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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." Pastecalled 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.