While filming the music video for their new single, “Sweet Poison,” Martina Sorbara and Dan Kurtz of Toronto’s Dragonette found themselves holding back tears after the first take. It’s the kind of song the married couple has been perfecting over the past decade: a flashy beat, a melancholy melody — a tune that can make you dance and weep at the same time. But there’s a reason this song felt particularly raw: It’s one of several tracks on their fourth album, Royal Blues, out now, that addresses the couple’s 2013 separation, which they revealed publicly in May.
They’ve kept the details of what happened private, but they wanted to be up front with fans about the album’s painful subject matter. “It’s such a special thing to be in a band with your spouse,” Sorbara says. (The two have not divorced.) “You get asked about it a lot.” And while they both committed themselves to continuing with the band while starting this album, they sometimes worried about their future. “In the back of our minds we were scared,” she says.
To alleviate the strain, the pair reinvented their songwriting process for Royal Blues. Sorbara traveled around the world to collaborate with songwriters like Matt Schwartz (Kylie Minogue) and Mark Nilan Jr. (Zedd, Trey Songz), while Kurtz fleshed out and produced the material. “Dan and I were both running around because we were sad and confused,” she says.
The new approach had its challenges. Sorbara had rarely written with others — you may know her as the voice on Martin Solveig’s 2010 smash “Hello” — so working with outsiders was intimidating. Sending songs to Kurtz about their struggles was also awkward. Yet despite those difficulties, Sorbara says playing the songs on their new tour now feels like a celebration — and the band has no plans to break up. “The album resurrected us and redefined us to each other, and that is definitely a victory,” she says. “More than any songs I’ve ever written, these almost kept me alive a little bit. They kept us both alive.”
A version of this story appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of EW, available now.