The Beantown power
poppers give the classic distaff sound a run for the money. Sexual tension
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads – and ears – together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Boston area quintet The Vivs. True to the
hometown tradition, the two-gal/three-guy combo is steeped in rock ‘n’ roll
classicism: one hears clear echoes of distaff-tilting power pop a la Holly & The Italians, Blondie, Bettie
Serveert and fellow Beantowners Throwing Muses and Juliana Hatfield, but there’s
an additional, enticing, litany of influences brewing too, ranging from the
angular punk of Television to the brainy sonic extrapolations of Yo La Tengo to
the vintage garage and pop of the British Invasion.
The Vivs initially appeared on the scene in the late ‘90s
operating under the name Edith and recording the 2000 album Outfit. No long afterwards, however, the
group went into hibernation as family matters (see below) beckoned. When the
decision was made to resume operations, they decided to make the name switch
and start completely anew. The lineup consists of: Karen
Harris – Guitar/Vox; Terri Brosius – Keys/Vox; Matt Magee – Guitar; Jim Collins
– Bass; Scott Rogers – Drums.
The resulting Mouth To
Mouth (Let’s Records), recorded with local music legends Eric Brosius
(Tribe) and David Minehan (The Neighborhoods), was issued in September to much
local acclaim, and all predictors are that with a little push and a little luck
The Vivs could become one of this year’s under-the-radar breakouts on the national
It’s not hard to hear why, based on the recorded evidence.
“Waking Up” has a Beatlesque quality; if Patti Smith had teamed up with George
Harrison, it might sound like this. “Eiffel Tower” is full of desire and
longing and wanderlust and boasts one of the best femme-pop hooks since the
heyday of early ‘80s New Wave. Trainspotters will geek out over the rock-cult
namechecks dotting the anthemic “Take It On the Chin” (“Tom Verlaine singing
‘See No Evil”; “Jonathan Richman lives on the… astral plane”; etc.). And “(You
Should Have Seen) The Other Guy” – currently featured on the BLURT music player
elsewhere on this page – has, amid its buoyant hooks and soaring Harris/Brosius
harmonies, a twinned grace and drama that’s impossible not to fall for. Sings
Harris, in a voice that’s defiant yet vulnerable:
If you think I look
you should have seen the other guy.
You think this is so sad,
but you can’t remember why.
I have a gnawing feeling
this is not the way to go.
Which tangle of voices do I listen to?
I don’t know.
It’s an utterly inspiring moment, and as a music fan I’ll
confess I’m having a hard time getting this and the rest of the tunes out of my
head. Mouth To Mouth has both an
immediacy and a sleeper-like quality, and I’d urge anyone with even a passing
interest in the artists and styles I’ve been describing give the band a listen.
They’re among the good guys, trust us on that.
BLURT: What were some
early musical inspirations? When and how did Edith come together?
Karen: Mission of
Burma, Scrawl, The Feelies, The Kinks, The Pixies, Neil Young, Marianne
Faithfull, Sandy Denny, Graham Parker.
Matt: Most of us
were in a band called Edith before, at some time or another. Terri was in the
Boston band Tribe back in the ‘90s, and guest starred in Edith. Now she’s all
the way in.
Edith released Outfit in 2000 but then went on what
your bio calls “breeding hiatus.” Was it strictly due to the personal things
being tended to, or was there a conscious feeling of having done all you could
do as Edith at that point?
Karen: For me, it
was both. My daughter was born in 2001, my son in 2003. Music climbed not just
into the backseat, but the wayback. Then, as my kids – and Terri’s; her
daughter’s the same age – got around to needing me less, I turned one day to
the guitar, like “oh yeah-you. I like you.” Especially after I had a couple
mini-crises; songwriting’s very handy, then. So, I nose-dived back in- 4 songs,
then 6, then 10. And The Vivs happened.
my part, it was during Outfit that my breeding hiatus got started. And it
wasn’t so much a need to end doing Edith as it was a need to focus on doing
some other things: be married, buy a place, have kids, work a lot.
Why come back under a
new name if the band had most of the same members as before?
think having Terri full-time in the band really does change what the band is,
the way the music sounds, the dynamic between the members. So it feels
appropriate to me that we have a new name.
