Hi, Hey, Hello!
Here we are, the end of the road, a.k.a the end of the month. 29 little pieces of whatever the hell floats around in my head and keeps me up at night until I outpour them onto paper, and then edit…repeatedly, out there in the world. And here is the reason that I started this mammoth feat. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow and I have some things coming up in July that I am excited about, so yay to that. But anyway, thanks for sticking with me through this slightly rollercoaster ride (on my part mainly I imagine) and here is the finale…
The thing that first strikes you when you walk into the Haines/Maxwell house is that the minute you cross over the threshold you feel like you have been embraced in a warm hug by an old friend. Ryan opened the door to greet the crew and I in a cloud of vanilla and something vaguely reminiscent of the way the woods smell just before a thunderstorm hits (it became apparent that that smell came from the sea salt and wood sage candles that the couple have a well documented love for). Beyond that welcoming scent there is Ryan himself, who greets us with a wide smile and a warm handshake each as he asks all out names while we file into the main foyer. In the background of the hellos we can hear a bright carefree laugh coming from further within the house, which I soon learn is their niece Alexis, known by the family as Lexi.
There is a gentle buzz of noise in the house that gets louder as Ryan leads us to the kitchen, the “hub” of their house. There Lexi is giggling around mouthfuls of banana in a high chair under the watchful gaze of Lizzy herself, who is, when I first see her, leaning against a counter with half her face hidden behind a mug emblazoned with the now almost infamous logo of Sign to Sign. The other pair of watchful eyes, and the apparent reason for Lexi’s laughter, is Lizzy’s sister, Lola, who moves around the kitchen throwing funny faces at her niece while slicking croissants with Nutella for herself and Lizzy.
If walking in on that particular scene wasn’t beautiful enough, when Ryan announced our arrival into the room Lexi gurgled loudly and made grabby hands at him until he gently took one of her hands in his and Lizzy’s eyes actually sparkled over the rim of her mug, making the whole thing all the more heartwarming.
There has been a lot of talk for the whole of their decade long relationship that it’s all a farce and plenty of rumours that they are always arguing with one another, with the odd suggestion that Lizzy is using Ryan for her own professional gain. But after being in the room with them for all of 30 seconds it is clear to me that they are just rumours. Rumours that when asked about Lizzy simply shrugged and said ‘they were always there, I knew they would be there when I got involved with him. I quickly reached a stage where they just became white noise. We’re very secure in our relationship and an element of peace has to be made with that side of it. So we laugh at them.’ Back to first encounters for a moment though, similarly to Ryan, Lizzy greets us with a smile and a handshake as Ryan lists all our names off and offers us a drink.
For the purpose of our photo shoot we are given free reign of the downstairs of their house. The couple built the interior of the house together along with the “subtle guidance” of Lola, who used areas of the house to help her with part of her degree at the time. From the information that they have publicly shared about themselves the house fits them perfectly, but there are also unexpected elements, for example abstract art litters the walls of the hallways and none of the plants are real. We decide to set up our equipment and do the majority of our photo shoot in their expansive living room, which include two areas that hold their own character. One belongs to their dog Charlie, a 5 year old Siberian Husky that Lola only calls Bucket, that includes a dog bed, is littered with chew toys and comes with the odd squeak if you step on a softer toy. Charlie himself is a sizable dog, one might even say intimidating, but he approaches everything with a careful curiosity and is happy to lie in a recliner armchair in the corner of the room when directed there by Ryan.
The other section is clearly Lexi’s domain. A half finished puzzle lies on the floor as well as several Dr Seuss books that are stacked against a wall and countless soft toys that largely involve Disney characters. Lexi herself when she is taken out of her high chair toddles out of the kitchen and walks straight over to where Charlie is half asleep on the armchair scrambling up and nestling next to him. Within a few minutes she has dropped off to sleep and Ryan, Lizzy and Lola seem satisfied with that.
