HT Interview: Ivan & Alyosha is a Band Name

Just like Jethro Tull is not the name of the guy who plays the flute (shame on those people, that’s Ian Anderson), Ivan & Alyosha is not the name of a duo. It’s a Seattle band named for a literary reference. The band is a four piece rock/folk ensemble with an eagerly anticipated full length debut called All the Times We Had due out on February 26.

[Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford]

After two well received EPs, the band experienced a bit of a tumultuous process on their way to finishing the proper full length which involved a few location and production changes. In the end, the old “If you want something done right” mantra proved true, and the end result was worth the wait. In anticipation of a big year, we spoke with Tim Wilson to learn more about the group and discuss the upcoming record.

Hidden Track: To get us rolling, I was hoping to get a little background. For starters, please tell us how you and Ryan [Carbary] met and how you started the band?

Tin Wilson: Ryan and I met through some old bandmates of mine. This is probably eight or nine years ago. I was playing in another band and Ryan was a young dude, probably just a few years out of high school and he was at audio engineering school in Vancouver, B.C. and he came home. He actually grew up in town just east of where I was born up in Snohomish, a more rural area north of Seattle. So, we kind of had this mutual friend and an old bandmate of mine. Ryan came to birthday party of mine and I had been writing more pop, whereas the band I was in was more experimental, Led Zeppelin, and they were huge into M83 and some more electronic stuff, New Order. I wasn’t super into all that stuff, I was just kind of more into popular music in general. So I had been writing these songs and Ryan came up to me and said, “Hey, I heard your songs. We should record those sometime.”

And that was pretty much it. We started hanging out and we eventually started making music together. Long story short, he actually married a very good childhood friend of mine and my brother Pete’s. So, he certainly fit right in, so we kind of went from there.

HT: In terms of the album, I wanted to get some perspective in terms of how you approached it, where you worked on it, for how long and who you worked with.

TW: We actually started the record once in Los Angeles almost two years ago. We recorded six songs, and we pretty much threw it all out. We did it with a producer down there, but that ended up being a big false start for the record. Thinking chronologically here, the idea all along was to work with a producer and we set out to find the perfect guy that we would jive with. We thought we found the right guy, but it didn’t quite work. We thought we found another guy, but actually the day we were supposed to leave to go to Nashville, everything fell through money-wise. We couldn’t figure out the details of it, so we didn’t go.

Everyone was pretty fed up going into last fall. We still had no record recorded, and we were still spending quite a bit of time on the road, which also makes recording records pretty impossible, so we just decided to do it on our own. We did a trial run with this producer engineer friend of ours named Chad Copelin. He came up to Seattle last winter, and we did a few days with him and it was great. Then, we did two weeks in January at a studio called Avast, which is a very famous studio here in Seattle. Death Cab did a lot of their earlier stuff there, the Fleet Foxes recorded there and the Shins recorded Shoots Too Narrow [there]. While we were recording, the Walkmen were next door working on their record. It’s just kind of one of those legendary Seattle places and they have always been really good to us.

Looking back on it, that’s definitely part of the band’s story, getting our feet wet in the business of making records and being on the road, we’ve figured out that although we’re not opposed to working with someone creatively, a producer or engineer, we kind of figured out that we can make records ourselves. It’s really sharpened what we do and it’s been a freeing process as well.

HT: I heard you guys will be working with [indie record label] Dualtone. How did that end up on the table?

TW: The Dualtone guys are awesome. We’ve been talking to those guys for two years now. We put up a demo called “Don’t Want to Die Anymore” and Paste featured the demo, and this guy Will, who was an intern at the time, showed it to everybody, and Paul and Scott from Dualtone got in touch with us and our manager. We all went out to dinner when we were on the road in St. Louis and they were cool guys, but we didn’t have a record. Then when we decided to do the record ourselves, we thought we’d finish it and shop it around. After getting the run around from a few labels, Dualtone was the one that really shined through. They told us when they would put out the record and were super complimentary of the songs and the band. At the end of the day, it just worked out naturally and everyone unanimously said ‘let’s do it’.

HT: Shifting gears a little, this is a bit more of a personal question. As you were growing up and getting your feet wet in music, was there ever anyone in your life who was influential in getting you involved, like a friend, a teacher, your parents – anyone like that?

