Ivan and Alyosha
All the Times We Had, Ivan & Alyosha’s first full-length album, encapsulates the personalized blend of rousing songcraft, infectious melodic hooks and thoughtful lyrical introspection that’s already endeared the band to just about anyone who’s witnessed one of their effortlessly uplifting live shows, or who’s heard either of their two prior indie EP releases.
The Seattle combo—which borrows its name from a pair of characters from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov—delivers its songs of struggle, perseverance and spirituality with a resilient, upbeat attitude that’s reflected in their bubbly brew of stirringly strummed folk-rock guitars, surging instrumental interaction and a bright, buoyant blend of voices that reflects the band members’ family-style camaraderie, evoking a timeless pop ideal that’s as affecting emotionally as it is pleasing to the ear.
The intrepid ensemble—comprised of core members Tim Wilson (lead vocals and acoustic guitar), Ryan Carbary (guitars, piano and vocals), Tim Kim (electric guitar and vocals) and Tim’s brother Pete Wilson (bass and vocals), plus a revolving assortment of friends and collaborators on keyboards, drums and other instruments—has spent much of the past two years on the road, traveling the highways and back roads of America, often with wives and children in tow, building a loyal fan base with their joyous, high-energy live performances.
Ivan & Alyosha’s prior releases and live shows have won the band copious critical acclaim. They’ve also done successful stints opening for the likes of Aimee Mann, Brandi Carlile, the Low Anthem, Rosie Thomas and John Vanderslice. Since early in its existence, the group has been embraced enthusiastically by alternative radio, performing multiple on-air sessions for NPR as well as receiving notable support from such key stations as KCRW, KEXP, WFUV and WNYC.
The same qualities that originally won Ivan & Alyosha media attention and a devoted grass-roots audience are apparent on All the Times We Had, which the band co-produced in collaboration with keyboardist/engineer Chad Copelin, and mixed by Jesse Lauter (The Low Anthem). The 11-song album effortlessly captures the warmth and immediacy of Ivan & Alyosha’s live performances, lending added resonance to such lyrically compelling, melodically arresting tunes as “Be Your Man,” “Running for Cover,” “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore,” “The Fold” and the album’s’ bittersweetly reflective title track, which features guest vocals by the band’s frequent touring partner and longstanding admirer Aimee Mann.
“We didn’t get it perfect, but I definitely think we got it right,” Tim Wilson says of the new album. “We really worked hard to get a live vibe, and to capture that inspiration that we get when we’re on the road, when everybody’s together and feeding off of each other. You can nit-pick and edit everything until it sounds perfect, but we were more concerned with just getting the best performances we could. I think that it’s more mature and more focused, and closer to what we do live, than the records that we’d done before. We definitely had moments in the studio where it like, ‘Oh, wow, this is special.’”
Ivan & Alyosha formed in 2007, when Tim Wilson met Ryan Carbary. Both had been in various Seattle-area combos, but the songs that Wilson was writing at the time seemed to call out for a new musical approach. The pair spent nearly a year writing material for their debut EP, The Verse, The Chorus. Released in March 2009, the EP generated an unexpected level of national exposure, with the charming tune “Easy to Love” (reprised on All the Times We Had) receiving considerable airplay. The debut EP won the band an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered and coverage in NPR’s All Songs Considered SXSW 2010 preview. A subsequent appearance at the SXSW festival generated considerable music-industry word-of-mouth.
By the time Ivan & Alyosha recorded its second EP, Fathers Be Kind, in February 2011, the group had expanded to include Tim Wilson’s bass-playing brother Pete, whose songwriting abilities contributed considerably to the band’s creative arsenal, and Tim’s high school friend Tim Kim, whose distinctive guitar work added a new dimension to their sound. Fathers Be Kind’s majestically jangly title track became a favorite of fans, critics and DJs, and reappears in a newly recorded version on All the Times We Had.
