Return to Von Iva


Trio bring back ’80s in good way
Steve PenhollowThe Journal Gazette

When I listen to Von Iva, I hear the overlapping heydays of such synth pop groups as Human League and Yaz.

Vocally, Von Iva’s lead singer Jillian Iva is a ringer for Yaz’s Alison Moyet.

When I passed these observations along to the band’s drummer, Kelly “Lay Lay” Harris, however, she gave them credence without necessarily agreeing with them.

“You wouldn’t be the first one to say that,” she said, “So there must be something to it.”

It was artfully done, but we aging feature writers know that brush-off.

“Whatever you say, gramps.”

Perhaps I’m overreacting.

Those Von Iva lasses certainly weren’t dodging their ’80s influences when they named their latest album “Girls on Film.”

For those of you whose first CD was “Jagged Little Pill,” “Girls on Film” is the name of an excellent song off Duran Duran’s 1981 self-titled debut release, a record album so seminal that it was made before people looked at you funny for using words like “seminal,” “record” and “album.”

Whether you are hip to the band’s ’80s influences or not, Von Iva’s music will strike you as good stuff.

Von Iva performs on Feb. 14 at the Brass Rail, 1121 Broadway.

The band’s concert will constitute a homecoming for Harris, who graduated from Snider High School in 1992. Harris was a notable volleyballer at Snider, then at Arizona State, then at the University of San Francisco.

What precipitated the movement from Tempe to Frisco, then volleyball to music, was a shoulder injury.

A few years back, a group of prescient Bay Area musicians introduced Harris to Iva and keyboardist Rebecca Kupersmith because they thought the three women had a lot in common. And Von Iva was born.

In spite of the fact that Von Iva remains unsigned by a major label, the band has scored a couple of notable successes capped this winter by an appearance in the Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man.”

Von Iva and the movie’s co-star, Zooey Deschenel, teamed up to portray the film’s fictional band called Munchausen by Proxy.

Munchausen by Proxy is a syndrome suffered by caregivers who fake children’s illnesses and as such it is a terrible band name.

Harris said Von Iva submitted a list of possibles but they were all rejected by producers.

“We just thought it was a horrible name,” she said. “But we just had to let it go. It was minor compared to the experience we were getting to have.”

Harris says working with Deschenel, a fine pop musician in her own right, was a pleasure.

“It was definitely an interesting combination,” she said, “The music we played in the film is not what we normally do. And her style of vocals made it funny and added to the quirkiness of her character. She’s a talented musician. She can play every instrument.”

Harris said Deschenel is earthy and unassuming. “She’s not one of these Hollywood girls,” she said.

The story of how an unsigned band came to the lofty attentions of Tinseltown big shots is awash in enterprise and serendipity.

Von Iva persuaded the owner of a record store in Hollywood called Amoeba Music to place its self-produced CD on an endcap display. That’s a residence for new music that usually commands high rents from major labels.

Judd Apatow vet Jonathan Karp, the music supervisor on “Yes Man,” saw the display, asked to listen to the music and knew he’d found his band.

Von Iva had an unprecedented level of creative control over the music in the film, Harris says, precisely because it was unsigned. There was no label that needed to be negotiated with.

The buzz of such film involvement is heady but it dissipates fast, Harris says.

The real work happens on the road.

People who come to the Brass Rail show will hear a sound that combines Iva’s love of Tina Turner, Harris’ love of classic funk and Kupersmith’s distorted keys.

“It’s definitely a loud, dirty sound,” she says. “Very high energy.”

While Von Iva is here, it will record tracks in the home studio of Clint Roth, a transplanted Fort Wayner who made his mark on the West Coast and then repotted himself here, so to speak.

Roth amassed some flashy credits before he returned to the Summit City. He worked with No Doubt, Third Eye Blind, Lifehouse, the Donnas and Barenaked Ladies.

Harris says the band plans to work up some songs in the studio.

“We have some ideas, but it’s hard to get new songs together on the road,” she says. “We won’t have as many distractions, obviously, in Fort Wayne.”

Harris said Fort Wayne is home to some hugely talented musicians and a few clubs like the Brass Rail willing to let them perform original music.

It needs a few more similarly courageous nightspots.

“Fort Wayne could be a great stop-off for someone,” Harris said.