TW: I don’t want this to be too vague, but I think it was just kind of ‘the village’ if you will. The people my parents surrounded our family with, anyone from my older cousins when I was really young listening to Michael Jackson to the fact that my dad was a singer singing at church and at weddings and funerals. I think just growing up singing in church choir and singing in school choir [helped]. As a kid, I discovered Nirvana.

I remember seeing a video of Faith No More’s Epic, and I thought it was just amazing. It was one of those moments as a kid, where you think “Holy Crap! What is that?” Certainly, Michael Jackson was huge, I just flipped over him. My dad was really big into Elvis. My mom tells a funny story that my dad got his tax return and went straight out and bought Elvis’s Greatest Hits on vinyl. It was a huge vinyl set. So, music was always in the house and once me and my brother discovered bands, I started playing guitar and he started playing piano.

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HT: Curious, what kind of comparisons have you guys been getting as publicity picks up?

TW: I’ll give you the ones I like. Given who we are, and what we do, and who we are into is on the poppier end of things, so we’ve got a friend from Australia who calls us “American Coldplay.” Then there’s the whole folk Seattle thing, but I don’t hear that as much. I mean, we’re big into Dawes and Delta Spirit, so somebody recently said it sounds like early Delta Spirit, which is a big big compliment. I also read a little review recently that said Ivan & Alyosha sounds like [what would happen] if the Killers picked up acoustic guitars.

At the end of the day, I’d say we’re just big Beatles fans and big Fleetwood Mac fans. For the most part, we just try to keep it pretty simple and focus on the songs. We try to write parts and melodies that fit the song. We just love singing together. If the song isn’t there, we don’t continue playing it or continue even writing. Hopefully, the songwriting comes across as one of the big strengths.

HT: When you guys write, is it typically a pretty collaborative process or do you independently bring ideas?

TW: My brother Pete has been writing a considerable amount more, which is awesome. Early on, it was kind of all me, and then I’d bring ideas to everyone. I feel like maybe having recorded a record and then having been on the road a ton, we don’t get to write as much anymore. So what we’ll do periodically is go up to a cabin north of Seattle and just sit around, play songs for each other and wait until somebody gets excited about a song. Usually, it’s pretty clear. Everybody is like, “Oh man, What’s that? Let’s play that?” That’s the real fun part of what we do.

I kind of joke around with people and say 90% of the time, we’re not playing music. It easier administrative type stuff, or getting t-shirts designed, or bills paid or whatever. So I wish it was flip-flopped. Right now, it’s just  not. Like yesterday for instance, we were shooting a video in the freezing cold in Seattle, but it was very fun.

[Photo by Veronica Alba]

HT: I know everybody kind of asks you about the band name, so I spare you on that, but I was kind of curious about the song God or Man, was that a nod to the book?

TW: I think that in some loose way, yeah. Wow, nobody has ever pointed that out, but it certainly fits. Ivan and Alyosha are the two brothers in the Brothers Karamzov and one is a monk and one is an atheist. God or Man was a song I wrote sitting at a piano and it was kind of like a conversation with God, pleading with him to make something of my life, but not really knowing how to decipher if he was directing me through the monotony of day-to-day. But at the end of the day, I do believe that we are all guided. At least for my own life, I like to think that I am being directed guided and it’s not all just Earthly external circumstances and people that are deciding where my life goes, but actually a real sense of purpose. I try and intend to live my life that way, so that’s what that song is really about.

HT: Just one last light question. I was curious if you have perhaps one really memorable concert or epic show that you’ve attended to tell us about.

TW: In high school, I went to see U2 on their Pop Mart at the Kingdome here in Seattle, which is now torn down. It was just a gnarly place. There were like 50,000 people there, but I was so impressed by how personal the guys in U2 felt. Until that point, I was listening to like Sir Mix a Lot and Will Smith [laughs], so I needed that over the top rock n roll experience. One other one post-college, I went and saw Richard Swift who now plays in the Shins, at Hotel Café in Los Angeles. That was a life changing musical experience, because his band and the songs that he writes are incredible. It made me really switch my focus to being more on the song craft.

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