About once a month one Portland band makes a strong argument for getting to the show early. Viva Voce--a loud and sophisticated two-piece indie-rock band--plays low on the bill with a band like Sebadoh at Berbati's Pan. And, if you're smart, you get there early.
Following a half-hour set, Viva Voce makes the headliner sound like last month's open-mic contender. The rest of the bill is one long excuse to grab Voodoo donuts safe in the knowledge that you've already heard the songs that were worth the full price of the cover.
On Sept. 14, the duo--wife and husband Anita and Kevin Robinson--will release a follow-up to 2003's Lovers Lead the Way! and brave the highways for a fall tour. But before setting out, the couple found time to make some Folgers instant coffee in their North Portland home/recording studio/practice space and talk about the band's sophomore opus, The Heat Will Melt Your Brain.
Labeling the album an opus isn't hyperbole. While Lovers Lead the Way! was a home-recorded, multilayered album that sounds better than most studio records, The Heat Will Melt Your Brain is an even more astounding exploration of what two people can do with a subscription to TapeOp magazine, a basement filled with recording gear, and some seriously frightening talent.
Most of the The Heat Can Melt Your Brain was recorded during last winter's snowstorm in the spots where the Robinson's kitchen table, couch and TV set--blearily airing the Olympics during WW's interview--sit today.
Kevin gestures to the wall from across the kitchen table. "There is still some soundproofing in the windows," he says. "We boarded everything up. The entire place was all recording gear. We had amps lined up down the hallways and in the bathroom."
The result is an album stamped with the best kind of artistic vampirism. Tapping the cool-out vibe of Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons, The Heat Will Melt Your Brain is a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle of an album, held together by equal parts production flourish and indie-rock artistry.
When Kevin and Anita talk about the album, they discuss its engineering with as much enthusiasm as its songs. Their eyes light up when talking about discovering compression, spending hours recording backwards guitar parts, and looking to revered prog-rock producers for inspiration.
"We love the stuff Alan Parsons has done on records by ELO [Electric Light Orchestra] and Pink Floyd," Anita says. "He's just kind of a superstar to the recording geeks out there."
Both Kevin and Anita were born in Alabama, where they played in cover bands with their older brothers before meeting, moving to Nashville together, and then Portland.
"We love the South and we're Southerners at heart," says Kevin, who like Anita, still speaks with a drawl. "It's really an eccentric place and not a great place to do the kind of music that we are doing. For country music or gospel it's a great place to be, but for indie rockers...."
But no matter how nerdy or un-hip it might be, those Southern influences find their way into Viva Voce's music. Growing up in the South and listening to their older brothers' Creedence and ELO LPs has made these crisp, indie-rock anthems possible.
A track like "The Lucky Ones" and the slow-build rock-out of "Free Nude Celebs" have the kind of high-fret guitar solos that, in the right circumstances, could light up an arena with held-high cigarette lighters. Or maybe, with the cycling keyboards of "The Center of the Universe" and the Floyd-esque outer-space jab of bass that loom over them, a laser light show is what's in order.
Through it all, the recording quality of the album is as impressive as the music. Unlike a band slogging through the frustrations of DIY producing just to have product on the merch table, The Heat is an album recorded with craft and love.
The duo started recording back when they were first dating in Alabama. Kevin would bring a four-track over to Anita's apartment to record the ideas that eventually wound up on the pair's debut.
Nowadays, they talk about engineering the overdubs for the new album the way that other couples talk to each other about kids, past vacations or golf.
Ask about the downside of being in a relationship and a band at the same time, and it takes Kevin a minute to respond.
"When you are linked as a partnership, you both succeed or you both fail," he says.
With an album of loud, smart lovers' rock like The Heat Will Melt Your Brain, it's hard to imagine Viva Voce succumbing to the latter.
Music Millennium Northwest, 801 NW 23rd Ave., 248-0163. 6 pm Tuesday, Sept. 14. All ages.