WHEN KEVIN AND ANITA Robinson—a married couple who record under the name Viva Voce—toured with the Shins earlier this year, they made it all the way to live TV; namely, Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
"I just got drunk on free beer backstage," Kevin said from a phone in Minneapolis. "Oh, and Jake Gyllenhaal grabbed my ass!"
Just as the Viva Voce website noted on playing a set with the Shins at New York's Madison Square Garden: There are worse problems to have, huh?
Laughing and joking on the phone, Kevin is clearly having a great time on the road and enjoying Viva Voce's growing fanbase. Still, having already been burnt a few times by "evil record labels and all their bullcrap," he's taking none of it too seriously.
Two days after our phone call, Viva Voce would play Lollapalooza with the likes of Pearl Jam and Modest Mouse. "It's going to be a clusterfuck beyond belief," laughed Kevin before adding, half-mocking his own band: "Fun, cool, you did Lollapalooza, wooh!"
Kevin and Anita first met more than 10 years ago at a concert in their native Alabama. "She played guitar, I dug her, we started playing music together, I did it as an excuse to date her," he said, and then paused to catch what Anita was saying in the background. "She was already playing in a band and she graciously let me in," he added, clarifying his story.
The Robinsons had no plan for Viva Voce (Italian for "word of mouth") when they recorded their first aptly titled album, Lovers, Lead the Way!, released in 2003. Self-produced and home recorded, their debut was a practice at imitation. "In the beginning you're always emulating your heroes," Kevin explained. "If your heroes are the Velvet Underground then your first record will sound like the Velvet Underground."
And much of Viva Voce's music sounds like the Velvet Underground; it's in the breezy coos and jagged edges that permeate their rock 'n' roll songs. Still, the pair has managed to uncover a blistering, shimmying sound of their own. "When we started writing and recording together, it started to make sense," Kevin said. "What I brought and what she brought made for something unique—she's classic rock and I'm college radio."
Viva Voce, who settled in Portland about five years ago, first garnered critical acclaim through the release of their sophomore effort The Heat Can Melt Your Brain on Minty Fresh in 2004. To support it, they toured extensively and, consequently, became known for their scorching live shows and ambitious, tireless touring.
In September of 2006, Viva Voce released their latest album, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out, on Seattle's Barsuk Records. "We recorded in our living room, in the backyard, in the bedroom," Kevin said. "My favorite albums are very sloppy, very immediate—we wanted that sort of feel."
While touring for The Heat, Viva Voce wrote many of the songs for Get Yr Blood. "On that tour there was a lot of hoopla and evil record label stuff; innocence was shed," Kevin said with a laugh. "It was very eye opening. So Get Yr Blood Sucked Out has a 'fuck you' tone—no, more of a self-empowerment, 'you can't treat me that way' tone."
Unless, of course, your name is Jake Gyllenhaal.