Viva Voce—the husband-and-wife pairing of drummer Kevin Robinson and his guitar-toting spouse, Anita—are arguably two of the nicest people in rock.
Viva Voce With Silversun Pickups and the Kingdom. Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 206-441-5611, www.thecrocodile.com. $12. Fri., Oct. 27.
The Portland-by-way-of-Muscle- Shoals-Ala. duo typically slip plenty of Southern-accented "thank yous" and self-deprecating "we sure hope sos" into any given conversation. So when the group's fourth album, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out (its first for Barsuk), ushered in its arrival by evoking some of classic rock's darkest sounds—imagine Led Zeppelin's "Nobody's Fault but Mine" in a bloody-knuckled brawl with Hawkwind's "Silver Machine," or a psych-warfare death match between Veruca Salt's former sparring partners Nina Gordon and Louise Post, without the bitter grunge aftertaste— it was almost as unexpected as Pat Boone riding Ozzy's crazy train.
For her part, Anita agrees that there is an altogether different aesthetic guiding this record. "It's a sort of vicious optimism," she laughs about an album whose downcast songs sport titles such as "From the Devil Himself," "Faster Than a Dead Horse," and the anthemic anti–victory march "We Do Not Fuck Around." "It emerged as the record's key theme: an angst-driven, desperate attempt to look on the bright side."
The group's struggles of the past two years to break out of the indie-rock "critical-fave" penalty box are reflected in the more embittered tone of its new material. 2004's "The Heat Can Melt Your Brain" was Viva Voce's first full-length as Oregon transplants, and applied a home-recorded vibe to a batch of cleverly conceived indie-pop songs that probably charmed as many people as they rocked. But in the process of touring behind the album—including four trips to the U.K. and a lengthy spell in Europe—the pair quickly learned how to separate who was on their side from those along for the ride.
"It's been a rough year for us," Anita recounts. "It's been exciting; we've worked really hard and have seen that work come to fruition, but we've had some dark times, too. There are some great people in this industry. We've met a few of them, and they have hearts of gold. But there are also opportunistic vultures. And it doesn't have to be on some kind of grand scale for that dynamic to start having an effect on your life. It could actually be a small sum of money that makes these vultures come out of the woodwork, whether it's in Portland with a few local bands or someone connected to a major label suing for back royalties."
Topping the list of "somebody done somebody wrong" songs is "We Do Not Fuck Around," Kevin's ear-grabbing ode to industry futility replete with pledges to "settle the score" and to remain vigilant until "their heads are on my desk." It's the most pulse-raising blood oath you won't hear on radio this year, a pledge for revenge on a record bursting with similarly themed frustration epics comparing industry types to vampires ("From the Devil Himself") and stalkers ("Believer"), and then tallying the inevitable domestic strife resulting from such an energetic defense of hearth and home ("All the hits below the belt still hurt long after they're dealt," goes the plaintive closing of "Never Be Like Yesterday"). If it's not exactly Fleetwood Mac's Rumors, the pain nevertheless remains a palpable presence, spilling over the sides of the record like a cup of scalding coffee filled to the brim.
"We held off a little on recording this record, which probably registered as this desperate need to get these songs out!" Anita laughs. "When we finally took a break from touring to record, it felt great—like we were unleashing the floodgates. We truly pushed and fought to support The Heat, and there's not much more a band can do, other than hope that your team will back you up. When it's clear that's not gonna happen, you have to do what you have to do. So this record has more first takes—maybe it was the impatience we felt, the sense of urgency to do our songs and not take a bunch of time nitpicking and sucking the life out of every little take."
For a band whose name is an Italian colloquial phrase for "word of mouth," the notion of how things are interpreted takes on a slightly bigger meaning. "That one was all Kevin," Anita says of the record's let-'em-pound-sand centerpiece. "He'd be best to ask how that should be interpreted." Driving to San Francisco for the group's first out-of-town tour dates, Anita leans over in the car to get his opinion, laughing as she relates his response: "Yep, he says it's just like the song: We really DON'T fuck around."