Ramona Freeborn never planned to become a musician, but it might have been meant to be.
"I grew up in a nightclub surrounded by brilliant musicians. I have brilliant musicians in my family," she said. "I didn't really want to put myself out there like that because I figured I was just surrounded by such greatness that it would be silly."
An encounter in 2007, when Freeborn was living in Los Angeles, Calif, would change that. She was hanging out at a coffee shop when she met music producer Mark Scarboro, who had worked on film soundtracks before becoming involved in the city's rock and underground hip-hop scenes.
Freeborn recounted the chance meeting: "I just remember one day I'm sitting out on the sidewalk outside this cafe writing, and he came up and asked me if I wrote songs. And I said, 'No.' And he asked me, 'Why not?' And I said, 'Because I'm too afraid.' And he said, 'Well, I have a recording studio a block away, and if you ever write a song, I'll record it for free just because you met one of your fears.'"
So began a partnership that would eventually lead to Dionvox, a project that combines Freeborn's languid, smoky vocals with sinuous layers of trip-hop- and dubstep-inflected beats. Now based in Seattle, Dionvox won SPIN Magazine and popchips' Pop Up Live contest in 2011 (as Ramona the Band) and has built a widespread underground following. Boiseans will get to experience Dionvox's moody, sexy brand of electronica on Tuesday, April 29, when the group plays Neurolux's Radio Boise Tuesday with local openers Satyr Co. and Gigglebomb.
Freeborn can boast an impressive musical pedigree. Her father, Steve Freeborn, ran the famed Seattle venue The OK Hotel, where bands like Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone (which featured two future members of Pearl Jam) and Bikini Kill performed in the late '80s and early '90s. Legend has it that Nirvana first played "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live there.
"It was a wild experience," Freeborn said. "I totally witnessed a lot. I was pretty aware. I think I'm kind of a weirdo; I have memories of crawling and stuff [during shows]."
Though she sang in choir, Freeborn was more attracted to writing and acting. She studied at New York Film Academy when she was 16 and moved to Hollywood after graduating from high school. Thanks to Scarboro's connections, she recorded tracks with Wu-Tang Killa Beez and attended the Microphone Sessions, a weekly songwriting workshop organized by former Tupac Shakur manager Leila Steinberg. Meanwhile, Freeborn and Scarboro started working on their own material together.
"I basically just feel really lucky," Freeborn said. "I feel like all the circumstances aligned for me to be able to do this without a whole lot of outside influence, which I appreciate. Mark really protected me from [those influences], to a certain extent; he wouldn't let people try to tell me what to do. He wouldn't even tell me what to do for the first year; he was just like, 'Just do whatever you want. Find what your thing is.'"
After the 2008 financial crisis made living and working in L.A. more difficult, Freeborn and Scarboro relocated to Seattle. Freeborn admitted that Dionvox doesn't quite fit her hometown's current music scene.
"I think Boise is way more fun, to be perfectly honest," she said. "People want to have more fun out there. I think the thing with Seattle is that it's becoming a bit like a metropolitan market in that it's really saturated, and so a lot of people have that kind of 'I'm cooler and jaded' thing. It's like pulling teeth trying to get people to dance up here."
Boise residents have warmed to Freeborn and Scarboro. Satyr Co. leader Doc Woolf handled sound for Dionvox's show at The Crux last December.
"Not only are they amazing musicians but pretty fantastic people as well," he said. "Their music has made a permanent home in my various collections."
"They entertained unlike any other band I have seen come to Boise and yet [were] so down to earth," added Luna Michelle, who attended the show at The Crux and invited Dionvox to play at her house in January.
After this next stop in Boise, Dionvox will play a few West Coast dates and tour the United Kingdom for two weeks. The band also plans to work on new songs, including a collaboration with grunge pioneer Tad Doyle.
Working with Doyle could reflect a goal that Freeborn has for Dionvox's music and the Seattle scene.
"One thing that I really learned in L.A. in the underground hip-hop scene is that what makes music soulful is a little bit of that local grime," she said. "And I think that's what really made grunge special. ... And I kind of wanted to come back here and grime up the scene a bit in my own sparkly way."