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This is a debut? Ivan & Alyosha already seasoned

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They've made me write the column of criticism and so life was made possible.
--from The Brothers Karamazov

First things first: The band name is Ivan & Alyosha, but it's a quartet, not a duo.

"It's been a bit confusing," says Tim Wilson, Ivan & Alyosha's singer-guitarist, not seeming too worried. "Journalists are usually, like, 'Which one's the atheist? I wanna talk to that one!'"

with Twin Forks
• 7 p.m. April 27
• Schubas, 3159 N. Southport
• Tickets, $12; (773) 525-2508;

The slightly esoteric moniker stems from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which chronicles a lifelong philosophical debate between Russian siblings -- two of them named, you guessed it -- one of whom is a monk, another a nonbeliever.

The name was suggested by Eli Thomson, the producer of I&A's debut EP ("The Verse, the Chorus," 2009).

"One day we were chatting about good band names, and he chimed in with this," Wilson says. " I thought it sounded like Belle & Sebastian, a band I really like. It kind of stuck with us, and it's taken on some new meaning for us. We've found our way to the meaning in the book. ...

"People want to know how the various members line up with themes in the book. We talk about spirituality, but in an abstract way. It's not that we're saying anything too profound. We just sing about the lives we live, things we want to get to the bottom of, which includes love and faith and God and death and the end of the world. ... The song 'I Was Born to Love Her' -- one woman thought that might have been inspired by Dmitri's love story from the novel. It wasn't, but I can sort of see how it could be. It's all created some intriguing mysteries."

He thinks a moment, then, "Maybe we should form a Dostoyevsky tribute band."

The Seattle group also includes guitarist-pianist Ryan Carbary, guitarist Tim Kim and drummer Pete Wilson, Tim's brother. Everyone sings; this is the latest beautiful harmony group to come along within indie-pop.

Comparisons to the Fleet Foxes have been widespread. Don't buy into them.

"They're a wonderful band, but what they do and what we do is very different," Wilson says. "We're influenced by more of a UK thing, and Fleetwood Mac, Beatles, Beach Boys certainly. Harmonies are kind of a timeless element of rock and roll, and we just started doing them one day, not planning to be a vocal band. We basically had too much fun creating them in the studio, then realized we had to pull these off live."

Timeless is the descriptor to seize in describing Ivan & Alyosha's new debut full-length, "All the Times We Had." Packed with sunny melodies, George Harrison guitars, an updated sense of '70s pop (I didn't say soft-rock...), it's an album that directly addresses one of Wilson's most present icons, Harry Nilsson, but also threads through the 1990s revival of pop classicism (Michael Penn, the Rembrandts, Jude) up to and stopping just short of the current and more country leanings of Dawes.

"You kind of are what you eat," Wilson says of his influences, "and for the most part we are a happy bunch. Coming from Seattle, people have a lot of preconceptions about the scene, past or present. Maybe due to the weather it's always had a bit more of a reflective vibe and some sort of tension going on in its music. What do they call that? Teen angst? No, teen spirit! What we do is more of a West Coast sound. More sun. More California."

Ivan & Alyosha have seen much more of the country, though. Since the first EP, the band has toured pretty relentlessly. At last month's South by Southwest conference and festival, they played 18 separate gigs (including a delightful afternoon set on Austin's Sixth Street, appropriately outdoors in the sun).
Wilson says it's been grueling but rewarding.

"We've been getting to know each other, getting to know how to play this music. I feel like it's been crucial for the development of my songwriting but also my ability as a vocalist. Like anything else, you have to do it a lot to get good at it. With the human voice, you know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Doing something like South by Southwest, singing two or three or four times a day, you can lose your voice pretty quick. Most of the time you're pretty hoarse on the road. But I've learned a few things, and we've really grown up. It takes time."

As a result, "All the Times We Had" comes on like the band's third or fourth album instead of its first. Seasoned -- that's the other word to apply, despite the band's packaged date.

And on the road, they've kept some good -- also seasoned -- company. Aimee Mann was an early champion of the band, and she sings on the debut album's title track.

"We did some dates with her a couple years back, our first real support tour," Wilson says. "She was wonderful to us, and we hit it off with her and her band. They had us out again last winter, and we spent some time on the road together. When we were done with the record, we wanted a duet for the lead song -- someone we knew but someone that was really special, too. We asked her, and she chose this song. We remixed it late in the game to get her included. It was icing on the cake at the end of a grueling process."

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on April 24, 2013 6:00 AM.

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