- Chad Ramsey
Exhausted from their 46-hour drive, the five members of Lavoy wheeled up to their new home in Spokane, only to be stopped at the driveway. The 24-foot U-Haul that had carried all of their belongings from Wasilla, Alaska, had bottomed out on the steep driveway. They left the truck at the bottom of the hill, hauling box after box up the slope in the sweltering July heat. They had made it.
Together, in an evergreen-lined North Spokane neighborhood, they all live in a towering three-story rental. Five bandmates, five wives, two kids and two dogs.They are 12 people in one suburban house who share meals, drink coffee, make music, pray and go on outings to see The Hobbit sequel.
"Do we sound like a cult?" asks bass and synth player Ryan Monson, on a particularly crisp December afternoon. "We promise, we're not."
Together, Lavoy made the decision to leave their home state, where they were a well-established indie rock group, cash in their savings and start over in a city that isn't known for producing top national acts.
On this day, the last rays of sun show through the main window as the bandmates congregate in their living room. There's a brightly lit Christmas tree in the corner. Next to the front door are row upon row of shoes. There's a fluidity to how various housemates enter and exit the room, exchanging jokes and pleasantries. But this isn't where they work. Below, in the dark, uninsulated garage, is where the music happens.
The band is their full-time gig. Their workweek is structured like most of corporate America – 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. But they only have to pad over to the TV room to clock in. While their wives mostly work outside of the home, the guys practice their music, write new songs, make concert posters, plan schedules and send out emails daily to attract the notice of record labels and show promoters. After six months, they swear they're not tired of this.
"It varies each week, what we do, so we're not bored," says Monson. "This is hard work, but we're a goal-setting band, always looking towards the future."
Music full-time had always been the dream for the band, whose ages range from 24 to 31. Originally started in 2007 by lead singer/lyricist Tyrell Tompkins, the current lineup has been together for the past four years with the exception of Russian-born keyboardist Ivan Brik, who joined this spring.
After an opportunity to play in front of Tony Hoffer in early 2012 ended with an invitation to work with the producer (whose credits include Beck and M83), they holed up in their garage, practicing for six hours a night, writing more than 60 songs. The sound that Hoffer liked, electronic with a touch of soulful, anthemic rock, is what they played up. Demos were made of everything and tracks sent to Hoffer.
"He told us we needed to leave Alaska," says Tompkins, whose toothy grin, thick-rimmed glasses and soaring tenor add much to the group's look and sound. "He said we'd never see our full potential until we played outside that scene."
Wasilla is a little less than an hour north of Anchorage, the state's most populous city. Fairbanks is a six-hour drive away. They had watched other big Alaskan acts ride off valiantly to places like Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin only to be forced to get full-time jobs to pay rent, then not be able to book gigs. They wanted to do it differently.
"We didn't want to move to a place like Portland and drown in a sea of people trying to do the same thing," says guitarist Sean Riley, whose older brother Kipp plays drums. "It's easier to be in a scene like Spokane where you can actually book shows and be heard."
It wasn't until September that they had enough funds to get down to Hoffer's L.A. studio to record the three songs they're most proud of from their 2012 sessions.
This month, they signed with a PR firm. They hope to release their EP Foolproof Plan, featuring the three tracks, by late spring after a promotional blitz. A full-length release would be better, but this is a start. In the meantime, the group is playing as many local gigs as possible. Two months ago, they even ventured to Portland. "Yeah, two people showed up to that show and one of them was the bartender," Sean says with a laugh.
Even though things are evolving slowly, there is no backing out now. Not one member is having second thoughts.
"This is it for us. There is no Plan B," Tompkins says. "We are absolutely in the place we're supposed to be right now."♦
NYE party feat. Lavoy, My Pinky Has a Name, Mama Doll, Bandit Train • Tue, Dec. 31, at 9 pm • Mootsy's • 406 W. Sprague • $10 • 838-1570