Seattle band Ivan & Alyosha celebrate the release of their second EP, Fathers Be Kind, tomorrow, Friday, February 4th with a show at Columbia City Theater. Fathers Be Kind is a beautiful work of honest melodies and focused song structure, and proves Ivan & Alyosha to be gigantic contender in the Seattle scene. They formed in 2007, were given the name Ivan & Alyosha (characters from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov from producer Eli Thomson), and this spring they will work on their first full length. I talked with singer/composer Tim Wilson this week about the band’s plans and history.
Did you just come back from a few out of town shows?
Tim Wilson: We played Spokane a couple weekends ago and then this last weekend my brother [Pete Wilson, bass] and I had a show in Nova Scotia. We did a fly-out for an artist named Jenn Grant from Nova Scotia.
Had you been there before?
TW: No I’d never been there. It’s a really cool town. It was snowing – it was gorgeous.
I read that you set up your own studio in Snohomish?
TW: That’s correct. Kind of out in the country. We got tired of paying really big studio rental fees so we just built our own studio. We sound proofed as best we as could, bought an old ’70s Tascam board, an Otari eight-track tape machine, and we already had a Pro Tools rig so . . . we kind of just built our own studio with a control room and everything. It’s great to have it. It allowed us the time to focus on making the record we wanted to make.
Tim Wilson of Ivan & Alyosha – photo by Jason Tang
I caught your set on New Day. It was really good! Was that your first official TV appearance?
TW: I’d say so. We had fun.
You have a new son, Henry?
TW: He’s 10 months yesterday.
Is he going on tour with you?
TW: He is. We did a trial run a couple weeks ago. We did Spokane and Portland, just the weekend and it actually went pretty well. It makes everything that much more fun to have a little baby – keep things light.
Your tour is taking you to Tennessee – will that be the first band visit there?
TW: Yes. We play the Folk Alliance Festival, the Basement in Nashville opening up for Mark Olson, which is going to be great. We’ve done some touring with him before. . . Memphis, Knoxville, Franklin as well. I love Tennessee. I’ve spent some time in Nashville. It’s beautiful.
Your EP release is this Friday. Are you excited, nervous, too busy to worry?
TW: We’re excited about it. It seems like ticket sales are doing really well and we’re really excited to have the support from Sound on the Sound. We’re excited to hang with the bands we’re playing with. I think it will be a great night. The only nerve-wracking thing is that there’s going to be fourteen people on stage. We tried to put everything we put on the record into the live show, just for the release show. We’re going to have three part strings, three more people singing background vocals, keys, another acoustic player, auxiliary percussion . . . the whole bit.
Ivan & Alyosha started as a duo – is it now a quartet? You’ve now got Tim Kim playing?
TW: Yes, Tim Kim and my brother. Tim Kim actually played our first show with us back in ’07 at Chop Suey. He’s naturally become more of a part of what we’re doing on a full-time basis. It started out just him playing live. We asked Pete (my brother) to play bass almost two years ago now. Some of the first shows he played with us were at last year’s SXSW. It is a quartet but at the same time we have our buddy Jesse (Carmichael), who is our drummer. He will be joining us for the tour and hopefully after that as well. We’re moving towards having him be a bigger part of what we’re doing.
What’s it like working with your brother? Did you always do music together?
TW: We grew up with music all around but never did music together. I went off to school when he was just coming into his own, like early high school, developing his tastes and musical abilities. He started a band in high school. We never did music together until Ivan & Alyosha, which has been really great.
How has your writing relationship with Ryan [Carbary] changed.
TW: I think it’s changed a little bit. Back in the day I would basically just write all the songs and say here you go, make them cool. Now it’s getting more and more collaborative. Pete wrote a song on the last record, and will definitely have an influence on the full length we’re going to start this spring. Ryan has contributed a lot more to the writing. At the same time the way this band has always worked has been I write the songs and Ryan gives them life in the studio.
In December you visited Warner Bros?
TW: We did an in office performance at Warner Bros. TV and Film.
I watched the YouTube video. It was fantastic.
TW: It was a surreal day. We were up until 3:30 and then we had to be up at 8:00. We drove our RV on to the lot in front of one of the facades, Brownstone Street. It was great.