The real star feature of the whole house (that we are allowed access to) is the polaroid wall that the back wall of the living room has become. It features many snapshots of memories against a blackboard paint backdrop complete with various captions and the odd doodle (some clearly at the hands of little Lexi). The public photo album spans the whole decade of their relationship and from what I could tell was in chronological order on the whole. When I asked them about it Ryan laughed and told me ‘Lizzy’s always had a fascination with polaroids. Her corkboard in her room when she was at uni was covered in them, when I finally got to see the inside of Dylan’s place he had them everywhere. She proposed the wall as a small thing for her office but then it sort of escalated and we ended up with the wall. It’s pretty flexible, I mean come Christmas the elf and Santa pics come out and in summer it’s the beach pics. Some stay up all the time, others are fleeting. Pretty much anyone who can find a piece of chalk can write on it. It’s a staple of our house now and it’s pretty fluid.’
Speaking of Lizzy’s office, where Lola spent most of her time working while we carried out this interview, she let us have a peek at it and it is, I imagine, a little bit like stepping into her brain. The polaroids do bleed through into there, although they are more focused and according to Lizzy more static then the ones on the wall. Books line almost all the walls except for one which is totally made of windows. Pens and post it notes are scattered everywhere and there is an entire area on her desk dedicated purely to her old, beaten notebooks that she famously wrote most of her first three books in. It’s one of the larger rooms downstairs, seems to hold the most clutter and also seems to pump creativity into the rest of the house.
That creativity came in useful when it came to the photo shoot, something that both Ryan and Lizzy have said is one the more uncomfortable aspects of their professions. However having said that both of them seemed more than comfortable in front of the camera. This is a testament to their manner as a couple though as it was one another that kept them at ease. This ease seems almost surprising at first as they are a well documented long distance couple, with Lizzy travelling less on the road with Ryan than she used to. When I asked her about that she ran a hand through her hair and answered easily, ‘I’m busy. I work you know. He can barely get me to take a holiday sometimes. And yeah in theory I can write from anywhere and I did use to, I mean most of my first book was written on the road with the guys, but my job is more than that now. It is beautifully more than that. And he understands that these days I need the regularity of home in the same way I’ve always understood that for him the best part of his job is the shows and that interaction with the fans. And anyway, in the days when I did go on the road with them it was because I had the time and this great opportunity to travel to these places that I had always wanted to go to. I had just finished my Masters and I hadn’t had a real break in years, like 6 or 7. Everyone and their dog told me I’d earned it, so I went and it was one of the best experiences of my life, but it’s very much his thing these days. I see shows when I can now and it’s just as great.’
It was that mention of her catching shows when she can that reminded me of that now infamous first occasion that Sign to Sign played to a sold out Wembley Stadium and she wasn’t there. ‘It’s funny,’ she started when I brought it up, ‘because obviously we all knew it was coming up and there was this underlying buzz around everyone and I kept joking about how it would be just my luck that I get sick and miss it. Then the day they were all due back home I was running a fever and fluctuating between hot and freezing. I was convinced that I’d be fine the next day, but I still told Ry to stay with Zach because I was definitely contagious. And then come show day I am really not okay, in fact I’m worse, I have a headache, I can’t breathe properly, I ache and Dylan took one look at me and was like “you have the flu”, then he quarantined the house officially for the day with him inside it. It was awful, I felt so bad and disappointed. But I knew you know? Like I knew it would be blown up into this massive thing, but there’s not much you can do sometimes. The flu is the flu.’ She finished with a shrug, but it is clear from her tone that the story has become a joke among friends.
‘Oh it so has!’ Ryan confirmed when I suggested that with a loud, bright laugh. ‘I mean at the time I was gutted, because Dylan didn’t come either because he was looking after her so it was strange because my best friend and my girlfriend weren’t in the crowd. But Liz hardly ever gets ill so then there was a part of me that was worried and stuff to the point where I was annoying Dylan and potentially jeopardising our friendship. I was checking up on her a lot. I made soup from scratch with Zach, it was odd. The worst part was the quarantine before though because I hadn’t seen her in a while, so after the show I was straight back in there and I never did get sick, which I guess adds a spin of irony to the whole thing. But it’s definitely a running joke, particularly before big shows, she always seems to be sick in some way.’
