THE COVER FOR Hey Lover's second album, Tennessee, tells the whole story. In a photo taken by Jón Eberhardt, the married couple of Justin Varga and Terah Beth Baltzer Varga are huddled around a microphone, ostensibly in the middle of a vocal take. They're both wearing sunglasses. Justin's holding a bottle of whiskey, and you can clearly see his wedding ring on his finger.
This is a couple (and band) caught in the act of making music solely for the sheer joy of it, and their bond is plain for the camera to see. "I find a lot of times we'll be playing and there's definitely communication without even looking at each other," says Terah Beth, who handles the booking as well as the visual aspects of Hey Lover. The new album is a giddy collection of raw pop, bashed out over Justin's fuzzed-out guitar (which at times gleefully squeals with feedback) and Terah Beth's speedy drumming. Justin handles much of the songwriting, which ranges from the undeniable bop of "Our Heads in a Hole" to the relatively sedate, ear-pleasing but caustic melody of "Art."
The album was recorded at Rick Duncan's studio off of SE Powell, in a building whose days are numbered. "It's cool," Justin says. "It was an old office space and it's gonna be demolished for the new MAX line. It's going to be a new station. He's got the top floor of this entire space, which is amazing, and he gets it for really cheap because it's scheduled to be demolished. So he built a studio in there."
The pair laid down basic tracks in a couple days but then spent the next few months going in on Fridays to lay down overdubs and vocals. "Every Friday, it was like, 'Yay, Friday's here!'" says Terah Beth. The resultant record bears evidence of the compulsive fun of its making. "Tennessee is where we're from," says Justin of the album's title. "It's where I met Terah Beth, it's where everything started."
The two had played music together just for fun before moving to Portland in 2004 with the vague idea of starting a band with other people. But the opportunity to play their first proper show presented itself before they had fleshed out a band, and the lineup stuck. "We didn't know anybody in town, so we ended up not being very social," says Justin. "We'd come home from work, and we'd just go in the basement and play music. I never really had confidence in us being able to do it as two people. We used to go and drink at Porky's, which was in North Portland, and I met her after work one day and she was like, 'We got a show here!' I was like, 'Oh fuck... all right.' And that was kind of it."
Meanwhile, Hey Lover comes alive onstage in ways that the couple doesn't feel the need to define. "There are definitely times where we'll look at each other and we'll both have huge grins on our face," Justin says. "We'll be laughing about something that no one else in the room knows about. That's why I say that when we're onstage, that's the best part, you know? That's when it's so much fun. It doesn't happen in our garage. When there's an audience, we're just different beings."