Two musicians find perfect harmony on and off stage
There was a time when having three sisters didn’t work in favor of Neal Thomas Yakopin. For example, when he was in eighth grade, they collectively put a strict one-hour limit on his drumming practice in the basement. “It would be, ‘Hey, Neal, time’s up, stop it,'” he said.
The benefits of his girl-dominated childhood are now evident to Mr. Yakopin. Bathroom counters littered with makeup don’t bother him at all, he said. And he’s so used to being dominated by women that he rarely lets quarrels with them escalate.
Instead, he said, “I still think, what can I do to figure this out from your perspective?” It’s one of the reasons he cites for the health of his relationship with Lauren Alexis Hobbs. Knowing that she enjoys her drumming also worked well for the couple.
Mr. Yakopin and Ms. Hobbs, both 30 and now living in Nashville, are professional musicians. Ms. Hobbs is one half of the country duo the Hobbs Sisters with her identical twin sister, Hannah Hobbs. Mr. Yakopin is a drummer for Nashville artists, including Nate Smith. They met in February 2019, when the Hobbs Sisters, who use a rotating cast of musicians, were looking for a drummer.
Joey Cataneo, the duo’s guitarist, had recommended Mr. Yakopin for a summer tour of fairs and festivals the sisters were hosting in cities like Sidney, Ohio, and Laurelton, Pa. Calling Mr. Yakopin to see if he was interested to join the band Lauren Hobbs came across half of the duo’s to-do list. When he said he was in, she sent him 20 Hobbs Sisters songs and asked him to meet them at their next rehearsal, at Audible Images Studio in Pittsburgh the following month.
Mr. Yakopin, who plays a variety of genres, hadn’t been asked to learn many country songs before. He started playing drums at age 8 in Cincinnati, where his family lived before moving to Washington, Pennsylvania at age 15.
His father was a part-time drummer. “My dad would put on old Rolling Stones records and play along,” he said. “I thought, that’s cool.” In middle school, he was behind his father’s drums every day, hoping to win a school talent show to impress a girl, which didn’t happen. “But I did fine up there, making a mess of three minutes of noise in a small auditorium.”
When Mrs. Hobbs called him, he was playing drums with local bands as a hustle. After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from Waynesburg University in 2015, he followed his parents’ footsteps into the insurance industry. Thomas Yakopin, her father, is a broker at West Penn Life and Health; his mother, Lynn Berry, owns the Bridge Insurance Group. Mr. Yakopin liked the stability of the regular salary he earned as an independent broker. “But I had this underlying thing where I felt like if I committed to this musical thing, I could make it work,” he said.
The songs of the Hobbs Sisters immediately seduced. “They were snappy and snappy and easy to learn,” he said, “and that’s what you want.”
The twins had worked to create songs that landed that way since high school in Venetia, Pennsylvania, where they grew up with a younger sister, Rachel Hobbs, and their parents, Phillip and Nancy Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs runs the Burgh, a property management company; Ms. Hobbs is a third grade teacher. “Music was always what we turned to,” Ms. Hobbs said, particularly the contemporary country hits that Mr. Hobbs played around the house. In high school, the twins sang in a barbershop quartet. In college, at Wake Forest University, where each earned a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2014, they sang in an a cappella group.
Before the twins moved to Nashville in 2017, Mr. Hobbs regularly drove them there from Pennsylvania for songwriting workshops. ‘We found it to be a very kind and welcoming town with people who would let you pick their brains for 20 minutes if you bought them a cup of coffee,’ Ms Hobbs said. Uprooting to settle there felt like the first step in a rise to country stardom. Last year they released their first album, “Turn It Up”. Next year they will release a second version.
In March 2019, during his first rehearsal with the band, Mr. Yakopin was immediately drawn to Ms. Hobbs. “I thought she’s cute, can sing really well, and looks very nice,” he said. “But she was my boss. I didn’t want to do any weird moves.
Until October, when the Hobbs Sisters played for festival-goers in several states, they were unaware of an attraction they both felt. “We just gravitated toward each other,” Ms. Hobbs said. “If there was a soundcheck, Neal and I would be next to each other. If we were somewhere for lunch, we would sit on the same bench at the picnic table. In November, Mr. Yakopin was ready to throw off all caution, he asked her out on a date and she agreed.