Another in joke runs around the house when Ryan asks us if we would like a drink again about mid-way through the shoot and he relays our replies back to Lizzy with a half smile plastered on his face. ‘She’s always been better with coffee machines.’ Ryan offers as some form of an explanation. When we get our drinks they all appear to be near perfect and brought to us in an array of beautiful mugs from their extensive selection.
‘You know when I met her she had two mugs and no glasses. She was a typical uni student while also being atypical. but that’s a different story. Anyway she had two mugs, we still have them now actually, but I was on the road and in the Disney store of all places when I saw this Ursula mug, so I bought it for her and started something. By the time we moved in together we had about 75 mugs between the two of us with about 60 belonging to her. That number has increased hugely over the past 6 years. We own more than are in this kitchen, there are like 40 in our house out in LA and a whole bunch at her parents house because we’re there a lot as well. It’s quite the collection.’ Ryan tells me when I’m staring at a wall nearly dedicated entirely to shelves of mugs (yes really!).
‘They’re a way to tell her mood,’ he continues while Lizzy shoots some solo pictures for this article, ‘like she uses the one she was using earlier today around Lexi because ultimately if it breaks it won’t be a huge loss. If she’s homesick it’s Ursula. Early morning mugs of hot water and lemon it’s Belle,’ (there is a large Belle emblazoned yellow mug resting in the sink), ‘the mornings Lex isn’t here she has her morning coffee in the Hufflepuff mug,’ (I also learn that in the earlier years of their relationship they had many a Harry Potter related conversation. She’s a Hufflepuff and he’s a Slytherin, he has his own mug saying so), ‘when she’s in writing mode then she tends to pick anything with a Shakespeare or Wilde quote on it. Lazy Sunday mornings involve matching mugs because our family thinks it’s funny. Sometimes she just needs a good mug of hot chocolate with the works and that goes in the LA skyline mug. When she’s cooking it’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sad, Little Miss Sunshine. She still doesn’t really use glasses, not unless we’re having some kind of party.’ He finishes with a laugh which can only be described as fond, loving mostly.
When Ryan is pulled away for his solo photo shoot Lizzy freely jumps up on the kitchen counter after she has offered me some cucumber and lime water. I decline but she pours a mug for herself (New York Giants mug) and smiles as she asks how I am (the pair of them are nothing but fantastic hosts). I ask her the same in return and she replies, ‘I’m good you know. I’m on top of everything, it all seems to be going smoothly. Just waiting for Lex to wake up then she can direct me as to what snack she wants.’ That seemed like a good opportunity to ask about where she sees their future in regards to children. She’s silent for a few moments as she takes long sips from her drink, almost nervously. When she settles the mug next to her, her hand starts tracing the tattoo on her wrist. ‘Ummmm, we’ve talked about it obviously. It was always something we definitely considered. But he’s away a lot and I think we’ve always been very firm that we want some sense of stability for the earlier years at least when it comes to a child. But you know it’s a bit more complicated for us in a lot of ways, so that’s put it on hold for the time being. We’re just moving at our own pace and if kids come then they come, but we’re not rushing it. And for now we’ve got Lexi.’ I ask how that works out on a day to day basis and she answers happily, perking up slightly.
‘Oh well we’re a close set of siblings these days but Dylan and I have always been thick as thieves so we’re very involved in each others lives. Like Lola’s crashing here because Danny is away for work this week. I mean that’s just how we work,’ (there is no mention of Ryan’s two sisters who as far as I am aware are still estranged from him), ‘so it almost didn’t occur to us to not be involved in Lexi’s life. She’s usually here 3 days a week, sleeps here one or two nights. She loves Charlie so we walk him with her almost everyday. I mean she very much spends the majority of her time with her Dads, which I think some people have trouble believing. Today’s a rare day in which neither Dylan or Tom are here, but one of them usually is. But we were always like that, now there is just a child involved with the activities.’ She laughs and drops back onto the floor just as Lexi herself stumbles bleary eyed into the kitchen followed closely by Charlie. Lizzy easily scoops her up onto her hip and listens to her mumbled request for ice cream. Ryan happens to walk in at that moment and shrugs his way over to the freezer, pulling ice cream out. As Lizzy puts her back in her chair she cheers up (and wakes up) considerably when a small (Beauty and the Beast) bowl is put in front of her full of ice cream.
