On June 21, Viva Voce released one of the year’s best records, and they did it quietly.
The ominously titled The Future Will Destroy You is the latest in a decade-long string of incredible albums from the Portland duo, and features all the hallmarks that fans of the band have come to expect: lush guitars, steamy production, gorgeous melodies, and some of the most sublime songwriting you’ll ever hear. Viva Voce might not receive as much fanfare as the latest dubstep/lo-fi/witch-house/chillwave/whatever act, but they’re steadily putting out music for the ages — or, in the case of The Future Will Destroy You, the age that’s just around the corner.
We sat down with the always witty Kevin Robinson to discuss Viva Voce’s evolution, the band’s recent foray into social media, and how, despite its title, the new album is a happy one.
Owl and Bear: Viva Voce was formed in your hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and your music has been described as having Southern rock undertones. Do you consider yourselves to be a “Southern rock” band?
Kevin Robinson: Iâ€™m not sure we qualify for â€œSouthern rockâ€ properly. Thatâ€™d be like calling something hip-hop cause it has a drum machine. We grew up in the South, and weâ€™ve got as much Ralph Stanley in our collection as we do Sonic Youth, but I donâ€™t think weâ€™re “Southern rock.” We donâ€™t have any guitars shaped like Jack Daniels bottles or anything.
Owl and Bear: With the possible exception of Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, which seemed to employ acoustic guitars as much as electric ones, your albums have been remarkably consistent in their sound. How would you say todayâ€™s Viva Voce differs from that of 10 years ago?
Kevin Robinson: Hopefully itâ€™s gotten better. I think it has. We take what we do pretty seriously and try to achieve something “new” each time. Even if itâ€™s only for us. Tons of learninâ€™. Reading, listening, writing, recording (rinse / repeat x 1000).
Owl and Bear: Do you approach each album with a specific concept in mind? At what point do the themes of an album reveal themselves to you?
Kevin Robinson: Usually the general “theme” of the record presents itself. Weâ€™re all feeling, emotional beings on some levels, and without getting all bizarre and metaphysical -â€“ all you really gotta do is pay attention.
Owl and Bear: With the exception of your Rose City tour, you perform as a duo, often aided by backing tracks. Are you tempted to use touring musicians again to lighten the load?
Kevin Robinson: We hired Corrina [Repp] and Evan [Railton] to tour with us for several reasons. I tore my shoulder to bits drumming my ass off for pretty much all of 2006-7. Playing support dates on huge arena stages with shitty to no proper sound just makes drummers beat drums to an inch of their lives to hear them. I did over a year of that. Needed a change so we got some players that were close friends to go out with us. It was fun. But Iâ€™m all better and weâ€™re back to our OG plan.
Owl and Bear: Your new album is called The Future Will Destroy You, but at your show at the Loft last March, you said the album is a happy one. How can a destructive future result in a happy album?
Kevin Robinson: The future is what we make it right now. It doesnâ€™t have to be bad, but we have to quit looking to our leaders to “save us.” Ditch the Democrat / Republican thing. Ditch the us vs. them deception and care for each other devoid of government involvement. Itâ€™s going to be vital to our existence.
Owl and Bear: The song â€œNo Ship Coming Inâ€ has a guitar riff that would feel at home in a Spaghetti Western. Have composers like Ennio Morricone influenced your work?
Kevin Robinson: [Band member/wife] Anita [Robinson] wrote the riff, but for my part Iâ€™m a huge Morricone fan. Who isnâ€™t? â€œThe Ecstacy of Goldâ€ is Metallicaâ€™s walk-on music.
Owl and Bear: Despite some initial misgivings, youâ€™ve recently embraced social media. Has the experience been rewarding for you?
Kevin Robinson: It allows me to open the door as wide or narrow as I want. And it allows fans / listeners to be right in touch â€“- so they donâ€™t have to read something from a third- or fourth-hand source, written poorly, edited to holy hell in language, style and meaning we didnâ€™t use. Itâ€™s been pretty cool and so far everyoneâ€™s played very nicely. I appreciate that.
Owl and Bear: Whatâ€™s the status of your side project, Blue Giant? Any plans to record as that band soon?
Kevin Robinson: Yeah, weâ€™re gonna record a new Blue Giant album as soon as we get the green light from all others involved. It takes a nation yâ€™know?
Viva Voce tour dates
9/8/2011 Portland, OR â€“MusicFestNW
9/9/2011 Seattle, WA – Triple Door
9/10/2011 Boise, ID â€“ Neurolux
9/11/2011 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
9/12/2011 Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
9/14/2011 Lincoln, NE – Duffy’s Tavern
9/15/2011 Iowa City, IA -The Mill
9/16/2011 Minneapolis, MN â€“ University
9/17/2011 Grinnell, IA – Gardner Lounge
9/19/2011 Chicago, IL â€“ Schubas
9/20/2011 St. Louis, MO – The Firebird
9/21/2011 Champaign, IL – Pygmalion Music Festival
9/23/2011 Cincinnati, OH – Midpoint Music Festival
9/24/2011 Akron, OH – Musica
9/25/2011 Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia Film and Music Festival
9/26/2011 Allston, MA – Great Scott
9/27/2011 New York City, NY – Mercury Lounge
9/28/2011 Brooklyn, NY – The Rock Shop
9/29/2011 Washington, DC – Black Cat
9/30/2011 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
10/1/2011 Atlanta, GA -The Earl
10/3/2011 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
10/5/2011 Phoenix, AZ – Rhythm Room
10/6/2011 San Diego, CA – The Casbah
10/7/2011 Los Angeles, CA â€“ Satellite