On Thanksgiving Day, when they were both at home with their families in Pennsylvania, he picked her up from her parents’ house after dinner and drove her to the only open bar around. They had a drink each but talked for hours, both leaving with the same impression. “I thought, you know what? Seems fair to me,” Ms. Hobbs said. “Let’s see where this leads.”
Their second date, a few days later, ended in a kiss. During the holidays, they had a tacit understanding: they were a couple.
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Hannah Hobbs may have known they were falling in love before they did. “Looking back, there were a lot of signs that they had chemistry, that they got along really well,” she said. “And he was exactly the kind of guy I would have imagined my sister being with, talented and fun.”
Ms Hobbs and Mr Yakopin were just beginning to learn the ins and outs of a long distance relationship when Covid hit. In February 2020, Mr. Yakopin flew to Nashville to visit Ms. Hobbs. A few weeks later, his plans to return to Nashville had to be canceled. But “it strengthened our relationship in a way,” Ms Hobbs said. “Every night, sometimes for hours, we would talk on the phone about our likes and dislikes, our goals and our dreams.”
Among Mr. Yakopin’s new dreams was moving to Nashville to be with Mrs. Hobbs and play music full time. That summer, he succeeded. “I thought, I’ll make it work,” he said. He found an affordable house to rent online near Mrs. Hobbs and, without seeing it, packed his bags. While the two relied on Covid and the collapse of Nashville’s live music scene, they got by. Mr. Yakopin has sold insurance remotely and driven for Uber and DoorDash. Ms Hobbs, who completed her music career as a substitute teacher before the shutdown, hit unemployment.
In 2021, when a trickle of live concerts signaled the city’s impending revival, Mr. Yakopin’s star on the drumming circuit began to rise. Before Nate Smith asked him to join his band in May 2022, he had played venues like Webster Hall and the Ryman Auditorium with Drew Green. He also occasionally played with the Hobbs Sisters. “We would use it whenever we could, selfishly,” Ms Hobbs said. “He’s the best drummer I’ve ever worked with.”
Both were in Pennsylvania vacationing with their families in 2021 when Mr. Yakopin proposed. Their first kiss had happened in the Hobbs family driveway; on Christmas Eve, he knelt down and gave Mrs. Hobbs a diamond engagement ring on the same asphalt.
“He was trying to get the words, ‘Lauren, will you marry me?’ outside, but we both had no words,” Ms. Hobbs said. When the words finally came, she felt they were spoken in exactly the right place. “It was such a beautiful gift, because it meant that I had to come in and hug my mom and scream.”
On December 17, Ms. Hobbs and Mr. Yakopin were married in front of 120 guests at Mint Springs Farm in Nolensville, Tennessee. Hannah and Rachel Hobbs, dressed in long black velvet dresses, were both bridesmaids. Mr. Hobbs walked his daughter down a flower-filled, candlelit aisle to the Reverend Mark A. Stewart, a retired Methodist minister whom the Hobbs sisters have known since childhood.
Ms. Hobbs, in a full-skirted strapless wedding dress with a train, and Mr. Yakopin, in a black tuxedo, wrote their own vows and exchanged them out of sight, ahead of the traditional ceremony. “In a sense, we’re both individuals,” Ms. Hobbs said.
Before the Reverend Stewart declared them married, Mr Yakopin’s sisters serenaded the wedding party with the contemporary Christian hit “In Christ Alone”. Their harmonies, like the couple they sang for, came together effortlessly.
When December 17, 2022
Where Mint Springs Farm, Nolensville, Tenn.
In vacations The couple took a break at a post-wedding reception. Their first dance was to “Prayed For You” by Matt Stell.
always close The day after the wedding, Mrs. Hobbs moved out of the Nashville home she shared with her sisters (Rachel Hobbs had moved to Nashville shortly after the twins) and into the house that Mr. Yakopin began renting in 2020.
The climb Milestones in the Hobbs Sisters’ journey to becoming country hitmakers included opening for Charlie Daniels and Lady A.