There's nothing really Portland about Anita Robinson's voice, at least the one she uses over the phone. She speaks in a soothing drawl that's far more country rock than indie rock and reflects her younger days growing up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. But if you put on a Viva Voce record, there's not much Southern influence to be heard - rather, the band's sound is a blistering combination of psychedelic rock coupled with a wide range of high-powered tones that sometimes wander into a folky realm.
While the Robinson's have found plenty of allies in the Portland music community, including Loch Lomond, with whom they'll share the Tower Theatre stage, along with Damien Jurado, on Monday night, Anita Robinson acknowledges that they're unique in their region of origin. And when they're on tour, they can still identify with the Southern culture.
"Being back in the South on tour, it's so comforting to hear the familiar accent," says Anita, "But Portland is definitely home for us."
After leaving Muscle Shoals, the Robinsons headed to Nashville for a stint before relocating to Portland about 10 years ago. Since then, Viva Voce has released four full-length albums, including 2009's well-received Rose City. When I gave Anita a call last week, she and Kevin were heading into rehearsal to prepare for the tour that brings them through Bend before heading down to Austin's SXSW festival and also giving a listen to the masters of their forthcoming album. Anita says she can't tell me the name of the record quite yet (I'd later learn that it's called The Future Will Destroy You and is the band's first on Vanguard Records), but does say that it sounds great and we'll be able to get it in June.
"As far as describing it, let me think... I haven't had to do that yet. I think our goal is always to put out a record that has us stretching ourselves," says Anita, "We try to make records that seem nearly impossible to recreate live with two people."
On this album, it seems that the Robinsons have again stretched the parameters of how much sound a mere duo can produce - something they've been doing since their inception. With Kevin primarily on drums, but picking up the guitar and other instruments throughout the set and Anita mainly hammering excellent melodies out of her guitar, Viva Voce doesn't rely on the sort of stripped-down rock that other duos like the Black Keys or the White Stripes built a reputation on. As far as duos go, the band leans more toward the sort of production and looping tricks we've heard from Mates of State - even if the Robinsons are hardly as poppy as that couple. But that isn't to say they can't rock. In fact, Anita can rip it on the guitar with the best of 'em.
The couple has experimented with bringing other musicians into the fold, sometimes touring with two other musicians. The idea of incorporating other band members is hardly foreign, given that The Robinsons also play in a band called Blue Giant that plays a sound more reflective of their Southern heritage than anything in the Viva Voce catalogue.
For now, the duo is fine with remaining just that - a duo. But nothing seems to be off limits for their future because, as Anita puts it, she and her husband really don't like limitations.
"I try not to think about it in a way that makes me feel limited. When we're playing or recording I don't like rules," she says, "Some bands like to set parameters and operate within those."
Anita is sincere when she says all of this, but then she laughs.
"We like to create music that's big and unwieldy and kind of self indulgent," she adds.
Sure, it might be self indulgent and maybe a bit unwieldy, but she's right, at the very least, about one thing - their songs are definitely big.
Viva Voce, Loch Lomond, Damien Jurado
7:30pm Monday, March 7.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.
$20. All Ages.
Tickets at towertheatre.org.