Ivan and Alyosha
Seattle-based five-piece rock combo Ivan & Alyosha are finally complete, having organically grown from the original duo of Tim Wilson and Ryan Carbary, adding Tim's brother Pete and Tim Kim, then drummer Cole Mauro as a full-time member for their sophomore Dualtone Records album, It's All Just Pretend, an uplifting exploration of the things that fuel their classic sound, steeped in the verities of family, faith and existential doubt.
Their critically praised debut album, All the Times We Had was a perennial on several NPR tastemaker stations with an iTunes "Song of the Week" for "Running for Cover." Paste called their music "luscious, enjoyable folk-pop" and NPR Music praised their "Beatles-esque pop harmonies and sweet melodies," while Rolling Stone raved about their "smooth, soaring guitar pop" and American Songwriter said the band "achieve a polished west coast soul-folk sound that draws on the poppier sensibilities of McCartney songwriting."
Ivan & Alyosha woodshedded for close to a year in making the new album in a variety of locations, from Carbary's own Seattle area condo home studio to first-album producer Chad Coplein's Black Watch Studios in Norman, Oklahoma and L.A.'s famed Sunset Sound with mixer/co-producer Joe Chiccarelli, who has worked with U2, My Morning Jacket, Elton John, The Shins, Etta James and The Strokes.
The band, which originally took its name from two characters in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, has developed into a three-headed songwriting beast, with the Wilson brothers and Carbary carrying virtually an equal load on the new album. The eclectic 11-song effort takes off with the pure adrenaline of Pete's contributions, "Something Is Wrong" and "Bury Me Deep," highlighted by jangling guitars and pointed observations about freedom and personal responsibility in today's society. "As a songwriter, I feel a huge responsibility to be honest," says Pete Wilson. "And most of the time, that honesty comes at a price of digging down deep into my own faults, frustrations, and doubts. I've tried to write the protest song where I point the finger and place the blame elsewhere, but it never works out." He adds, "The goal is to hold up the mirror to our own shortcomings, and start asking, "how do I get out of the mess I've put myself in?"
Tim's "All This Wandering Around," the first single, offers a haunted Roy Orbison-like croon featuring Tim Kim's swampy delta blues guitar break wrapped around a song of the search for a power greater than oneself, and the stumbles in finding it along the way.
"There has to be honesty," says Tim. "Lyrically and thematically, our songs connect with people, no matter what they believe. We hopefully provide some sort of light, whenever – and wherever – they listen to them."
According to Tim, the album title (which comes from Pete's song) depicts a modern world where reality is hidden behind materialistic illusions, illustrated in songs like his "Modern Man," a funky, '80s Bowie-meets-Hall & Oates R&B number that takes aim on our fetish for technology and outward appearances.
"Somewhere on the journey long ago," he sings. "You lost your place," adding that we're "drowning in the ocean of your lowered expectations."
Carbary's aching, self-lacerating songs explore harsh truths about relationships and domesticity with an eye towards traditional roots rock, evoking the piano balladry of Paul McCartney ("Tears In Your Eyes"), a bluesy four-on-the-floor shuffle punctuated with poppy "Penny Lane" horns ("Oh This Love") and a country gospel lament about relationships – one with a fellow human, the other a higher spiritual power -- featuring his own twangy slide guitar ("Drifting Away"). "I've always been a sucker for a heartbreak song," admits Ryan. "I'm mostly expressing my failures as a human being, and striving to become a better person. It's true emotion."
That rawness and vulnerability can be heard on Tim's "Come Rain, Come Shine," a song that evokes one of George Harrison's blissful Buddhist mantras, a glimpse of our own communal nature, that we all occupy this earth together.
"We wanted to come up with something that was universal," explains Tim, who co-penned the song with Nashville songwriter Dave Berg. "We wanted to bring things into perspective, with all of the nonsense going on in America and the world, that we're all part of this global community. All may be meaningless, but there are still things in the world that are meaningful. As a band, we try to err on the light, rather than the dark, side. We admit there are things we have yet to figure out, but instead of falling into easy cynicism, or self-absorption, though, we try to dig deeper."
With four of the five band members married, and two of them with kids, family is an important consideration for Ivan & Alyosha. Tim deals with the topic openly on the closing lullaby to his then two-year-old son Henry, "Don't Lose Your Love," a wise counsel from a father to his child and wife, his fingers squeaking on the fret like a literal tug on the heartstrings. For all the members of I&A, as they pursue their musical ambitions, it is important that their personal lives remain grounded. "It can be difficult when we're on the road," says Ryan. "We're very grateful to have the kind of support we do from the loved ones back home"
"Family informs just about everything we do creatively," nods Tim, a devoted father and husband who manages to keep the home fires burning whether on tour or recording. "It's an inspiring thing, for sure. We're all just trying to take care of each other. Rock bands don't usually deal with topics like family and spirituality, but these subjects are universal."