Did you work with Eli Thomson on both EPs? Will you be working with him on the full length?
TW: Eli worked on our first record. He was not involved in Fathers Be Kind, but we love Eli. He’s working with some amazing bands right now. He plays in Everest and he produced the two Delta Spirit records. He’s definitely someone we’d love to work with again.
Did you all grow up in the Seattle area?
TW: We all kind of grew up in the north end, Mill Creek Snohomish, Lynnwood, Shoreline areas.
You’re working with Missing Piece Records? Will the next album be done with them?
TW: Yes, Missing Piece is our manager’s company. Michael Krumper has taken this band and given it wings. He’s a guy who’s been around for a long time out in New York and knows what he’s doing. He’s part of the family now. When we go out there we stay with his family and vice versa.
The song “Glorify” has some great harmonica on it. Who played it?
TW: That is Ryan. He doesn’t actually play the harmonica but he figured it out. We know a couple people who play it but we just couldn’t get in touch with them.
I really liked it. I am very picky about harmonicas in songs but I liked that.
Did you write “Glorify”?
TW: Sometimes Ryan will just start singing funny things. Last winter we spent some weekends up in a cabin on Lake Goodwin and we did demos for the EP. He just started singing that song, joking around with the lyrics Glorify the Lord above with drink and making love. Then I wrote the verses. It was really natural. We did a demo for it that night and that was that.
I think it’s a moving song. I like that you’re able to have something so positive that’s earnest.
TW: Thank you. It’s interesting how people have responded to that song. Considering the subject matter, it’s interesting that that’s the song people are responding to the most.
I loved the feature in Seattle Weekly where you’re in the library. What do you like reading?
TW: I read Time Magazine, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler. I love reading the New York Times. For the most part if I’m going to read anything it’s going to be scripture or theological commentary. At the same time I’m reading a book about Johnny Cash (The Man Called CASH), which is really good. I just got a book about Frank Sinatra called the Voice. I love reading about entertainers. I like world events, world news.
Did you start really young in music?
TW: I started singing when I was really young. I remember singing in choirs and church when I was a kindergartner. I’m not much of a guitar player but I pride myself on my strumming.
Are your relatives interested in what you’re doing?
TW: From the top down I’d say my parents are overtly supportive. There’s a friend of mine that jokes around that the Academy Awards and the Grammys are the Super Bowl in the Wilson house. We grew up surrounded by movies and music. My dad was a big Elvis fan, Carreras, Pavarotti fan. My brother’s actually a screenwriter in Los Angeles. We’re kind of under the delusion that we can make a buck at this, or at least closer to paying ourselves. We have a lot of people in our lives that are really supportive, and then some people just don’t mention it. Maybe there’s some people who don’t get it.
In a piece in Shockhound you list a George Michael song as a favorite, and that you were in England and the Ukraine at the time. What were you doing there?
TW: I was over there doing some work in an orphanage in the Ukraine. We came back through England. I was a senior in high school and it was beautiful and wonderful. That’s when I started to get into Queen, bought my first Sting record, bought the George Michael greatest hits collection (Ladies & Gentlemen).
You also like Delays? I love them and I never hear enough about them.
TW: I think they were a definite influence early on for this band. We tend towards poppy, just good pop songs. I think they’re great at pop songs. “Wanderlust,” from Faded Seaside Glamour, my wife and I put that in our wedding. I was blown away the first time I heard that song.
Another artist I came across in reading about you is Roy Orbison.
TW:I’ve actually been to Roy Orbison’s grave. It’s in Westwood, just off Wilshire Boulevard. It’s an unmarked grave. Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are buried there. I grew up listening to Roy Orbison. He’s just a fantastic songwriter. His voice is so amazing. I think Elvis Presley said that Roy Orbison is the greatest singer in the world. So much emotion. It’s haunting.
Also how about Harry Nilsson?
TW: I started to get into Harry Nilsson when I started listening to Richard Swift. I think as a songwriter and vocalist he’s incredible. I love singers that sound so effortless at interpreting emotions and ideas with the tone of their voices. A natural talent. When people play that Mariah Carey song “Without You,” that Harry Nilsson wrote. . . Harry Nilsson does a better job!
Interview by Dagmar