words: April S. Engram
photos: Alicia J. Rose
I am always mystified by duos and how they seem to create so many sounds with so few instruments and their multitasking abilities will put any uncoordinated soul to shame. Anyone who can strum an acoustic guitar and sing while still maintaining the bass of the drum and cymbals gains my respect. Such were the sights and sounds I had the luxury of taking in while watching Viva Voce take command of the stage in Rochester, NY’s Bug Jar on October 16th. On a Monday night, the crowd was sparse and I was a little frightened that a crowd would not develop. But as the evening progressed, and by the time the Voce’s took the stage, more bodies appeared to watch the Portland group blow them away. Before the show I had the luxury of sitting with Kevin and Anita Robinson and had a great conversation, and might I add, what an adorable couple they are.
Loose Record: First off, thank you for sitting with me, but where did you guys get the name Viva Voce? I love saying it; you have to say it with a flare…
Anita: You say it the right way, so that’s saying something…we used the Italian translation and Kevin actually chose it so blame him, why did you choose it?
Kevin: It’s Italian for ‘by word of mouth’ and it’s how people find out who we are, that’s why we chose it. I’ve always seen that word and used it every now and then, it just seemed like it would be a cool band name…
LR: And why not, I know band names are difficult to create and hey, it works…
Kevin: And we just didn’t want a “The something Band”…The Brick Wall or something…
LR: Exactly, The Word of Mouth, it wouldn’t flow as well. What other passions do you guys have? Music, I imagine, is just one aspect of your lives that you’re passionate about…
Kevin: Anita, she’s a good gardener, she’s got a real green thumb.
Anita: I like learning about different plants, I don’t know if I’m so great about keeping them alive, but I think it’s really awesome to know what their names are, their scientific names and all that lame stuff.
LR: I’m in awe of anyone who can pick out a flower and know it, so that’s not geeky at all, I admire you for that. And how about you Kevin?
Kevin: Well, music is all I’m about. I do like a lot of the art aspects of it all, down to the artwork and packaging, graphic detail and the business side. I really like just music stuff and whatever it involves, website design and graphic arts. That’s really about it; I just do one thing and try to do that on thing really well.
LR: What about Stars Wars, ehh, I hear you’re loving it…
Kevin, Yea, you can’ be a child of the 70’s and not love Star Wars, did you see that interview online?
LR: Yea, it cracked me up.
Kevin: I love it, I mean every kid growing up had Star Wars lunch boxes…I was one of them.
LR: I haven’t even seen the movie that would probably be a travesty for you to hear…
Kevin: Nah, that’s not bad, the 70’s ones were the only ones worth seeing.
LR: That’s always the case, stick with the original. I’m a fan of Spaceballs if that counts?
Kevin: The Schwartz…
LR: You’ve got to love it! Now, what inspired your love of music? Was it a particular person or moment?
Anita: I think for me, I’ve always been surrounded by music, a large variety of music. My Dad is a DJ and a musician, he’s a luthier, he makes instruments, so that’s probably where that all stems from. I remember being as young as 5 or 6 and having a mini cassette recorder and tapes and sort of making my own songs, I just always loved to do that.
Kevin: My family wasn’t very musical; I’ve always liked arts and projects. Growing up I always had a project, whether it was drawing or something, and I just liked to record things. When I was about 17 I bought a 4 track and I just really got interested in that.
LR: Ok, and Anita, you’re father makes guitars…
Anita: Yea, he does, and he actually just made me something that he calls the ‘Viva Steel,’ it combines the regular, six string electric guitar with a lap steel, but you play it standing up, it’s slightly tilted, and you can switch between one or the other. So now that he made it for me I have to figure out how to play the damn thing, so that’s what I’m trying to do right now.
LR: Nice, so you still get that lap steel sound?
Anita: Yea, so hopefully that will be on the next record.
LR: Great, so dad came through! Now, Kim Baxter, how did you guys met her and how did she jump aboard?
Anita: I met Kim at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, we both volunteered a couple of summer ago for that and just became really good friends. Her band owns K Records, they’re really great, she’s in it with Kathy from the Thermals. Kathy out right now touring with the Thermals so Kim had some time off, so that worked out great for us. She’s super talented; she sings harmony, which is great. So it’s nice to have that sort of girlier harmonies on the record, Kevin can’t sing that…
Kevin: Can’t sing that high…
Anita: No matter how hard he tries.
LR: So do you guys have a ritual before you go on stage, methods to relax? Kevin’s shaking his head like, “Nah.”
Anita: No, I’m just always super calm before and after the show and I just don’t hold back when I’m on stage. I don’t really have to psyche myself up, it’s really just a matter of trying to reign in the adrenaline and just concentrate on playing and not, sort of, break all the strings and destroying my guitar.
LR: Gotcha! Now, I don’t know how you guys would describe your music. The lyrics are very tongue in cheek and the music is very lush, it’s like a rollercoaster ride…how would you guys describe your sound?
Kevin: That’s a very good observation; it’s cool to juxtapose really serious lyrics with kind of whimsical melodies. Or if it’s a real dark lyric, to put it with happy music, I like that kind of contrast.
LR: I’m the same way when it comes to music, I love it. Any great tales to share about your recording experience for this album?
Kevin: Well, we had horns for the first time, I wanted a stacked, funk horns kind of a sound on this one particular song and we never had real horns. And it was really interesting to record that, to explain to the horn players what I wanted, because I can’t write music, can’t read music, so I just showed them on a guitar what to do, that was fun…
Anita: Yea, neither of us can officially read music so we just have our own sort of language that we use to write out stuff.
Kevin: We’re both self taught on everything, I’ve never taken one lesson.
Anita: And we went to the Stonehenge on one of our UK tours and that was really cool, I think we got a little inspiration from that.
LR: I can imagine. I still haven’t crossed the pond myself so I’m looking forward to that.
Kevin: It’s intense…
LR: Now are there any songs one this album that hold a special place or have meaning to you?
Kevin: On this record…specials songs…well, they’re all kind of special. I like…”Special Thing” is kind of special, every record we have one song usually that’s, to me anyway, that’s like a sappy love song to Anita. I don’t try to make it flat out, say ‘you’ and things like that, but they are definitely songs that I wrote for Anita, and those are special to me and they’re fun to play. On out first record there was “Red D-lish,” on our last record there was a song called “High Highs,” those always stick out as really special songs to me.
Anita: I think probably “How to Nurse a Bruised Ego Back to Health,” it’s just one of those sort of grand, ambitious, epic songs that has three separate parts and it’s always really exciting and fun. You almost feel like you’re orchestrating, trying to conjure up different emotions, that’s really cool. Instead of just unleashing a pop song, which is awesome to do as well but this is a little more sophisticated and a little more music skill involved, I like to think that anyway, so I really like the way that turned out.
LR: Special Thing is my favorite song as well and are you guys aware of the radio station KEXP?
LR: Well just the other day they played Special Thing and I got all excited and told them I was going to sit down with you and they wanted me to say that you are getting a lot of KEXP love.
Kevin: Oh word, that’s cool! They’ve been playing that!
LR: OK, last thing! How would you describe Viva Voce in 5 words?
Kevin: 5 words…
Kevin: Chortled, I’m sticking by it…
Anita: Shrewd…that’s five words.
Kevin: No, that’s four, nauseated. Loud, noisy, rock, pop, good-stuff! Good-stuff is one word!
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