Spending Time with Ivan & Alyosha

Ivan & Alyosha cover art.

Ivan & Alyosha cover art.

Ivan & Alyosha seemed weary when I interviewed them before their concert at Mac’s Bar on June 24th. They were due onstage in two hours, and still they bore bone-tired, beatdown, heartsore looks behind the eyes that made me think they needed a nap, an espresso, a hug. They’d been on the road for months, and they still had six days to go before they could return home to Seattle.

When they were robbed in Atlanta, Georgia–losing $50,000 of gear that had taken them more than ten years to amass–their fans rallied. A PledgeMusic Campaign allowed fans to help out. Companies donated, too. People really wanted Ivan & Alyosha to stay on the road.

And then came the backlash. They were called entitled. It was said that their thank-yous weren’t loud enough, weren’t specific enough.

Frontman Tim Wilson seemed frustrated and sad when talking about the aftermath of the theft. The band didn’t seem to be grieving the loss of the equipment, but they did seem to be grieving something. A lost innocence, maybe? Money comes with strings attached.

Or maybe they just need more coffee, suggested Rachel, wife of Ivan & Alyosha co-founder, Ryan Carbary. They hadn’t had as much that Monday as they were used to. They played in Detroit the night before, alongside Nashville’s Neulore, and they were expecting to be on the road until 2AM that night after their show at Mac’s Bar.

Money weighs heavily on their minds. The guys largely work at coffee shops when they’re at home, though Ivan & Alyosha is finally getting to that point where they think they might be able to quit their day jobs and just be musicians, husbands, fathers.

Tim and his brother Pete are both fathers. Baby number two for Tim was expected in July. Boys, all of them. Wilsons don’t have girls.

The guys in the band are familiar with the concept of selling out, but as they mulled over a publishing deal, it was their families that they were considering.

We talked a little about songwriting, and while the band says that they’re all involved in the process, it was Pete Wilson who seemed hungry for the title; it was his eyes lighting up the room when talking about penning songs.

Later, his big brother Tim, the band’s frontman, talked a little about everyone’s place in the band. “I can’t write ‘Running for Cover,’” Tim admitted. But that’s ok, because Pete can–and it’s a big, breakthrough song for the band. We play it nearly every day here at LCC Radio.

Ivan & Alyosha (Alley Oh sha) are well-received by the critics, and I’ll confess that fact made me dread  talking to them, a little bit. Indie pop music about struggle and emotional truth? It’s the kind of accessible music that I connect with personally, making me feel like I know the band. And the thing is, I never want to actually meet the guys in bands like that. It’s one thing to listen to a guy with an acoustic guitar at a coffee shop; someone who is using his facility with music to work through some stuff . . . and it’s another thing when that guy has the stamp of approval from the music elite confirming that secret belief we all have that our feelings are extra true. I didn’t want to lose my love of “Running for Cover” by finding out that all of this praise is being heaped upon a bunch of skinny guys from Seattle who are actually kind of mean.

They aren’t mean, of course, because this is real life, not a pre-packaged angsty cliche. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t without angst. That blowback over fundraising for their lost gear really bugs them. The stereotype about indie folk pop musicians from Seattle with a band name taken from Russian literature who wear skinny jeans and are beloved by the national music press being pretentious? That bugs them a lot.

Is it totally unfair? I think so. I watched them after their performance, and while they did look tired and weren’t walking up to fans to chat them up, anybody who approached a band member to talk or say how much they liked the performance got engagement of some kind, be it a conversation, a handshake, or an autograph.

Their songs, which are largely about love, faith, and redemption, aren’t pretentious–there are no references to cathedrals in Europe or backpacking in India, and there’s nary a reference to Russian literature anywhere other than in the band’s name (taken from Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”). They aren’t carrying the pretensions of any life other than their own, and right now, that’s a life just like most of us–trying to get by, do the right thing, and be with our families.

I know I said that my experience with Ivan & Alyosha was all about real life, but there was one moment of magic, and I knew it was coming. If a band was that tired and that stressed out about the loss of equipment, there had to be something that kept them going.

And there was. Three, four songs in, they hit a harmony. The guitars were crying and the guys of Ivan & Alyosha threw their shoulders back and lifted their chins, singing out together. I thought to myself, “There it is.”