I've been a fan of the husband and wife group VIVA VOCE since I first heard their second album, Lovers, Lead the Way, in 2003. To my surprise, the band asked me to assist in mixing The Heat Can Melt Your Brain in their living room/home studio the following year and we've remained friends ever since. I recently dropped in on sessions for their new record, The Future Will Destroy You, at their snazzy backyard home studio where we chatted about the process of making records.
Wasn't Lovers, Lead The Way recorded at home?
Kevin: It's all home-recorded. When we mixed The Heat Can Melt Your Brain we didn't go to Jackpot! because... ...you wanted to keep working at home. K: Yeah, we reached out to you because we'd been reading the magazine for years and using it as a resource when we recorded. But we needed that sense of security
of being in our own space.
Has music always been a part of your lives?
Anita: Oh yeah! We met at a concert. It was just a matter of time before we started our own band. We were driving several hours each way just to see each other.
K: Music has always been a part of our life together. We grew up in rural towns in Alabama. The few musicians there know each other and play shows together at the VFW halls, Chuck E. Cheese's or wherever. We got married and moved to Nashville. Afterwards one of our cassettes somehow ended up on the desk of a Warner Bros. Records subsidiary. That's when major labels were buying up everything! They heard our demos, we got signed and all of a sudden we were recording in a major studio.
I didn't know this story!
K: So, we made this record and it was emotionally like Texas Chainsaw Massacre in every way, shape and form.
A: We thought the producer was excited about us, but he was a self-described purist and he wasn't into stompboxes at all. Feedback was not something he encouraged. I was into Sonic Youth and he just didn't get it. Every day we were slogging through. He thought we were doing everything incorrectly. This producer told Kevin that he should not sing. It took him a long time to have confidence about that. It was like a battle.
K: He told us how shit was going to go down and it was exactly the opposite of the way we liked to do things. Every day was a fight. Luckily, we were able to get out of that situation having learned all of the lessons. We had battle scars, but we were able to escape.
Did the album ever come out?
A: It was out briefly. The label went under within a year. K: It was just a fart in a whirlwind. That was the first year of our marriage and we were going through all that shit.
And you guys are still together.
K: From there on out we realized we were responsible. We decided to take the helm of our own recordings. We made Lovers, Lead the Way on our own. We used our house to track in. We figured out, "Oh, that's why there's compression." There wasn't compression on anything! It started to make sense when I bought a computer because I could visualize everything. It helped me figure everything out.
What was that album recorded on?
K: Nuendo, then. We use Cubase SX 3 now — same company and same sort of layout. I worked at a communications center for a while and I befriended this really awesome computer nerd. He showed me how to work Nuendo and he also turned me on to Tape Op. It made me realize that we needed to pay attention to songcraft in addition to just recording. I felt like I knew enough about phase, limiting and how to get sounds. If you hear a sound in your head, you usually know enough to get that particular sound. I do that the same way with songwriting. I know enough to know how to get the songs I want.
I thought Lovers, Lead the Way was really interesting. It's very ornate. If you look at the lo-fi movement, if there was one, everyone was recording on 2-track cassette. Here's the same idea of recording at home, but it struck me that you guys were going over the top instead of making something tiny and minimal.
A: To me, the way we put that album together and kept layering it felt like a collage.
K: The shit we were listening...