Interview: Us the Duo from “The Book of Life”

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

It’s a Cinderella story times two. Carissa and Michael Alvarado had a romance right out of a fairy tale. And then their creative and professional dreams became reality. One moment they were uploading six-second covers of popular songs to Vine and the next the song they wrote for their wedding was featured in a film (“The Book of Life”) and then they were on tour with Oprah.

If so many wonderful things are going to happen, these are the people you want them to happen to. Carissa and Michael are purely delightful, with enthusiasm and humility, committed to giving their best to each other, their art, and their audience.

Copyright Nell Minow 2014
Copyright Nell Minow 2014

You wrote the song that’s in the movie for your wedding, right? When you perform it in concert now, does it bring that moment back to you?

Carissa: Totally, we actually go back in our minds to that day when I’m walking down the aisle and he’s crying like a baby and I’m trying not to cry because I don’t want to get my make-up all over my face. People were laughing because here I am in my wedding dress and I have this big old drum that I put around my neck. But it’s nice that every time we perform it we kind of are reminded about that day when we got married. It was the best day of our lives so it’s really nice to get to go back there every time we perform the song.

How long have you been married?

Carissa: About two and a half years now we’ve been married, yes.

Okay, so you performed it at your wedding, you put it up on Youtube and then what happened?

Michael: And then it went viral which was so weird. It had a million views in a week. And we were like, wow! I didn’t know this was that special to everyone. For us it was very special but to the public I didn’t think that they would take to it so well. We honestly just put it up just so we could share it with our friends and our family. So Fox was trying to complete this movie, “The Book of Life.” There was one scene left and it was missing music and they needed this triumphant love song to pull together the whole story. They reached out to our record label Republic and said, “Do you have anything that fits this moment?” And they recommended our song.

They called and said, “I have this opportunity, I don’t know if you’re interested.” We had just signed so everything is very new to us. Six months ago we were just mowing the lawn and playing with our dog and now we are doing this. “Hey, your song is going to be in a feature film and they want to meet with you.” And this is Fox! I mean these are big names. We show up to their studios and we play and they said, “Okay, you guys are great. We want to actually animate our characters to your song.” So not only is the song in the film but the actors are singing our song and they are animating to it, it’s amazing!

So our mind is blown and then Oprah sits down to watch this movie as she hears the song, falls in love with it and then asks us if we can come on tour with her and again, we are just…

Carissa: I am like pinching myself! Is this real? Like every day. It was a dream come true. First of all, to get to meet Oprah, which is pretty awesome! She hugged me and I’m like, “I don’t want to hug anyone else because I don’t want to get rid of this hug.” I’m like, “I want to hold on to you forever.”

Michael: I didn’t get hugs for a week!

Carissa: It’s crazy because the first day we performed on this tour, she actually surprised us and everyone else that was watching and came onstage. We didn’t expect that at all and my jaw about dropped to the floor.

Michael: There is a picture of it; she’s standing in between us and we are hugging her and our faces are like…

Carissa: Like shock face. But she is so sweet, she is a great hugger, she smells good.

So tell me a little bit about the tour. What does that involve?

Carissa:  It’s kind of just motivational speaking to everyone and it’s inspiring people to do what they love and live the life that they want to live.  That’s perfect for us because that’s kind of our passion as well and what I think is our calling to do; it’s a positive message and shows that you should follow your heart and follow your passions.

You met at a music video?

Michael: Yes, a music video shoot. We were both extras and there she is. I grew up in North Carolina so I never went to LA but I was there visiting and I end up at this music video shoot.  It was love at first sight for me and so I flew back to North Carolina and tried to make her fall in love with me for the next six months over social media, which worked!  She said, “Sure, I feel the same way about you.” So I packed my bags, moved to LA, I asked her to marry me; all very quick again. And we got married and then we started making music together.  But we were both musicians before that happened and nothing ever really happened in our careers.  We always wondered, “What is that missing piece?” We felt something was missing. And then when we got together for the first time and started singing and harmonizing, we looked at each other with this stare.  I am like, “Oh my gosh, did you hear what I just heard?”  Solo we are okay but together something unique happens.  We got married and then we started Us the Duo, just a few days after our marriage so it was really surreal and kind of crazy how it all came together.

What’s your best advice for a happy marriage?

Michael: Our advice is more about working together and balancing that with our relationship. I think it’s important to always keep the marriage first and the music will kind of follow and it will trickle-down into whatever we are playing. And we have seen the balance kind of switch and we get panicked like, “Man what are we doing?” So no matter if we are arguing or what’s happening we always work that out before we step on stage or before we go into an interview. Like, “We need 10 minutes just to figure this out and talk through it.” So communication really is the key and always keeping that as our top priority and then work second.

You became a Vine sensation with six-second covers that just showed the bottom of your face.  How did that happen?

Carissa: It’s funny because it started out, he came out to me and was like, “Hey, I have an idea.” When he gets an idea, he’s very passionate about it and he asked to do it in the moment.  So he found out about Vine, about 10 PM, I am on the couch there with the dog watching TV in my PJs, no makeup on and I’m ready just to hang out. He comes to me and he’s like, “Hey, we’ve got to film a Vine. I know you don’t know what Vine is but we’re going to do it right now.” And am like, “What are you talking about? I look like a wreck right now, my hair is looking crazy.” He says, “Okay, fine, we can film it from your nose down so people don’t know you look tired.  And I said, “Okay, fine.”  So we do it and then it kind of becomes our brand.  And he kept going and am like, “Okay, let’s just keep doing this, is our thing now.” And then Good Morning America invited us out and we did like a reveal of the rest of our faces, a dramatic reveal showing who we are, our identities.

And do you do covers when you perform before audiences?

Michael: Yes, and we end with the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

What you want people to know about “The Book of Life?”

Carissa: Oh my gosh everyone can see it, the whole family can go and see it.  It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s adventurous and it’s just a mixture of all genres.  It kind of takes you on this journey with them and inspires people. And then you leave wanting to follow your passion, follow your heart.

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