From left: Tim Wilson, Ryan Carbary, Tim Kim and Pete Wilson of Ivan & Alyosha. Jose Mandojana photo
Seattle-based indie rockers Ivan & Alyosha first gained national recognition when National Public Radio highlighted the band for a preview of South by Southwest, the Austin, Texas, music and film festival, in 2010. Their current 2011 North American tour has included playing an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in the District of Columbia and opening for Lucinda Williams to a crowd of 750 at NPR's Mountain Stage in West Virginia, and this month they'll be returning to Austin for the 2011 edition of South by Southwest. We caught up with band members Tim Wilson, Ryan Carbary, Pete Wilson (Tim's brother), Tim Kim and Jesse Carmichael when they rolled through Richmond on a rainy Monday night to play at The Triple on West Broad Street. —Anne Dreyfuss
AD: How did you all meet?
TW: Pete and I met when I was 3 years old. [ Laughs. ]
PW: And I was coming out of my mother's womb.
TW: Pete is my brother. Ryan and I met through some old bandmates about five years ago. I met Jessie in California through my older brother. And we went to high school with Tim Kim. There were no Craigslist ads. [ Laughs. ]
AD: Staple band-interview question: Who are your influences?
RC: We're into a lot of older music. Beatles is an obvious influence and any '60s, '70s stuff. As far as newer stuff, I think, like, Delta Spirit, Richard Swift, the Killers.
TW: We love great top-40 bands. New country all day long. [ Laughs. ]
AD: What do you listen to in the van?
TW: Bob Dylan, Miike Snow, The National, Local Native … Jesse tries to force everybody to listen to electronic music. [ Laughs. ]
PW: Usually what happens is we have like, this whole gospel Johnny Cash and the Elvis cassette tapes that have like 40 songs on them each. We'll throw one of those on and we'll all sing gospel tunes.
RC: Emmylou Harris.
PW: That's all we have in the RV is cassette tapes.
TW: Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
AD: How would you describe your sound?
EVERYONE: Indie pop rock.
TW: With a touch of folk.
RC: But we're pretty much a rock ‘n' roll band.
TW: At the end of the day, we're a rock ‘n' roll band. But that means different things to different people.
RC: I think pop is the important word there.
AD: Your name alludes to a question of faith. Do you all identify with a particular religion?
TW: A guy asked us last night, he's like, "Are you guys religious?" And honestly I think we know what people are asking, but I told him, it's like, we're more into Jesus than we are religion. I think religion is a very manmade thing. I don't consider myself religious.
PW: As far as the music and stuff like that, because there is a Christian-music industry, which we're trying to run as far away from that as we can. But we are all believers, and that's a pretty huge bond between all of us. But I think there are certain red flags that go up in people's minds or whatever that I think it's less about like an institution or tradition and it's more about actually faith and identity than it is just kind of going through the motions.
JC: It's not like all of the music comes from that place either. I think it's more that it comes just from life. And obviously, you know, faith and certain things and what we believe in factors into that greatly, but I mean a lot of stuff that [Tim Wilson] writes about is about like, family and life and love.
TW: At the end of the day, we're just writing songs, just like everyone else. And that's influenced by a certain worldview.
JC: But I don't think the goal is to purvey like, "Hey, we're a Christian band. This is what's up." It's more just writing songs that mean something personal.
AD: So Seattle has a lot of bands. How do you guys distinguish yourselves from the pack when you're out there?
PW: I think it's already been done. [ Laughs. ] Just because there's a lot of great Seattle bands going on right now, and it hasn't been like that. In the past, Seattle's suffered from a grunge hangover, and now we're kind of picking up the pieces. It's in a good state right now, but it's still kind of, if you write pop songs and try to do it in an appealing way, which we're trying to do, even though we still consider ourselves a rock ‘n' roll band, when we write songs, it's very pop-influenced. But when you do that, you are therefore separating yourself from a lot of Seattle bands.
TW: There's a lot of cool stuff coming out of Seattle, but sometimes it's very insular, [it] stays in Seattle, unfortunately, and we've always had our sights, like, we love Seattle, but our ambition is kind of global.
AD: How has being on NPR changed things for you?
RC: I have three Porsches [ Laughs. ]
TW: They've been probably our greatest advocates. Some radio stations in Seattle won't play us, but NPR will. And everybody listens to NPR, or I should say, everybody hears them out. It's been really awesome. We've been really thankful for their kind words.
JC: And the audience that NPR caters towards is pretty cool. People that love music, people that are really socially aware, involved.
TW: Sometimes it's hard to get hip indie kids to buy your record or come talk to you, but people who are older and more established and more certain of themselves, if they like it, they'll support you. They'll come buy your record, they'll talk to you, they'll have you sign an autograph. Indie kids don't really do that. Hipsters don't get autographs.
AD: As folks who have benefitted from NPR coverage, what do you guys think about the funding cuts that are being discussed?
TW: I think they should nix like, a thousand different other things before they nix NPR.
PW: I think it'd be very foolish to shut NPR down.
JC: There's a lot of artistic knowledge and like, world knowledge and community that goes around with public radio
RC: There's so many other radio stations that should be shut down before NPR is shut down.
TW: When I was a workin' man, I used to listen to NPR all day long, and I would catch, seriously, like every piece. I mean, I love it. I feel like NPR is the most balanced news source I've ever experienced.
RC: Yeah, that's why the government is going to shut it down. [ Laughs. ]
TW: It's just interesting how some people think it's like, super liberal. I feel like I'm a fairly centric person in general, and it's just like I don't see anything liberal … I think it's wonderful. And they've been so kind to us.