Kevin and Anita Robinson stay plenty busy.
The Portland-based married couple are juggling three musical projects (that the rest of us know about). Their main band — usually just the two of them — is the pulsing, psychedelic Viva Voce. Over the past couple of years, they've focused more on their roots-rock combo called Blue Giant. And most recently, they started playing looser, more stripped down shows as, simply, The Robinsons.
So when you call Anita on a Thursday afternoon to chat about Viva Voce's upcoming show in Bend, it's easy to get off track and end up talking more about bands other than the one that's actually playing Monday at the Tower Theatre (see “If you go”).
(You may not realize you've veered off track at the time of the conversation, but recordings never lie. Ahem.)
Fortunately, the Robinsons' various endeavors weave together nicely in the big picture of one of indie rock's rising power couples. No matter how they bill themselves, the couple's bands tend to bear certain sonic qualities: propulsive rhythms and pop melodies, syrupy psychedelic haze, a steady undercurrent of blues, and an unflagging affinity for the power of guitars, be they acoustic, electric, slide or whatever.
The Robinsons both grew up in small Southern towns and got together in music-rich northern Alabama, a soul/gospel/country/rock melting pot and home of the famed Muscle Shoals sound. It didn't take long for the two to know they were soul mates in more ways than one, Anita said.
“Music was a really big focus of our lives already when we met, so it was just something that we always made time to do together,” she said. “Listening to music. Talking about music. Playing music. So when we found out that we could write together and play together and it was natural and not something that ever felt like work — it was just something that was always an awesome surprise — we said, well, maybe we should play together and maybe people will like these songs.”
That was in the late 1990s. A few years later, the couple relocated to Portland, just ahead of the town's music-scene mega-boom, which has propelled bands like The Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper and Blind Pilot into the national spotlight.
“It's been almost 10 years (since we moved),” Robinson said. “I really was not expecting a whole lot as far as a scene and opportunities. I really just fell in love with the forest and the mountains and the ocean.
“I kind of always knew that I might fall in love with the Northwest if I got a chance to travel here,” she continued. “(Portland) felt like home right away.”
Over the past 10 years, Viva Voce has released a handful of albums, most recently 2009's “Rose City,” which the taste-making folks at the Pitchfork online music magazine declared “fresh-sounding” and “unpretentious yet urgent.”
The intense focus on Viva Voce, however, gave rise to Blue Giant, in which the Robinsons are joined by three fellow band members. Anita called playing with Blue Giant “liberating” because her husband takes on a more visible role, allowing her to focus more on playing guitar and singing harmonies. (In Viva Voce, Anita sings and plays guitar while Kevin drums. In Blue Giant, Kevin moves to bass and writes more lyrics.)
“We didn't know how Blue Giant would be received,” Anita said. “We didn't know how much we would enjoy or not enjoy touring, recording and playing in a five-piece band instead of what we've always done, which was sort of (the two of) us against the world.”
Turns out, Blue Giant was well-received by fans, critics and the Robinsons. They plan to “keep those fires burning” and do another Blue Giant album, but for now, their focus is back on Viva Voce, which will release a new record in June, Anita said.
She was taking a break from a final close listen to the record when she talked to The Bulletin.
“We feel like these songs are really representative of Viva Voce as a band,” she said. “For the past couple of records, we've really experimented and our fans have been really patient and understanding and supportive ... but the feedback we've heard from them is kind of what we feel inside, too, and that's that when we just play the two of us, somehow it's more special to our fans and we feel a stronger connection to them.”
As for the sound of the upcoming album, Anita is playing it close to the vest.
“No one's heard them yet so I'm really curious to hear what kind of feedback we're going to get,” she said. “I think that people are going to love the songs and that's ultimately our hope. We're really, really proud of them, and we pushed ourselves in a way that we haven't before.”