Though Ivan & Alyosha band leader Tim Wilson may not have read the entirety of The Brothers Karamazov, from which he took his band's name, he shares a fondness for words with the books's author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
But Wilson sets his stories to music.
Ivan & Alyosha have a folk, pop, Americana, indie rock and country sound--but above all else, the Seattle quartet tap into a sound and feeling that is wholly rooted in the warm, rainy embrace of the Pacific Northwest. The band's new EP, Fathers Be Kind (Missing Piece Records) was recorded in a barn just 30 miles north of Seattle. The EP highlights Wilson's rich vocals with acoustic arrangements that span between back wood romps and introspective ballads, and keenly penned lyrics about love, nature and spirituality.
After breaking out at last year's South By Southwest with a spot on NPR's "Top 100 of SXSW" list, the band has been on a steady uphill climb. Their song "Easy to Love" was featured on NPR's "Song of the Day" in 2010, and the band has been touring since.
"We're putting the pieces together and making it work," said Wilson. "We've had some exciting opportunities that we've taken part in, and we still have some to get to.
"I think I would have quit this a long time ago if it was something I could get away from. But I just can't get away from it. It's a part of me, and I will do this for the rest of my life," he said.
The young band has been going strong for two years. On their first EP, The Verse, The Chorus (Cheap Lullaby Records), the group only consisted of Wilson and guitarist Ryan Carbary. Not long after the EP's release however, guitarist Tim Kim, bassist Pete Wilson (Tim's brother) and touring drummer James McAlister filled out the current lineup.
"I think it's just been a natural progression," said Wilson. "We never wanted to add band members just to add band members. We always wanted to make sure it was the right fit first, then worry about the musical side ... that time spent together rehearsing and playing a lot of shows has just been crucial to developing the sound of this band."
Ivan & Alyosha are preparing to set out on their longest tour yet, 29 dates that take them from Seattle through Nebraska, over to Iowa, down to Tennessee, back to New York, and then all the way to California via SXSW in Austin. Interestingly, the tour kicks off on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at Reef.
"Being on the road is a challenge, for sure. But I think as along as everybody's on the same page and we're all having fun, it's great," said Wilson. "Before we go on stage we get together and basically say, 'Let's play like this is the last time we'll ever play.' We like to get rowdy and have fun. Also, we do four-part harmony. It's fun to play in front of people and sing harmony with your friends, but we just try to play it loud, play it fast and hope that people enjoy it."
Complementing the four-part harmonies are Wilson's highly literate, personalized lyrics and his crisp singing voice. He draws out each consonant and vowel for maximum effect, while varying between hushed tones and billowing crescendos to add an extra layer of emotion to his meticulously crafted songs.
"Does she get inside your head / all the stupid things that you've said / she's the only reason you get out of bed / beautiful and lovely is she / wouldn't find one who would disagree / standing beside every decent man /there's a better woman," from "Everything is Burning."
"I try to write in a pretty specific language," said Wilson. "Things that people will understand but kind of articulated in new ways. I always love listening to artists or songwriters who can say something in a very simply way, yet articulate some profound things within the simplicity. I take however much time I want to pick words and phrases and lines that best articulate what I feel. I like being able to take the time and think about what I'm saying. I've never really been super drawn to bands that I don't know what they're talking about."
And while Wilson is drawn to literary language, he doesn't bother with it so much when asked to describe his own band's sound.
"Maybe folk-pop might be the best way to describe it. But at the same time, to us it's just kind of like, everything falls under the rock 'n' roll genre. But that's very broad and wide. It doesn't really mean anything anymore. So it's definitely folky but kind of melody-based. Pop music really."
When Ivan & Alyosha come to Boise they'll be bringing their families with them, including Wilson's newborn child. His newfound fatherhood and the struggles therein are reflected in the title of Father Be Kind, and it's a subject that constantly weighs on the songwriter's mind. It's not easy raising a family, especially when balancing a career as a young, up-and-coming musician.
"It's certainly a struggle and a challenge, but we believe in it, and I think that there are other people who believe in it too and get what we're doing," said Wilson. "Right now we're the closest we've ever been to making this our career. There's always something that keeps us going. There always seems to be one more door that takes us to that next level."