Ivan & Alyosha

Music Features Ivan & Alyosha

Album: All the Times We Had
For Fans of: Delta Spirit, George Harrison, Cotton Jones

What’s in a name?

For Seattle’s Ivan & Alyosha, perhaps a bit more than they bargained for. Though they’ve been on the radar since NPR highlighted them in advance of 2010’s SXSW, people don’t seem to have tired of talking about that name. Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it’s a weighty one indeed. And though their music certainly doesn’t call to mind that somber Russian tale, singer Tim Wilson says he and his bandmates have found common threads between their music and the book.

“Over time, we realized that a lot of the things that we seek out and write about are things within the book, especially the more spiritual subject matter,” Wilson said over the phone as he strolled the aisles of a grocery store in his hometown.

Formed in 2007 by Wilson (guitar, lead vocals) and Ryan Carbary (guitar, piano, vocals), the band has now grown to include the singer’s brother, Pete Wilson (bass, vocals), and Tim Kim (guitar, vocals). The quartet works these spiritual themes into their music organically in songs like “Rebel Jesus” and “Glorify,” but they handily avoid the trap of coming off preachy or overbearing.

“A lot of the core members were raised in the church, I still have a personal belief in God,” Wilson says. “It’s where we come from and who we still are and comes out in the music very naturally.”

But don’t mistake Ivan & Alyosha for Christian rockers. Their priority is neither to worship nor convert. Rather, they are most interested in making great music that deals with the real, big questions they’re facing in their own lives — questions that include not only spiritual matters, but how to be a good father, as many of the band members have small children.

Their musings on such subjects are realized in warm, boisterous folk-pop, inspired by masters of rootsy and approachable pop like The Beatles, Nat King Cole, Elvis and Roy Orbison.

“You are what you eat, musically, I suppose,” Wilson says. “I think the music that we like and that we listen to — there’s nothing really obscure that I’m into. The one thing that we really try to do when we get into the studio is say every song is a hit. Whether it is or not is a different story, but that is the goal.”

That approach is perhaps what has led many to describe Ivan & Alyosha’s music as “timeless.”

“Sometimes the most beautiful, timeless melodies are the most simple. Some of the biggest hits of the last ten years are the most simple. We’re always looking for that melody. That’s what this band loves and is about.”

So, edgy stuff this is not. But it certainly is catchy. So catchy, in fact, that it’s drawn the attention of respected singer/songwriters like Brandi Carlile, Aimee Mann and John Vanderslice, all of whom the band has toured with over the last few years. These experiences, Wilson says, have done wonders for the band’s sense of professionalism and craft.

“These people aren’t out partying it up, drinking tons, playing the rock and roll games,” Wilson says. “Aimee Mann would read a book in her greenroom with a glass of wine before her show, go out and play and come right back. It taught us to take it easy and know your limits but also, it’s really hard work. And it’s really draining, and you have to regulate a lot of the things that go on on the road. It’s not a big party. It’s your job, and you have to do it well.”

The foursome has also benefitted from their surroundings in Seattle, where brassy, joyful pop bands like The Long Winters flourish even as dubstep, EDM and moody electropop dominate the blogosphere. Wilson credits Seattle’s inclusive atmosphere and driven artistic community for creating a positive environment to make music in.

“It’s not like L.A., where you write the three-minute pop hit, where everything is kind of derivative. In Seattle, there’s a ton of great bands right now that are not necessarily what people might think of as the beardy, folky Seattle thing. There is a lot of stuff coming out of Seattle that is really unique and cool.”

Beardy and folky isn’t Ivan & Alyosha’s thing, either. They opt instead for a clean-cut look. Dressing in hoodies and neutral colors, with shoulder-length hair and easy smiles, they look like the boys next door, all grown up. That’s rather what their music sounds like, too. Not striving for pretention or cool, they choose accessibility without sacrificing quality. That level-headedness has also informed how they approach their careers.

“These things take time you know,” says Wilson. “I think some people wonder why this band has taken so long, but I think we had to learn and to figure it out. It’s easier said than done to get in the studio and make a great record, let alone have a great live show and be a force in that way, as well. It all takes time, and I feel like I am finally comfortable in that journey now and with my own ability to do this.”

He’s reached that comfort zone just in time, too. With their first full-length, “All the Times We Had,” dropping February 25 and a tour coming up in March, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for Wilson and the rest of the band. And it may well be the year that “Ivan & Alyosha” calls to mind not just the famous literary brothers, but great pop music, too.

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