If you’re a band living and playing in Spokane and you want to Make It Big, what’s the most logical thing to do? Move away, of course, to a bustling metropolis like Seattle or Portland, because no one Makes It Big in Spokane, right?
The same could be said of Wasilla, Alaska, where the five-piece Lavoy had been performing for years through various lineup changes and stylistic about-faces.
Tyrell Tompkins, Lavoy’s lead singer, said the Wasilla music scene is about as insular as you might expect. “In Alaska, no one has heard of you outside of the state,” he said. “It’s really hard to get your music out of there.”
Lavoy’s songs are heavy on dreamy synths, ringing guitar hooks, propelling drums and catchy, chantlike choruses. You can hear the influence of New Wave groups like New Order and Depeche Mode and the pop sensibility of newer bands like M83 and the Killers.
Although they’d achieved plenty of success locally – crowds were generally large and receptive, and they opened for touring acts like Cold War Kids and Portugal. The Man – the band wasn’t known outside of Wasilla’s tight-knit musical community. Tompkins said everyone they knew in the music business was advising them to get out of Alaska.
It wasn’t until Lavoy played a gig at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival that the need to relocate became apparent. “We looked at everyone, and we thought, ‘We can do that,’ ” Tompkins said. “We went back to Alaska, and we’re telling our friends in bands, ‘You’ve got to get out,’ because what’s happening here, it’s not getting out to the rest of the world.”
In July, Tompkins and his bandmates packed up everything they had. They quit their jobs, sold their houses, corralled all their money (Tompkins even cashed out his retirement fund) and moved to Spokane.
They’re living together in a 4,000-square-foot home in the Wandermere area – all five members are married, and Tompkins has two kids, which brings the occupancy to 12 – and they pay the rent with the money they earn at shows.
Music is their full-time job. They’re not playing because they want to; they’re playing because they have to.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way, and Spokane, oddly enough, has granted the band more artistic freedom than ever before. They’re writing and practicing five or six hours a day, they’re playing shows all over the West Coast, and they recently recorded a three-song EP in L.A. with producer Tony Hoffer, who has worked with a laundry list of major artists (Beck, Foster the People, Belle and Sebastian, Phoenix).
Tompkins hopes their recent adjustments will yield success – the band’s goal is to secure a record label that will support them on an extensive tour – even though they’re essentially working their way up from the bottom rung of the local music ladder.
“We’re starting all over,” Tompkins said, “but we feel like we’re going at the right pace, in the right direction. We want to survive playing music for the rest of our lives.”