There are few things less "rock 'n' roll" than getting married. Many of our biggest rock icons have walked down the aisle, but it's a fact that is often swept under the rug to appease the groupies or conserve that necessary "bad-boy" image. Getting hitched to another rocker, though, is an entirely different beast. In addition to having a consort who can appreciate the grittier aspects of the lifestyle, musicians tend to make better bed partners than most artists. Painters, sculptors, and writers alike are often too single-minded to let anyone get their mitts on their creations. Musicians, however, are social creatures. The very nature of their craft demands a certain level of teamwork and intimacy.
Many band couples have had great results: Jack and Meg White, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, and John and Michelle Phillips, to name a few. Well, you can add Kevin and Anita Robinson to that list of luminaries—they're the duo behind the darkly hypnotic pop band Viva Voce.
Since 1998, Viva Voce have been living, eating, and breathing rock and roll as they've toured relentlessly and popped out three smart and accessible albums. As I myself recently tied the knot with a bandmate, I sought some insight from Kevin, as he took a much-needed day of rest from a long U.S. tour.
"We don't leave each other when we tour," says the drummer, "which is probably one of the main factors that kill relationships in this type of work. I'm grateful that we share that. But we have our own kind of stress, as I'm sure any couple who works together has to deal with. Some families work together and own shoe shops, some work together in a family grocery store, we write songs and make records... this is our job."
The Robinsons' work ethic shines through on their recent disc for Barsuk Records, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out. Alternately fetching and gloomy, the album serves up a bittersweet concoction of handclaps, laid-back harmonies, and shuffling guitars. The duo is often, somewhat lazily, tagged as "stoner rock," but as a hophead who often subsists on a leafy diet of Hawkwind and Sabbath, I'd size up Viva Voce as more a puff of a joint at a party than a basement gravity-bong session. More accurately, the band coexists with a new breed of indie rockers like Dead Meadow or Brightblack Morning Light—they assimilate some of the subtler niceties of classic rock into their mix without resorting to irony or strained pyrotechnics. The duo certainly have their stadium-rock favorites—"Anita would quote Pink Floyd and I'm of the Yes ilk," reveals Kevin—but Viva Voce's musical charm is more akin to a band like the Dandy Warhols, minus the bullshit and Brit-rock swagger.
The Robinsons appear worldly, wise, and methodical, so it might come as some surprise that their roots are firmly planted in the Deep South. The couple originally hails from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a modest community of about 12,000 whose second biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of Helen Keller. More importantly though, it was once commonly known as the "Hit Recording Capitol of the World," boasting a number of recording studios frequented by everyone from 2 Live Crew to Alvin and the Chipmunks. But despite living with such a musical backdrop, Kevin and Anita felt stifled by their hometown and Viva Voce hit the road. "We were very unhappy where we were, and touring gave us a taste of every major city in the country. Portland was, by far, our favorite, so we sold everything we owned and moved there. It's something we've never regretted; it's a great place to live. We had no idea the music scene was what it is, which is awesome. That just turned out to be an additional bonus."
Still, Portland certainly hasn't made homebodies out of Viva Voice, whose dizzying tour schedule is as impressive as it is obsessive. "Touring is touring," says Kevin. "It's a beast all its own. It's wonderful and terrible all at once. We love the beast that is touring."
Seattle will be the band's last stop before returning home, and then, doubtless, the couple will enjoy pretending to be a normal married couple for a while—just pretending though.