“When we recorded The Verse, the Chorus, we’d never really played live as a band,” Tim Wilson notes. “By the time we did the Fathers Be Kind EP, my brother Pete and Tim Kim had come on board, and we had done a west coast tour or two, and some dates on the east coast, but we were still figuring out how to play together. After Fathers Be Kind came out, we went out and spent year and a half touring, and became a real band. I think that’s reflected on the new album.”
Indeed, All the Times We Had demonstrates the positive effects of the band’s extensive roadwork, underlining just how far Ivan & Alyosha has progressed since its humble origins.
“I think that we all feel pretty strongly that this is what we’re supposed to be doing, playing music, trying to write good, timeless songs, and trying to connect with people,” Wilson states. “I think that we have a pretty deep sense of purpose, that this is not just some accident. I guess that the essence of faith is having felt or experienced something that maybe you can’t hold in your hand, and I think that’s how I’d describe my attitude towards music. And it’s OK if it’s hard, because anything in life that’s worth doing is hard.
“I’m guilty as guilty as anyone, of wanting certain things or wanting to be in a certain place right now,” he concludes. “But we’re building something, and building something takes time. I’m learning to enjoy the journey, and I think we all are.”
It's said that a great band is like a gang or perhaps a family, united by music, sweat, passion, and blood. That is certainly the case with Matrimony, an exhilarating new band whose interpersonal connections run far deeper than your average combo. Fronted by the husband and wife duo of Ashlee Hardee Brown and Jimmy Brown, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based band are accompanied by Hardee Brown's talented brothers, Jordan and CJ, resulting in an intuitive collaboration that is both immediately affective and utterly their own. "MONTIBELLO DRIVE," the band's eagerly anticipated debut album, takes its title from the Hardee family abode, a bucolic homestead where multiple generations of friends and family all sang and played together. Fraught with collaborative chemistry and determined artlessness, songs like "Last Love" and "Obey Your Guns" ring out with Matrimony's astonishing communal spirit, their tight harmonies and intuitive musical telepathy born of true love and a shared lifetime.
"We have this understanding among each other that we don't always have to communicate with words," says Hardee Brown. "And that just naturally comes out when we're all in the same room, making music together."
The Northern Irish-born Brown initially made his way to the States via China, accompanying a real estate developer friend on a business trip that wound up in Charlotte. He played guitar in a fellow Belfast ex-pat's band while simultaneously working on his own songs with a rotating roster of local musicians. One of them, a certain Jordan Hardee, suggested Brown meet his sister Ashlee, herself a gifted singer/songwriter. The two hit it off from the jump, co-writing a song their very first time together, ultimately tying the knot in July 2010 in North Carolina. As they continued to pursue their respective musical careers, both soon realized that there was little point traveling separate roads when they should in fact be sharing the journey.
"It really wasn't about anything other than us wanting to be together," Brown says. "We realized that there wasn't much point in being together if we were both going to do music separately. So we decided to make music together."
Matrimony began their musical life as a duo, performing in clubs and cafes around Charlotte. Brown veered from electric guitar to acoustic, while Hardee Brown adapted her indie influences to fit a folkier frame. 2010's "THE STORM & THE EYE" EP was quickly recorded, earning the couple considerable local acclaim for their melding of rock, country, gospel, and the great Irish and American folk traditions. To replicate the EP on stage, Matrimony absorbed other musicians and friends into their live sets, coalescing with the official membership of Ashlee's brothers CJ (banjo, mandolin) and the aforementioned Jordan on drums.
"Both my brothers put their own spin on it, just with their own talents and musical abilities," Hardee Brown says. "Once we finally found that mesh, the band took the course we'd always imagined it would."
Matrimony performed relentlessly, sharing the stage with a diverse range of acts from Langhorn Slim to Passion Pit. They refined their distinctive sound by cutting a series of demos, both at home as well as with producer (and Interpol drummer) Sam Fogarino at his Normal Studio in Athens, Georgia. In July 2012, the band headed for Nashville to finally begin their full-length debut, this time with Jay Joyce (Brandi Carlile, Cage the Elephant, Eric Church) at the helm. The sessions had barely gotten underway when a mighty summer storm hit Music City and almost put the kibosh on the entire project.
