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Von Iva on a hot streak
By Andrew Gilbert


for the Mercury News

Posted: 03/12/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT


After a brush with Hollywood glamour, San Francisco's fierce all-female disco-funk combo Von Iva is back doing the dirty work that has made the trio one of the region's most dependably dance-inducing acts.

Last December, Von Iva's national profile received a major celluloid boost by serving as Zooey Deschanel's band Munchausen by Proxy in "Yes Man," the Jim Carrey comedy that dominated the pre-Christmas box office. For a group used to the rigors of the road, it was a welcome diversion.

"When we got it, there was a liquid lunch in Beverly Hills, and they put us up in a nice hotel, just a whirlwind," says vocalist Jillian Iva, who founded the band with drummer Kelly "Lay Lay" Harris, keyboardist Becky "Bex" Kupersmith and bassist Elizabeth Davis in 2003. (Davis left the band in 2006.)

"They rented a studio for us to practice and write with Zooey," Iva says, speaking from the band's van while heading back to the Bay Area after a tour ending in Fort Wayne, Ind. "When she first came in there was definitely nervousness, but she was immediately warm and fun. She loved our songs, and she's a good musician herself."

The band has made the most out of its moment in the spotlight, releasing a timely EP, "Girls on Film."

The Northern California leg of the Hell on Heels tour brings the trio to San Francisco's Red Devil Lounge tonight and the Voodoo Lounge in downtown San Jose on Friday with the prolific Los Angeles alt-rock band Killola and New York glam garage band Semi Precious Weapons — a triple bill that present certain challenges.

Justin Trantner fronts SPW, and he's a riveting, often outrageous singer with a trunk full of runway-ready gowns. Iva, something of a garage band fashion plate herself, had to call on her friends at the San Francisco design house Flock to make sure that the strapping Trantner didn't upstage her.

"We both got sponsored by MAC, and that made a huge difference," Iva says, referring to the cosmetics company. "Justin did my makeup a couple times, and he's better at it than me. But I had all these Flock dresses, which helped us step up our game. I didn't want to get shown up by a bunch of guys."

It turns out that playing fictional characters in a film opened up some new creative avenues for Von Iva, both on and off the bandstand. The trio retained a good deal of creative control over Munchausen, and the four songs they composed with Deschanel (which are included in full on the DVD outtakes) are based on Iva's persona as a tough woman who takes no guff from men.

"There are a lot of ways to approach writing songs, based on a melody in your head, an experience on the road," Iva says. "The movie was a concept, and we did a good job of writing for it, which shows our versatility as a band. It's definitely opened some doors that we're going to explore when we record in the spring."

The "Yes Man" Hollywood romp is only the latest in an escalating series of high-profile gigs. The trio wrote and performed the theme song for the Logo channel's gay- and lesbian-themed "Curl Girls," while Showtime's "The L Word" featured their tune "Same Sad Song" in 2006.

But nothing's built Von Iva's fan base like the band's uninhibited performances opening for acts like the Go-Go's, Lady Sovereign and the Walkmen. The band's slinky sound was set early on when it decided not to replace Davis on bass, opting instead for muscular, minimalist grooves behind Iva's erotically charged vocals.

"My philosophy is taking things away instead of adding," says drummer "Lay Lay" Harris. "We're good at getting to the point. Instead of adding lots of drums and crazy fills, it's about providing really hard, danceable beats that people can get into immediately.

"I'm not trying to fill space. I'm trying to fill my role, to get people dancing."