Seattle-based folk-pop act Ivan & Alyosha have been hard at work over the past few years, building a following by heavy touring in support of their two earlier EPs, The Verse, The Chorus and Fathers Be Kind. They first came on the national radar thanks to NPR, who has featured the band several times over the past couple of years.
Now, Ivan & Alyosha (named after two characters from The Brothers Karamazov) are set to reach a wider audience with a long-awaited full-length debut, All The Times We Had. Since its official release on February 26, the album has debuted at an impressive Number 6 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
Music Is My Oxygen caught up with the band as they kicked off a set of tour dates in Denver, Colorado, on their way to SXSW. Brothers and bandmates Tim and Pete Wilson (lead vocalist and bassist, respectively) were kind enough to sit down with us for a few minutes before the show.
MIMO: Your album All the Times We Had is your full-length debut. Give us a little bit of story of the process that went into making that record.
Tim: Well, long story short, the record that ended up getting made, we did at a studio called Avast in Seattle. It’s a place we feel really comfortable. We did it last January, 2012. We had two weeks to do it; we went back on the road a couple weeks into recording and came back and did some overdubbing. And we were done by last April, but before that, we had toured for almost a year and a half on [the] Fathers Be Kind [EP], and almost didn’t have the time even to record the full length. And people were like “When is your full length coming out?”, wondering why it takes so long. It’s just like we were on the road so much, and every time we got off the road we’d try to kind of get into the space that we needed to be in to actually get in the studio and record. But it just didn’t happen until January.
The studio in Seattle, it’s like kind of our studio home. A lot of amazing records have been made there, like Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins. Fleet Fox did their records there, [and] Band of Horses. The Walkmen were there while we were there; just kind of a rad place to make music.
Pete: We ended up working with James McAllister playing drums. He had a buddy, an engineer friend [Chad Copelin] who kept on trying to introduce us to him, and when it finally happened we got in the studio with him and everything just seemed to fall into place so well. It’s like we just realized that if you’re not in the studio with the right people, it’s a long grueling process, but once it clicks, it happens pretty fast.
MIMO: Your songs have really covered some introspective topics. Tell us a little of the songwriting process for you guys; how does a song get made with this band?
Tim: That’s a good question.
MIMO: A little different every time?
Tim: Yeah, I mean I think lately it’s been very different. Kind of circling around the question a little bit, Pete just had a kid…
Pete: Thank you.
Tim: I have an almost three-year-old boy, so I feel like Pete in the last couple of years has done a lot of writing, like he wrote the title track on the full length. [Also] “Running for Cover”, “Be Your Man”…before it was kind of all me and now it’s a lot of Pete. I think the last time I probably wrote a full song was “On My Way” last summer. The process is kind of like when we do get some real down time to actually like have a few hours to actually write, Pete and I will write, and we kind of will bring everything to the table, and maybe we’ll go up to a cabin up north in Seattle for a weekend, and we’ll just play a bunch of songs and we’ll end up just kind of gravitating toward something. But then a lot of times, a song I will write, I feel like maybe “The Fold”, for example–like I wrote “The Fold” on the acoustic guitar, and then it’s kind of like, “All right, here, band, what can you guys do with this part-wise?’ And Ryan came up with the [humming] and that kind of took it to a more exciting place. The song ended up in a very different place than we ever thought it would.
If nothing else, the road–I’ve never been able to write a song ever on the road, but we listen to a ton of music, watch a ton of movies, read a ton of books, so it’s just like, inspiration is like endless, you know. And you’re meeting people every night, so you kind of go home with a lot of ammo. But then I change diapers. I feel like that’s the difficulty is when you do get home, you kind of have to really separate. There has to be some sort of like, “All right, I’m going away for six hours and I’m going to sit in a room and try to write something,” you know?
MIMO: Yeah, so a lot of the inspiration comes from your experiences and then you process all that over time, whatever time you’ve got.
MIMO: It’s interesting that you mentioned “The Fold” because I was going to ask specifically about that one, because it’s my personal favorite on the record.
Pete: I think that’s the best song.
MIMO: Yeah, from a songwriter’s standpoint, first of all, it’s got the makings of a hit. I mean, it’s so catchy, so memorable, and it’s very encouraging. But I wanted to ask you about that one in particular, how that came about, what was inspiration for that?
Tim: You know, this is probably not what some people might want to hear, but I actually was encouraged–sometimes with writing, some people go more like formulaic; they have a formula to their writing. I don’t feel like we’ve ever necessarily been that way; to me, it’s always been about kind of re-creating things that we love, songs that we love…just kind of being inspired by those things and trying to capture some of that like in something that you write. I feel that’s a big part of writing a good song just ingesting, like being influenced by good writing and ingesting good music into yourself. That’s what I tell young writers, just listen to good songwriters, because inevitably you will be influenced by that.
To answer your question, “The Fold” was a writing exercise that I did because I was encouraged by a drummer friend of ours, because I was kind of complaining like “I don’t ever get to write,” and he was like “Take a song that you really love and write a song similar to it.” But what inevitably always happens is it ends up being something so different than what you were attempting to mirror, you know? So it was a song called “Only The Young” by Brandon Flowers, and the song’s just so beautiful to me; and not that the writing was necessarily so amazing or whatever, but just the vibe of the song. I just kind of loved it. So, I kind of set out to write something simple, but then I feel like the content, lyrically, has become so much more important to me than like the melodies. So that song is just kind of a pretty, honest song and it’s almost written in third person, but I feel like it’s just me kind of having a conversation with myself.
MIMO: You’re actually starting on a tour. This is night one of a tour here.
Pete: Right, yeah.
MIMO: So obviously touring is a big thing over the next couple of months, but what do you see on the horizon for your band? What do you have on your plate?
Pete: Yeah, we’re starting to get some offers in for summertime touring. We were kind of hoping to do a couple headline tours, which we’re doing, [and] get back home and then try to weasel our way into other peoples’ fan bases by opening up for them. [laughter] So nothing’s really set in stone yet, but as far as the near future–
Tim: We’re getting some offers though, which is nice.
Pete: Yeah, summertime touring, and I think we’re just really excited to get down to South by Southwest. A lot of our management and label will all be there; our management’s in New York our label’s in Nashville, and it’s always fun when we can all just like get together for that week and we’re like crazy. I counted up–I think we’re playing like sixteen or seventeen times that week. We just know that we’re all going to leave with like colds and sleep deprivation, but it’s a total, like, work week. But it really sets us up for the whole year as far as, you know, inspiration, seeing other bands, really forming relationships with other bands down there. It’s always a blast to get down to Austin.
Tim: I might add, we, well every year the NPR Top 100 comes out, and we’re on that this year–I’m smiling because like NPR has been so good to us and so I feel like in the near future…it’s just an exciting time for us with the new record. I mean, with the new record coming out, we actually did some pretty significant numbers last week. We got the numbers today, and we’re trying to figure out how exactly we’re charting, but we are charting. And so, it’s just kind of fun, like, to you know, we’ve just been waiting for this for so long. We held off on the record for eight months because we signed with Dualtone to put out the record in the first quarter and now it’s out, and I think we’re all looking forward to this tour…even some of the shows are already selling out in some of the cities we’re going to. It’s just really fun to see.