Portland indie band The Harvey Girls aren't girls at all - they're actually married couple Hiram Lucke and Melissa Rodenbeek. While it might not be the most accurate moniker in the world, their name does serve a distinct purpose (beyond the general band-name imperative of "sounding cool"): in its syntactic construction, it recalls familial groups of yore such as The Everly Brothers - a band that, incidentally, is a favorite of Lucke and Rodenbeek's.
Formed in 2003 - prior to the couple's relocation to Portland - The Harvey Girls was initially a home recording project that gradually expanded into a laudable Northwest live act, the dynamics of which have shifted towards a solo set-up: "Nowadays, it's just me playing live with the help of some looping pedals," says Lucke.
In 2008, the band caught the attention of a distinguished co-performer at one of their Oregon gigs: Tom Filepp, better known as "folktronica" auteur Cars & Trains, and the founder of record label Circle Into Square. Circle Into Square (a partner imprint to Fake Four, Inc., the Connecticut-based label that houses Electric President and beloved NW hip-hoppers Dark Time Sunshine) has seen a fair share of blogworld attention lately, not only for the latest Cars & Trains record The Roots, The Leaves, but also for so-called "chillwave" Seattleite Big Spider's Back - and his intoxicating Warped EP (BSB recently lent his talents to a stellar remix of The Harvey Girls' "FWIW," which can be heard at the Web site tinymixtapes.com).
Filepp was immediately impressed by what he heard from The Harvey Girls, and quickly signed the band up to work with Circle Into Square.
"I really enjoyed the sort of Phil Spector-bubblegum pop stuff that I heard ... it had a nice haunting quality to it, and something special to it you don't find in a lot of bands these days," says Filepp. He, too, was conned by the band's winking choice of name. "My dry humor was pretty tickled by the fact that they weren't all girls."
The Harvey Girls' 2008 record, Nutate, was a success for Circle Into Square, followed by the free The Prisoners of Candy Island EP (out now) and the just released I've Been Watching a Lot of Horror Movies Lately. Despite their moderate success, however, this is a band (and couple) that's keeping things real.
"Things are nice and deglamorized," says Rodenbeek. "Music is just another part of our lives. Our studio/practice space is downstairs with the washer and dryer so you know - play a few songs, fold the whites."
But does domestic bliss translate into quality music? The results are undeniable. The Harvey Girls, apart from achieving the "haunting" vibe that so awed Filepp, craft sweetly offbeat indie pop that distills a wide variety of influences (lately they've been digging prog, stoner metal and '70s Brazilian records) into iPod-ready confections. And apart from being capable musicians, they appear to be culture junkies, too, something which hasn't hurt their esteem in the least - esoteric cultural references are like heroin to music critics, and, apart from their latest record's obvious nod, they've got a song named after the 1924 Buster Keaton gem Sherlock, Jr. and possess a voluminous knowledge of their progenitors in the girl-boy musical tradition.
By that same token, Lucke and Rodenbeek are careful not to slip into the cloying "marital vaudeville" shtick that sometimes plagues husband-and-wife musical pairs. "Yo La Tengo have been big idols to both of us for many years and I think they are the ultimate example of how to do it right," explains Rodenbeek. "When you see [spouses Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley] play, their marriage is the last thing on your mind because they are too busy kicking copious amounts of musical ass."
So, too, do The Harvey Girls. Believe me, these are two "girls" that will kick your ass.
The Harvey Girls
Friday, July 9, 7 p.m., all ages, cover TBA
The Den @ urbanXchange, 1932 Pacific Ave., Tacoma