On It's All Just Pretend, Ivan & Alyosha continue to make timeless music that shows that rock and domestic bliss can indeed co-exist, as they overcome any obstacles by the sheer joy of their roles -- not only as performers, but brothers, husbands, fathers and sons.
In 2010 Fort Atlantic began as an experiment by Jon Black. After his small Athens, GA label closed their doors in 2009, Jon was left with a question: How can he continue to do what he loves in the current musical climate?
“Most artists I know just open a Kickstarter account and ask for money so someone else can help them make a record. I felt like it was foolish to ignore the advances in technology that allow records to be made for relatively little money. Why couldn’t I learn to make a record on my own?” says Black. With that DIY-attitude and all of his savings, Black built a modest home studio and worked for countless hours learning the in’s & out’s of producing.
From 2009 to 2011 he recorded over 30 songs and released three EPs under his name. Keeping with the DIY mentality, Black played a wide variety of instruments himself. “The idea of making a record myself wasn’t to hire someone for every instrument and then put my guitar and vocals on it. While I did ask friends to play on the record I was more interested in pushing my creative limits. If I didn’t know how to play something and had access to it, I would learn.”
In November of 2011 Black finished recording and took the record to New York to work with Grammy-winning mixer and producer Tom Schick (Wilco, Ryan Adams, Mavis Staples, She & Him, Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainwright). They mixed songs, new and old, for five days in Studio A at Magic Shop (Coldplay, Arcade Fire, David Bowie) and became friends through the process. “The songs on this record are instant classics. Jon has an impressive voice and crafts beautiful songs with many great twists and turns. I love this record,” says Schick.
On the record you’ll find a blend of analog and digital representing the current state of human existence. “We balance between heartbeats and hard drives. Our art will reflect that when this era is studied in the future,” Black says. Whether it’s the one-take troubadour folk song of suburban escape “New York Lights” or the nine-minute Bladerunner meets Gibson Guitars movement of “I’m Wrong”, Fort Atlantic’s debut truly stretches the divide of the digital landscape. From that ethos breathed an internet and social media experiment to include more voices on the song “Let Your Heart Hold Fast”. “I was curious what would happen if I asked people to sing on my record from where they lived,” says Black. “In the past you’d have to have someone come to the studio to sing but now, thanks to technology, someone can record a vocal take on their iPhone during their lunch break.” The result is a virtual choir which elevates the song and is indicative of the outside-the-box approach Black has to creating and marketing his music.
Black has made his home in Birmingham, AL for the past six years and is relocating to Portland, OR in the summer of 2012. “Birmingham has been a great place for me. It’s shaped me as an artist and as a person. I’ve felt isolated enough from the music business to escape the pressures and really fine-tune what my sound is and what my songs are. I’m excited to see the role Portland plays in my artistic journey,” says Black.
In 2011 he was voted the Best Local Musician by The Birmingham News and well- respected industry tastemakers have embraced him including Scott Register (the Nationally syndicated radio host and CIMS). “Recently at my 15th Anniversary Concert for Reg’s Coffee House, we snuck the new Fort Atlantic on the PA between sets. Immediately, I started receiving tweets and texts from audience members asking me what was playing in the hall. It was awesome and has me even more eager to start spinning the record on my shows and Birmingham Mountain Radio,” says Scott Register.
The past few years have been crucial to laying the groundwork for Fort Atlantic’s debut LP. Several songs have been licensed by film/tv including Private Practice (ABC), 90210 (CW), United States of Tara (Showtime) and the hit video game, Rock Band. He’s toured with The Civil Wars, he’s opened for cred acts such as Jack White, Alejandro Escovedo, Mark Kozolek (Sun Kil Moon), and The Whigs among others, and was asked to play the first and second years of the Hangout Music Festival. Dualtone Music Group (The Lumineers, Colour Revolt, Brett Dennen, Guy Clark) became interested in his work after the first EP released and they teamed up immediately to release a full length.
After completion of the album, it was clear a change was needed. Black says, “I’ve evolved over the past two years and feel like my name doesn’t represent the music well. It’s much bigger than a singer/songwriter project. It’s much bigger than a guy and a guitar. This album is a monster patiently waiting in the shadows.”
Thus, Fort Atlantic was born. It’s a place for refuge and place for fighting.