It once again strikes me how easy these two move around each other and how one always keeps an eye on Lexi as she slurps her way through the ice ream, smearing it happily around her mouth in the process. There is no doubt in my mind that these two have the potential to be great parents and perhaps the reason for their lack of children at this stage (they are both nearing 31) has something to do with a deeper reason than either of them are willing to let on (it is hard to remember in this environment that as a couple they have always been very good at remaining private, giving people enough to seemingly satisfy them but revealing very little. How can you forget that they were together for nearly a year before they went public.)
They are happy to answer more questions while they wait for Lexi to finish eating so I move on to asking Ryan how their new material is coming together. ‘Well we’ve been in the studio the past couple of months mainly writing but we are starting to get back into the recording of it all. It’s been fun. We took another, longer, break and these songs seem to be coming to us a lot easier again now. We brushed the cobwebs off and we seem to be really finding our stride again with these songs. We’re excited to put it all together and release it.’
Although Ryan mentions their break it’s hard to really look at it as a break with both Zach and Max getting married and all three taking on various side projects, including fatherhood for Zach. ‘Yeah, we’re all very bad at taking our feet completely off the pedal, but you know we were getting tired and were very much running close to the territory of hating our jobs, which was something we never wanted to happen. So we took a step back. Zach and Max wanted to help plan their weddings and you know we just reached a stage where go go go for nearly 10 years was exhausting.’
I dare to ask about their own wedding.
‘No, that’s not gonna happen. We just had this big thing for our 10 year anniversary and that’s about as close as we’re gonna get.’ Ryan starts.
‘My parents were together for 25 years before they got married, Ryan was one of their best men. All 3 of us were born out of wedlock, to the horror of some people, but I never once doubted that they loved each other and us. Them finally getting married was a mere footnote in their relationship. I don’t think it ever truly occurred to us that we would have to get married. A few people around us have the attitude that we can’t possibly love each other if we aren’t willing to put ourselves through the ceremony and a lot of our friends and obviously Lola and Dylan, have gotten married and that’s great for them. It’s what they wanted and we don’t want that. That party for us was great, it gave people the chance to treat it like a wedding which some needed and we had a gorgeous time with it all. But at the same time I’m very content with the way I feel, I mean Ryan has brought such joy to my life and he fills it with music and love and comfort, you know. I can come home and know that he is gonna know exactly what I need or want instantly and I can do the same with him. I’ve lived the past decade knowing that I have this person who believes in me completely and is this pillar of strength for me in everything, I can go through life happy with that and I like to think that I am the same for him. There is no one I would want more by my side than Ryan, because I know without him I wouldn’t have achieved as much as I have. So no, we haven’t got married and I’m not saying that we never will, but it’s not imminent either.’ Lizzy continued, taking a short break to clean up Lexi’s ice cream painted face and set her down on the floor to play with Charlie before she moves to sit next to Ryan. When they’ve settled down next to each other across from me I move on to talking about Lizzy’s work.
‘It feels like I’m never not writing sometimes. Like I got this big idea all those years ago and I never stopped. In fact I have a degree and a Masters in English based subjects, I have been writing for years now and I still both love and hate it as much as I did then.’ Her books have had great success over the years and I ask her how that feels or if it was even expected.
‘Of course not. I was just a girl with a pen, a piece of paper and an idea. I just wanted one person that wasn’t family to like it and then suddenly it was an international bestseller.’
