Reading and Browsing With Ivan & Alyosha

The story of Tim Wilson's year is more dramatic than fiction.

When Tim Wilson visits the Greenwood Public Library, the branch nearest the home he shares with his wife and 6-month-old son, he heads to the biographies first. Buried on a back wall—the one farthest from the entrance—behind rows of nonfiction are stories of musicians whom Wilson, the lead singer of local pop band Ivan & Alyosha, respects. He's read Elvis & Me, Priscilla Presley's take on her marriage to the King—whom Wilson calls a "compelling person, but not a model for good living"—and Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, a collection of interviews with the U2 frontman and worldwide do-gooder.

"When you're young," he whispers, leaning against a bookshelf, "it's inspiring to see other people doing what you want to do."

This interest in reality—in stories of celebrity lives—is an unliterary taste for a band named after characters in Dostoevsky's existential masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov. There's a simple explanation for this: Wilson and Ryan Carbary, Ivan & Alyosha's other primary songwriter, didn't choose their name—the producer for their sweet, lilting debut EP The Verse, the Chorus suggested it, and they liked the way it sounded. Wilson admits he's attempted, but never finished, that namesake novel.

Maybe that's because what's happening to the 29-year-old these days is more compelling than any fictional narrative. In March Ivan & Alyosha played South by Southwest; a month later, NPR described their single "Easy to Love" as a "propulsive, sweetly booming ode" and "irresistible." They toured with Jayhawks founder Mark Olson in August; and next month, Ivan & Alyosha will release a still-untitled EP around the same time NPR releases the band's "Tiny Desk" concert.

Wilson's interest in real stories—which he says stems from his childhood, when he used money his mom gave him for a school book fair to purchase guides and maps to celebrities' homes instead—inspires most of his music.

"Selfishly, [I write] about what I'm going through right now," Wilson says.

Most of Ivan & Alyosha's lyrics often carry the same upbeat, positive outlook as their sparkling, '70s-inspired pop instrumentals: "Easy to Love" is about the triumph—not the customary love-song decline—of a relationship. "Some bands write about the bad things in life," Wilson says, walking through the politics section of the library but paying little attention to the books. "I write music to capture the good things."

Sometimes, though, there's a realistic angst behind Ivan & Alyosha's optimism. Two songs on the new EP —"Fathers Be Kind," written by Pete Wilson, Tim's brother and fellow band member, and "Living for Someone"—are about the balance between "purging your dreams to live a life of duty and obligation" for the sake of family and "creating something meaningful" artistically. That's the kind of philosophical, literary drama that would make even Dostoevsky proud.

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