"We were in the studio and this huge BANG happened," Brown says. "Everybody's ears popped, but we knew it was just lightning so we just kept working."
When Matrimony and Joyce eventually emerged, they were shocked to discover that the lightning strike had in fact sparked a tiny fire in a bird's nest on the home studio's rain gutter. Five smoldering hours later, the eave was well and truly ablaze.
"I jumped up on the roof with a hose and we started trying to put it out," Brown says. "But the flames would not go down, they were just getting higher, so we jumped off and called the fire brigade. By the time they got there the whole roof was on fire."
Matrimony returned to Charlotte while the studio was repaired, reconvening in September to resume recording. Fortunately, the sessions went without further natural disaster, with Joyce capturing the band's on-stage intimacy by recording most of the album live in the studio.
"It was really enjoyable," Brown says. "It felt like we were recording downstairs at our friend's house. I think Jay understood where we were coming from. It felt like he was another band member really."
The songs of "MONTIBELLO DRIVE" reverberate with memory and feeling, embodied in both the band's layered instrumental interplay as well as the Browns' individual talents for powerful, evocative lyricism.
"This record kind of sums up where we've been," Hardee Brown says. "We all grew a lot, just living there, so there's a lot of emotion that runs through the songs."
Brown points to his beloved's haunting "Giant" as the album's defining moment. "There's just some kind of magic on that one," he says. "Everything about it, the words are a little dark, it's got this section in it that's really vibing and cool, I just love playing that song."
"I think it's one of those songs that feels really genuine and really real," Hardee Brown says. "Just the fact that I was able to write a song that captures who I am as a songwriter and put it on an album like this means a lot to me."
For her part, Hardee Brown returns the compliment by noting Brown's buoyant "Southern Skies" as one of her personal favorites. "That song speaks a lot to where we are and how we grew up," she says. "Plus it's always fun to play live."
Having made an album that sings of home, Matrimony are now poised for life on the road. This band of lovers and brothers are keen to bring the sublime songs and extraordinary character of "MONTIBELLO DRIVE" to the stage, where their camaraderie and connection come full to the fore.
"We just want to write great songs and we want to play," Brown says. "It's not about anything else. We love traveling together and hanging out, there's no bigger dream for us than just being able to write great songs and play them as much as possible."
"Me and my brothers, we always knew we wanted to be in a band together," says Hardee Brown. "I guess it's worked out. Everything just fell into place."
BONZIE — the moniker for 18-year-old Chicagoan Nina Ferraro — isn't a traditional confessional singer-songwriter. She's more of an observer and commentator who is drawn to expressing the concerns of her generational cohort (the bond between independence and interdependence, not wanting to be manipulated, view of one's self beyond society) with unwavering honesty, and delivering them with powerful abandon. It's partly for this reason that Ferraro has chosen to release her songs under the moniker Bonzie (an image and word she's long associated with her creative output) as opposed to her own name.
In a 2013 interview with the Chicago Tribune, she explained her decision. "There was something about it that felt egotistical to me, and music was never that sort of pursuit. Bonzie feels a lot better to go under, not only because it's a pseudonym but also because it doesn't subscribe to a language. There isn't a conventional definition of Bonzie, and it's more something where I can become it's meaning."
Ferraro has taken on the role of co-producer and mixer with LA-based Will Golden, teaming up with Tom Biller (Elliott Smith, Fiona Apple) on her debut full length album, Rift Into The Secret Of Things. Songs like "Convert" and "Daniel and the Great Solstice," with their finger-picked acoustic melodies, swell with elegant string arrangements that raise the emotional ante of the songs.
The album's title is inspired by a passage in one of Ferraro's favorite books, Thoreau's Walden. "It's about how to get to the essence, to put aside intellect or logic in order to reach the truth, or whatever the essence of a thing is," Ferraro explains. "Much of this album is shaped underneath that thought. There is a core to this album that ties the songs together. It's subtle but it's there. It's difficult to declare the album any one thing because it varies song to song, but there is a theme. It's my hope that the listener will be able to tap into that." Bonzie is currently recording new music with producer Steve Albini in Chicago.