Karen: Yup. Vivs.
Vivir. Or a coupla girls.
Tell me a little
about the album. I’m also curious to know how Karen and Terri work together as
vocalists. And what did Eric Brosius and David Minehan bring to the table?
Karen: I bring
Terri a song. She laughs at the lyrics. She sings pretty things and plays her
piano. Then, Matt does his special stuff. Then, everyone’s in. For the CD, Eric
Brosius – Terri sleeps with him… Okay; they’re married. But still… – produced the CD and guests on guitar. He really is
patient and true and knows what he’s doing, in addition to being a long-time
friend and musical buddy.
Both he and David Minehan, who engineered and also plays
some guitar, have no aural fatigue whatsoever in the studio. They can listen
1000 times to the same piece of a song and never get lazy or cranky. We really
benefited from Eric’s work at Rock Band (he’s the Audio Director there); his ear
is just weirdly wise. And he’s a diplomat, even though he’s always right.
During one tracking session, he came straight to the studio from the airport,
where he’d just flown in from Abbey Road studios doing the at-the-time
top-secret Beatles: Rock Band thing
with Giles Martin, etc. Pretty funny stuff; good stories.
In fact, David, Eric, Terri, and Matt – all very funny
people. Lots of bad sexual jokes, breaks for stupid YouTube shredding and scatological
moments. All dumb and good. And Dave and I have crushes on many of the same
underdog songs – like “Another Girl, Another Planet,” that Only Ones song).
Regarding Terri and I: We live a few houses down from each
other, our kids are best friends, and we’ve known each other for a couple of
decades. I love what she does. She’s crazy, and I love her. We’re so different,
and we trust each other completely, musically and otherwise. But she’s a
complete tramp – did I mention she slept with the producer? But don’t print
No problem. Biggest
successes to date? Biggest failures? Plans for the immediate future?
Karen: Making it – to me, that means literally making it: making the CD. That’s as good
as it gets for me. Plus my kids, who have really no super-ego to speak of yet –
no bull; no “polite” – like it. I like that. In the car, for music, they ask
for one of three things: Mouth to Mouth,
Marquee Moon, and anything from
Mission of Burma.
Matt: Being named a “Best Kept Secret” by Blurt is certainly a big success! It really
means a lot to us.
Karen: Yup. That,
too! And nice press from really nice people, like Jonathan Perry. Future – maybe
an East Coast mini tour. Gigs. Another CD.
What are some of the
pros and cons of being a Boston band? Is it an insular scene, or do bands work
together? It also has a reputation for having very, very tough audiences, but
my impression is that fans there can be very, very loyal as well.
Karen: Lots of
music lovers here; lots of bands. And I might be so insular myself that I can’t
fathom otherwise, but it seems like there are little satellites, friendly ones,
more than a critical mass/scene. It’s all just weird projection, anyway, right?
And I don’t know if it’s just being a little older or having lower standards or
what, but I find people here really pretty nice and decent. It’s true that
sometimes crowds hold their cards a little close, but then afterwards,
invariably, they’re nothing but sweetness and enthusiasm and support.
And it’s funny; no one dances in Boston. I think it’s one of
the Blue laws. But scene-wise, no real horror stories, at least not this
decade. There was a universally hated band here in the early ‘90s who were
almost comically asshole-ish to everyone, especially other bands. But even
then, that was something for the rest of us to laugh about together as we gathered
stuff to hurl at them…
Anything else we
should know about the band, the city, life, love or the pursuit of happiness?
Karen: I’m a high
school teacher, which I love about exactly as much as I hated my own actual
high school experience. Which is a lot. And I love this band.
Matt: We’re really enjoying having a Facebook page. It’s been this unexpectedly cool
way to interact with people and gain fans. Karen, Terri, and me all are
administrators of the page, which means we each get to be the voice of “The
Vivs” on the wall.
Lastly, I count 3
guys and 2 gals in the band. Where have I seen that hormonal balance before… oh
yeah: any tales of Fleetwood Mac-style intrigue you can share with the readers?
you’re asking about sexual tension, well, there’s plenty. And I’d be lying if I
didn’t say I’m the source of a lot of it. Karen and Terri are constantly vying
for my attention, and I just keep stringing them along.