa’s passport wallet are two Amex cards, a Visa debit card, her driver’s license, ID card and a Sephora VIP card, which “I can’t not have ’cos it’s important!”

8 DAYS: Welcome to Singapore again, guys! How much have you spent here so far?
MICHAEL ALVARADO: We tipped the bellman US$5 (S$7). The last time we were in Singapore last year, though, we spent about US$300 shopping on Orchard Road (laughs).
CARISSA RAE ALVARADO: My favourite mall is Ion Orchard. It’s the biggest, most beautiful mall ever and I could live there!

You’re on the road quite a bit. In which country do you earn the most from gigs?
M: I don’t know why, but Canadians are big spenders when it comes to merchandise, so
we have to take twice the amount of merchandise when we [go there].

How have things changed since you signed on to a record label?
M: Before we were with a label, our studio sessions could cost up to US$800 an hour. So we could chalk up a US$5,000 bill for one day in the studio, and you might not even get a good song out of it if it didn’t go well. That’s when getting signed on to a label really helps — it’s paying for our studio sessions, allowing us to make mistakes and not get mad even if our song [turns out] not good (laughs).
C: [The label] made it more comfortable for us. We could’ve done it and slept on a bus or something, but that’s not comfortable at all.

How did you make ends meet in the beginning?
M: We’d just gotten married two years ago, and were struggling musicians who were playing college gigs for US$300 a night. We were happy then just to be playing music but it was a struggle. When we first started out, a lot of benefits would have us play at their event and to save money, they wouldn’t put us in a hotel, but in the house of somebody who was working at the event. So we’d end up in the weirdest situations. Some families wouldn’t even wash their sheets when we came over to stay at their houses.
C: There were stains on the pillows.
M: And their shower would be covered in mould. Sometimes, we’d have to sleep on a pullout couch that didn’t have a mattress and the bars [would be pressing] into our backs. It was…
C: …humble beginnings (laughs)!
M: Now, we’re just happy to get our own hotel room. It’s amazing!
C: Now we appreciate that we have our own space and privacy, not that we aren’t grateful for those early opportunities. Starting from the bottom made us appreciate what we have now much more.

You guys met during a vacay and Michael, you fell in love with Carissa on the spot. How much money did you spend wooing her, especially since you both were living on opposite ends of the country?
M: I didn’t really have a job at that point. I’d just graduated from college and was in an internship. When I met her, I had only US$2,000 to my name. And I was like, “What am I going to do? I have to move to California to ask this girl to marry me.” [She’s living] 2,500 miles away and I didn’t have the money to live there. The living expenses in California are so much higher than in North Carolina. So I Googled music jobs in LA, and the second listing was for a cruise ship piano player. I applied, got the job, and they flew me to Alaska to play on a cruise ship. It was a three-month contract, but as soon as I got enough money, I broke the contract and flew over to California to be with her.

Your 2.5 minute mash-up of 2014’s biggest hits went viral. If you had US$2.50 left in your wallet, what would you spend it on?
M: A pack of gum ’cos that lasts a really long time. That’s like at least four days of freshness (laughs).
C: I don’t eat fast food that much, but I’d probably get a whole menu off the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s [in the US].
M: Really? You’re going to spend your last US$2.50 on McDonald’s?
C: Well, it’s going to last me a long time, they’ve lots of Dollar Menu options.

No Matter Where You Are is available in stores, iTunes and Spotify. 

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