All the Times We Had, Ivan & Alyosha's first full-length album, encapsulates the personalized blend of rousing songcraft, infectious melodic hooks and thoughtful lyrical introspection that's already endeared the band to just about anyone who's witnessed one of their effortlessly uplifting live shows, or who's heard either of their two prior indie EP releases.
The Seattle combo—which borrows its name from a pair of characters from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov—delivers its songs of struggle, perseverance and spirituality with a resilient, upbeat attitude that's reflected in their bubbly brew of stirringly strummed folk-rock guitars, surging instrumental interaction and a bright, buoyant blend of voices that reflects the band members' family-style camaraderie, evoking a timeless pop ideal that's as affecting emotionally as it is pleasing to the ear.
The intrepid ensemble—comprised of core members Tim Wilson (lead vocals and acoustic guitar), Ryan Carbary (guitars, piano and vocals), Tim Kim (electric guitar and vocals) and Tim's brother Pete Wilson (bass and vocals), plus a revolving assortment of friends and collaborators on keyboards, drums and other instruments—has spent much of the past two years on the road, traveling the highways and back roads of America, often with wives and children in tow, building a loyal fan base with their joyous, high-energy live performances.
Ivan & Alyosha's prior releases and live shows have won the band copious critical acclaim. They've also done successful stints opening for the likes of Aimee Mann, Brandi Carlile, the Low Anthem, Rosie Thomas and John Vanderslice. Since early in its existence, the group has been embraced enthusiastically by alternative radio, performing multiple on-air sessions for NPR as well as receiving notable support from such key stations as KCRW, KEXP, WFUV and WNYC.
The same qualities that originally won Ivan & Alyosha media attention and a devoted grass-roots audience are apparent on All the Times We Had, which the band co-produced in collaboration with keyboardist/engineer Chad Copelin, and mixed by Jesse Lauter (The Low Anthem). The 11-song album effortlessly captures the warmth and immediacy of Ivan & Alyosha's live performances, lending added resonance to such lyrically compelling, melodically arresting tunes as "Be Your Man," "Running for Cover," "Don't Wanna Die Anymore," "The Fold" and the album's' bittersweetly reflective title track, which features guest vocals by the band's frequent touring partner and longstanding admirer Aimee Mann.
"We didn't get it perfect, but I definitely think we got it right," Tim Wilson says of the new album. "We really worked hard to get a live vibe, and to capture that inspiration that we get when we're on the road, when everybody's together and feeding off of each other. You can nit-pick and edit everything until it sounds perfect, but we were more concerned with just getting the best performances we could. I think that it's more mature and more focused, and closer to what we do live, than the records that we'd done before. We definitely had moments in the studio where it like, 'Oh, wow, this is special.'"
Ivan & Alyosha formed in 2007, when Tim Wilson met Ryan Carbary. Both had been in various Seattle-area combos, but the songs that Wilson was writing at the time seemed to call out for a new musical approach. The pair spent nearly a year writing material for their debut EP, The Verse, The Chorus. Released in March 2009, the EP generated an unexpected level of national exposure, with the charming tune "Easy to Love" (reprised on All the Times We Had) receiving considerable airplay. The debut EP won the band an interview on NPR's All Things Considered and coverage in NPR's All Songs Considered SXSW 2010 preview. A subsequent appearance at the SXSW festival generated considerable music-industry word-of-mouth.
By the time Ivan & Alyosha recorded its second EP, Fathers Be Kind, in February 2011, the group had expanded to include Tim Wilson's bass-playing brother Pete, whose songwriting abilities contributed considerably to the band's creative arsenal, and Tim's high school friend Tim Kim, whose distinctive guitar work added a new dimension to their sound. Fathers Be Kind's majestically jangly title track became a favorite of fans, critics and DJs, and reappears in a newly recorded version on All the Times We Had.
"When we recorded The Verse, the Chorus, we'd never really played live as a band," Tim Wilson notes. "By the time we did the Fathers Be Kind EP, my brother Pete and Tim Kim had come on board, and we had done a west coast tour or two, and some dates on the east coast, but we were still figuring out how to play together. After Fathers Be Kind came out, we went out and spent year and a half touring, and became a real band. I think that's reflected on the new album."
Indeed, All the Times We Had demonstrates the positive effects of the band's extensive roadwork, underlining just how far Ivan & Alyosha has progressed since its humble origins.
"I think that we all feel pretty strongly that this is what we're supposed to be doing, playing music, trying to write good, timeless songs, and trying to connect with people," Wilson states. "I think that we have a pretty deep sense of purpose, that this is not just some accident. I guess that the essence of faith is having felt or experienced something that maybe you can't hold in your hand, and I think that's how I'd describe my attitude towards music. And it's OK if it's hard, because anything in life that's worth doing is hard.
"I'm guilty as guilty as anyone, of wanting certain things or wanting to be in a certain place right now," he concludes. "But we're building something, and building something takes time. I'm learning to enjoy the journey, and I think we all are."