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Disco-funk band Von Iva packs groove with a vengeance
By Andrew Gilbert

Special to The Seattle Times

Judging a book by its cover might be ill considered, but when it comes to the San Francisco disco-funk trio Von Iva, selecting the band by its CD art isn't such a bad idea. At least that's the conclusion reached by Jonathan Karp, the veteran Hollywood music supervisor who was scouring the bins at Amoeba Records in L.A. when he decided to check out Von Iva based on the cover art of the 2007 CD "Our Own Island."

Once he played the disc, he knew he'd found the ideal bandmates for Zooey Deschanel's exuberant character in the Jim Carrey 2008 comedy "Yes Man," which dominated the pre-Christmas box office.

"I was immediately attracted to how powerful they sounded without the use of electric and bass guitars," says Karp, the house music director for the Judd Apatow empire. "Their music had the heaviness of Black Sabbath coupled with the fun and excitement of an R&B dance groove."

The gals do look fabulous on the self-designed cover, but what's made Von Iva a dance-floor powerhouse is the fierce sexuality of lead singer Jillian Iva, who founded the band with drummer Kelly "Lay Lay" Harris and keyboardist Becky "Bex" Kupersmith in 2003.

The band has made the most out of its moment in the spotlight, releasing a timely EP, "Girls On Film," and gigging with a vengeance.

The Pacific Northwest leg of the extended Hell on Heels Tour brings the trio to El Corazón on Monday with supporting bands the Greatest Hits, the Knast, Creem City and New York's glam garage band Semi Precious Weapons — a bill that presents 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 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."

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. In many ways, the band's slinky sound was set early on, when they decided not to replace bassist Elizabeth Davis (formerly of Seattle's 7 Year Bitch), opting instead for muscular, minimalist grooves behind Iva's erotically charged vocals.

"My philosophy is taking things away instead of adding," says drummer 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."