Music

Something to Write Home About

The Hometown Devotion of Viva Voce

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There comes a point at which, after a decade or so of devoting every waking moment of existence to your musical endeavors, little can faze you. Case in point: tornadoes.

"They're saying tornadoes, so we're just bracing ourselves for that," says Viva Voce's Anita Robinson nonchalantly, in a manner not usually associated with someone threading a touring van through the eye of a Southern twister. Yet over the years Robinson, along with her husband Kevin, have piloted their rock outfit through far worse obstacles than a typical Kentucky tornado warning.

In 1998, Viva Voce came together below the Mason-Dixon line, forming frantically as an accommodating duo—additional members came, but none stayed—then relocating to Portland in 2001. From there, the Robinsons battled through the slough of "couple bands," thankfully never finding a place among them: They were always too indie to rock out with the White Stripes, and too rock 'n' roll to double date with Mates of State. All the while Viva Voce delivered a memorable trail of recordings, eventually leading up to their most confident album captured to tape, Rose City.

But before Rose City came to be, the band was mired in a rut that came after winding down two years of travel in support of 2006's Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. "In 2008 we didn't tour at all as Viva, it was like we were living in this bizarre world," explains Anita. Perennially devoted to their craft, the Robinsons were not accustomed to a respite from band life, and quickly used these rare moments of downtime to pen songs that didn't quite fit the rock 'n' roll mold of Viva Voce—thus the country-tinged Americana of Blue Giant was born. And while Blue Giant produced a couple releases—plus a three-night "tour" of Portland—the Robinsons were once again drawn back to Viva Voce.

"We both felt a real sense of urgency to do Rose City. Luckily it came about quickly, and I think it worked out for us to have that gnarly deadline that we gave ourselves," says Anita. That "gnarly deadline" was a three-week writing/recording session in the Robinsons' Northeast backyard studio. Eschewing the notion that a customized studio—mere feet from your domicile—will result in epic recording sessions, the band tried to streamline the process as much as possible. "We don't pay for studio time," says Anita. "It definitely is a temptation to be really self-indulgent, and sometimes that's totally fine. We were with Get Yr Blood Sucked Out for sure, and I think that the songs sort of warranted it. Rock 'n' roll is sort of self-indulgent anyway, so it's fine."

Rose City never approaches that level of polished extravagance, instead exuding a loose charm and carefree ease without feeling haphazard or rushed. Credit this new dimension to Viva Voce's aforementioned urgency, in addition to the band's swelling in size with the addition of local music mainstays Evan Railton (Swords Project) and Corrina Repp (Tu Fawning). This new lineup's first order of work was to show pride in their hometown, and the album's title track has the finest tribute to the Portland Rose Festival (and Fleet Week)—"Lovelorn sailors disappear with the hearts of daughters once a year/I wanna be back in Rose City"—this side of Elliott Smith's "Rose Parade."

Every band, no matter the size, needs something to come home to, and for Viva Voce, that is the city of Portland. That is, if they make it out of the tornado in one piece.

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