THERE WERE SIGNS that Kevin Robinson had been playing the drums too much. "We would come off a show," he says, "and on the way to the hotel I'd put Icy Hot wraps on my wrists, so when I got to the check-in it would look like I was trying to commit suicide. I was covered in sweat—and sometimes blood—from the show, with bandages all over my arm, and I would make these weird requests. The clerk would be like, 'Uh, are you sure you're going to be okay?'"
He and his wife Anita had released four albums as Viva Voce, and up until that point they were a duo in every sense. The two of them wrote and recorded each note on their records; live, they'd have an intricate array of prerecorded loops and backing tracks to accompany Kevin's drums and Anita's lead guitar. It was technically and physically demanding, and it didn't allow for a ton of flexibility.
"Both of us really focused on Viva for several years," says Anita. "And I think there was just more that we wanted to accomplish. I'm still really proud of those albums, and I still love the idea of playing those songs. I just don't want to be trapped in that way of doing a song every time I perform it."
After a few impromptu sessions with friends, Kevin and Anita both caught the bug for performing with other people, and in 2008, they formed a roots-rock band—all live, no prerecorded parts. That new band, Blue Giant, released the Target Heart EP (and a Blue Giant full-length is due later this year), but during the Portland blizzard of 2008-2009, Kevin and Anita were trapped at home and started a new Viva record. When Rose City was released, Viva Voce had doubled in size to a four-piece, with Kevin on bass instead of behind the drum kit.
Here's where it gets confusing. After bouncing between Viva Voce and Blue Giant, Kevin and Anita have decided to play together again as a two-piece—not as Viva Voce, but as the Robinsons. There are "no bells and whistles," as Kevin puts it, just the two of them playing guitars and singing selections from the Viva Voce and Blue Giant catalogs, along with some covers and new songs to boot. A Robinsons record isn't out of the question. "I wouldn't put it past us," jokes Kevin.
"I guess it's a way for us to express a song more like the way we hear it in our head," says Anita. "We really have to try to pick songs where the melody will stand up, even if it's a small room and there's not much of a PA, or I'm just playing lap steel and I'm not going to do a solo. Is the song still going to be meaningful? Is it going to be thrilling to me? Is it going to be meaningful to the people listening?"
"When we first started writing and recording ourselves, there was a little bit of a learning curve," adds Kevin. "With some of our older records, they're almost like vignettes, like, here's the first 30 seconds of the song and it's cool, and then it goes into this... but if you stripped away the mellotron and the weird gong shit, it's one thing over and over again and there's nothing changing. You can't have nothing but condiments."
"You can't have all ketchup," Anita agrees.