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Von Iva: Hell on Heels

Jillian Iva's favorite sideshow act is the blockhead—you know, the guy that hammers nails into his nose. Coincidentally, that's the one circus skill that I have. We're on the subject of sideshows because rumor has it that Jillian's grandmother—who is also the namesake for her band, Von Iva—was a snake charmer. It must run in the family, because Jillian is something of a charmer herself. She giggles as she tells me the story, her voice barely hinting at the powerful vocal chops and deep, sexy growl that mesmerize on the band's latest EP, Girls on Film.

I got my hands on Girls on Film and the band's 2007 release, Our Own Island, a mere 24 hours before our interview. By the time we talked I already knew the words to most of their songs. Von Iva is that addictive. They're also pretty damn hot. Aside from Jillian, the San Francisco-based band consists of keyboardist Becky Kupersmith (who goes by Bex) and drummer Kelly Harris (aka Lay Lay), and they're all living up to their tour theme, Hell on Heels.

They've been called electro-pop-punk, dance, synth rock, alt-pop, dirty disco, bombastic soul and a whole bunch of other things. In other words, Von Iva defies categorization. Jillian finds the punk label kind of funny: "When I think punk I think Johnny Thunders and Wendy O. Williams, so I don't really see that so much. But I think it's just the bombastic nature of our live shows, the punk aesthetic more so than anything." However, she agrees that the others are "all fitting in a weird way." It's not surprising, given that the girls list such eclectic artists as Donna Summer, Joy Division and Guns 'n Roses among their musical influences. Jillian's perfect Von Iva-laced mix CD would include Tina Turner, Soul II Soul, MGMT and Betty Davis (Miles's wife, not the movie star with the famous eyes).

Von Iva's sound may also have been partially influenced by former member Elizabeth Davis of 7 Year Bitch. "She brought more of a rock aesthetic to the band, so when she left it opened things up to a bit more of a dance-y feel," Jillian says. "She set the standard for us being a rock band, but once she was gone a bit of that gruffness left."

The rock aesthetic is apparent on "LALA" (an ode to life in Los Angeles), which has something of a raw, gritty, rock 'n roll feel. Then there's "Livin For It," which shows a definite disco influence and practically demands your presence on the dance floor. "Birds of Prey," with its "I Will Survive"-type lyrics and a sound reminiscent of '80s pop, is a must for your next breakup mix.

It's possible that you've heard Von Iva and not even realized it. Aside from tearing things up on stage and in the studio, they've appeared in the movie Yes Man as Zooey Deschanel's band and have lent their songs to the likes of The L Word, Curl Girls, Roxy, Nokia, Dell and Etnies. Jillian explains that this wasn't a conscious marketing decision but rather pure chance. "It was actually just kind of a snowball effect, word of mouth. A lot of stuff has just fallen in our lap. We were just in the right place at the right time with the right music."

So how was it for a band that's hitting the big time in their own right to work on a major motion picture? "It was an amazing experience," Jillian says. "They gave us carte blanche, like 'Here's a studio, go have fun!' It was kind of like we could do no wrong, and every time they came in they loved it." She adds, "Jim Carrey gave it two thumbs up and said the songs were hilarious, which was pretty funny coming from him." Funny, perhaps, but not surprising with lyrics like "I'm not your late night booty call/Don't call me past 11:00 PM/You can call me at 10:59 but don't call me at 11:00 because that's my rule now."

On working with Zooey, Jillian says, "It was such a great collaboration. She's such a talented musician and a really nice person. [Having Zooey front the band] wasn't weird at all. She didn't shove me in the back with a tambourine or anything. She was very gracious about having a lot of back and forth singing."

Von Iva's concerts are considerably different from those of their celluloid counterpart, Munchausen by Proxy. When asked what people could expect from next week's Philadelphia show, Jillian laughs. "They can expect not to have any expectations. There are certain songs that stay the same, but then there are songs like 'Do It!' that are ever changing and we don't even know how they're going to end. It can be a five-minute jam at the end or we can just cut it off shorter. We try to keep it fresh and exciting. Our live shows are amazing; the music is rock 'n roll plus dance plus soul. It's an experience you'll never forget."

Von Iva performs at the Khyber Monday, February 2 along with Semi-Precious Weapons and Nico Vega.