Saturday night at Der Rathskeller: Ivan & Alyosha w/ Chamberlin

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Photo courtesy of Ivan & Alyosha | ivanandalyosha.com

Sometimes it’s scary to have to come home and know that what used to be a sigh of relief is really more of a weighted breath, carrying the muck and shortcomings of the day. When weeks get especially tough, I make an unconscious effort to look for something familiar and just comforting enough to remind me that a brighter day isn’t too far off, and even better than that – someone out there loves you a lot, even on the worst day of your life.

Enter Ivan & Alyosha, a Seattle-based pair of singer-songwriters who borrow their name from two characters in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Tim Wilson and Ryan Carbery, the two musicians behind this project, met in 2007 and spent about a year writing material for their 2009 debut EP, The Verse, The Chorus, which earned them an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and a feature in NPR’s “All Songs Considered”, which previewed songs from SXSW 2010.

After an appearance at 2010’s SXSW, Ivan & Alyosha released their EP, Fathers Be Kind, in 2011, this time welcoming Wilson’s brother, Pete, who plays bass, as well as Wilson’s high school friend, Tim Kim. Together, the foursome played live gigs and went on tour along the east and west coasts, all while still trying to work out the kinks of playing together as a live band. However, following the release of Fathers Be Kind, Ivan & Alyosha toured for a year and a half, which Wilson points to in their biography as having led to them becoming “a real band”, a feat he confidently states “is reflected in the new album.” Their first full-length album, All the Things We Had, was released earlier this year and features a more mature sound, all the while holding onto the endearing simplicity of their earlier songs.

Whether Ivan & Alyosha weren’t actually “a real band” prior to their tour is something totally irrelevant to me because for days like the one I described earlier, Ivan & Alyosha, in all stages of their development, are the panacea for the worst days and the most lovelorn hours. Their songs forgo pretentiousness and embrace you as the listener along with buoyant instrumentation, harmonies that turn your cheeks flushed and rosy, and lyrics so honest and cozy it’s hard not to feel like someone gets it, and the bite from mid-October winds stands no chance.

Fathers Be Kind, for instance, is a short EP full of little surprises hiding in every song, from the title track’s lush and forthright opening, graced with lovely harmonies and the rhythm of tambourines, followed by the earnest opening lines of “I Was Born to Love Her”. Ivan & Alyosha take things slow for the EP’s third track, “Everything Is Burning”, with the spotlight on arpeggiated guitar chords and backing by strings, while the EP closes with two more upbeat indie-folk ditties, “Living for Someone” and “Glorify”.

Of their latest album, Wilson says it reflects their growth as a band as they draw from the experience they gained as live performers and translate their chemistry as a foursome into a studio setting. All the Things We Had is the product of exchanges between and across all four band members, resulting in an album that Wilson deems more focused without losing the magic of their live sound. “We didn’t get it perfect, but I definitely think we got it right,” he says in their biography.

Ivan & Alyosha balance heavier themes of paternal bonds, love and loss, faith, and starting over again with the lightness of colorful arrangements that invite back snapshots of your warmest moments and the tiny, triumphant hiccup that lurches you forward in the direction of better days.

Opening for Ivan & Alyosha are Chamberlin, a Vermont-based band with a turbulent back story that ultimately led two of its members, Mark Daly and Ethan West, to put out their five-song EP, Look What I’ve Become, this past August under Audiotree Records.

In 2011, Chamberlin began with five long-time friends, all of whom were only about a year into their career as musicians, and together they set off on a grueling tour of the U.S., which proved to be no easy feat. In their biography, Daly, singer and guitarist, compares the experience to running a marathon while chained to four other guys who drank a lot and yelled at each other in Wal-Mart parking lots.

The strain put on the band’s professional and personal dynamics left Daly and West to pursue the creation of Look What I’ve Become. West says the EP “is about jealousy, despair and resentment. While recording the vocals, it really hit us that we had inflicted those same feelings on our band mates, or rather, our best friends.” The EP’s title is pulled from the chorus on the song “Jealousy”, a lyric so heavy that neither band member could look at the other while Daly sang the line, “Look what I’ve become…”

It soon became apparent that Daly and West needed to make amends with the band’s former members – bassist Charles (“Chuck”) Whistler, keyboardist Eric Maier, and Jamie Heintz – but while Whistler and Heintz agreed to stay with the band, Maier voiced his desire to pursue other projects and parted on positive terms. Chamberlin have been recording new material within the walls of what they endearingly refer to as “the cabin” and anticipate a 2013 full-length release.

I’d spent a good fraction of the past week revisiting their two earlier releases from 2011, Bitter Blood and Cabin Covers EP, both of which actually didn’t prepare me for their latest song collection, 2012’s Look What I’ve Become – and I say this with wholehearted admiration. The latter is certainly a departure from Chamberlin’s previous works, featuring more instrumentation and a fuller sound, while both 2011 releases stick to ghostly reverberation and stripped-away arrangements of both cover songs and originals.

But while the musical styles of Chamberlin in the past differ significantly from who they are at present, the band has successfully managed to put out solid releases that capture the beauty of their duality and the way everything comes full circle.

Check out the videos below to see what’s in store for Saturday at Der Rathskeller!

Ivan & Alyosha:

Chamberlin:

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