‘See she says that, but she worked tirelessly on that first book, and all the others, but that first one especially was a labour of love. I would find her in a bunk on the bus or in various coffee shops in whatever city we were in working on it all the time. When she finished and I got a proof copy of it I knew it was special you know? Like I know I was a little bias but I was so caught up in reading it that I forgot that the person who wrote it was always sat nervously around me.’
‘That’s easy for you to say though it wasn’t your baby. And then there was the pressure of the sequel and I gained a whole new appreciation for Ryan when it came to album releases. I almost made myself sick with it, I got to the stage of hating it a lot earlier than the guys, it took like two tears, maybe a bit less. But Dylan made me take a step back and question why I was doing it in the first place and it helped. I just started writing the stories that I would want to read and what I wanted these characters to do and it got so much easier. And I’ve been doing it ever since.’ I ask if she’s working on anything now.
‘I’m in the early stages of researching a new idea yeah, but it’s very basic and it may not go anywhere, we’ll see. I have a renewed surge of creativity for another children’s book which is my primary focus at the moment and should come out soonish.’
The entire time I’m talking to them across the table, with the odd punctuation of a flash from a camera for the article, I’m struck not for the first, or last time, that as a couple they still remain very tactile. Not in an obvious sense, but in the way their fingers seem to always playfully link together, his arm is always draped over the back of her chair and occasionally he absently plays with the hem of the sleeve of her t-shirt. When they are talking their gaze always focuses on the other, soft features and bright eyes.
I’m not saying that I went into this interview today expecting it to be forced but a part of me did believe that there was an element of truth to the rumours. In a “if something is said often enough it has to be true” kind of way. That part continually shrank and as I sat opposite them I can see why their friends continue to joke about feeling like they are intruding on something private when they are around them. I know at times I did.
Before I knew it the camera crew was packing up and our time with the couple is almost over. Lizzy excitedly pulls out cupcakes from the fridge and goes around asking if we want one. (I take a salted caramel and chocolate one and devour it in almost four bites),
My final question to them is about the future. Immediately Ryan answers, ‘well I mean short term we have a tour coming up and another album. Long term I’m not sure. I’ve never been very good at planning for the future. If you’d have asked 19 year old me where I thought I would be age 30 I never would have said that I would be largely settled down with great friends that I hadn’t even met yet and still be getting the chance to tour with my best friends. All I know is in 10 years I’m gonna be in my 40’s and that’s all I can say because life has a way of throwing things at you.’ Lizzy carries on from him seamlessly.
‘I’m looking to get this books out in the next 18 months. Lola and I have a little holiday coming up with our Mum and Mel (her best friend), which will be fun. And that’s what my future looks like. I’m the same, I can’t sit and ponder the future it seems nonsensical, so much has changed in the last 10 years and I imagine a lot will change in the next 10. I’m excited for it though.’
I ask, merely because I’m curious, if they see themselves still together and Lola answers, the lure of cupcakes and the opportunity to make Lexi giggle again bringing her to the kitchen as I finish up the interview. ‘They won’t give you a straight answer to that, but as a relative outsider I reckon they will be. I struggle to think of a situation they could get into that they couldn’t come out of stronger on the other side. They hate me every time I say it, but if the idea of soulmates, and I mean true soulmates that enrich a life that already had the potential to be great, is real then they are it. My God are they it. It’s ridiculous if I’m honest.’ Chancing a look at the pair as Lola talks it’s hard to disagree with the sincerity of her words.
That brought our interview to an end and as we made to finally leave Dylan arrived to the house and if Lexi had been happy before than she was truly ecstatic at the sight of one of her Dads. Ryan and Lizzy walked us to the door and as they said their heartfelt goodbyes to us all (along with Charlie) there was the background noise of Lexi’s laugh and Lola and Dylan joking around. The couple wished us well and we were on our way.
If the first thing you feel when you walk into the house is being embraced in a good hug, then the feeling you experience when you leave is the slightly empty and disoriented one that follows immediately after you’ve been let go.
And no, I have somehow still not found myself done with these characters but I’m going to take an actual step back from them for at least a week…!
(Now here is a little bit of normal service a day early)
Parentheses count: 17. See you tomorrow!
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