The music of doubleVee is all about depth. Depth of music, depth of lyrics, depth of the artists who reside within the music…you get the idea.
Still, given that doubleVee, like many before them, seemed to crop up within the genre of "indie," whatever that means these days or ever did, and it's not always easy for bands under that category to catch my ear, nonetheless, caught my ear they have. It's all too easy to talk about favorite albums of the last couple of years, as there have been so many, but doubleVee's Treat Her Strangely is at the top of the heap. Again, I know there's a lot of music for all of us to consume, but this is one worth taking in.
A little background: Allan Vest was the front man for Starlight Mints, and his music has been in a number of films and TV shows. Barb Hendrickson enjoyed a career in public radio and was the host of the syndicated “Filmscapes” program. She’s also been an editor of a music publication, among other roles. They formed doubleVee in 2012 and released their first album in 2017. In addition to their new record, husband and wife team Barb and Allan have been busy at work. They carved out some time to dig into their new music, the story behind the formation of doubleVee, their music appearing in the Netflix series Wednesday, and more.
Andrew Daly: As young musicians, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?
Allan Vest: I was very intrigued by music at a young age, but no one in my adoptive family was musical whatsoever. Until I was 12, all we had in our home was an old upright piano, slightly out of tune and hardly played by anyone but me. Around age seven or eight, I picked out melodies from movie soundtracks I had just seen: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, [and] E.T. (yes, all John Williams!).
In my teens, I picked up playing cello and guitar. Teaching myself basic theory on the guitar and translating that to other instruments, and then being able to record my ideas, really blew my mind. This was all before computers, so I used cassette and reel-to-reel tape in various iterations. By the way, we still own and sometimes use a Tascam 424 MKII [4-track cassette recorder].
As for a moment that blew my mind, I think hearing "I Am the Walrus" on some classic rock station when I was around 11 or 12 years old was a turning point for me. I had no idea who it was, I only caught probably the last minute and a half of the song, but it was the weirdest, wildest music. I recorded it off the radio (with a portable cassette machine), so I listened to that last minute-and-a-half for several months before figuring out it was John Lennon and company.
AD: Who were some of your earliest influences that first shaped your style? How would you say that style has evolved as you've moved through your career?
AV: I was a late bloomer in songwriting and singing and had to work hard at being comfortable as a vocalist and front man. I started singing in a band called Burnwagon when I was 20. We were a three-piece…this was before I had my hands on a multitrack recorder. I would say around that time, some of my biggest influences were the Velvet Underground, T. Rex, and the Fall. Guitar-wise, I loved what Sonic Youth was doing, and I went through a phase of using alternate tunings.
Barb Hendrickson and Allan Vest. Courtesy of doubleVee.
I also liked low-fi artists like Daniel Johnston, Smog/Bill Callahan, and early Sebadoh. I think Bill's voice on those early Smog records really resonated with me and helped shape my singing style. With music arrangements, it's kind of all over the map. Orchestral pop kind of started with the Beatles and continued through ELO and sort of fizzled in the '80s and '90s. I wanted to bring that back in some shape or form, and still do to a degree.
I think when I started touring in the 2000s, I started thinking a little differently about sounds, and that coincided with me getting my first Mac computer with Pro Tools and Reason [recording and music software]. I started building sample patches in Reason and using them live. I'm pretty picky with synth sounds but have enjoyed incorporating them into some of the songs I've worked on over the years and especially love how we're using them in doubleVee.
AD: What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?
AV: Most of my early gigs were in Norman or Oklahoma City. One of my good friends, Daryle Bascom, was starting to promote national acts so I had a lot of gigs opening up for indie bands like Guided by Voices, Jesus Lizard, Palace Brothers, Low, and Sebadoh. So many lessons were learned during that time, and I was usually unhappy with my performance but was determined to get better.
AD: Take me through the formation of doubleVee.
Barb Hendrickson: Allan and I started working on original music together in 2012, after starting off with a cover of "Dream a Little Dream" as a holiday gift for our family. We digitally self-released three songs in the fall of 2013. We continued writing new material, with the story of what would end up being our debut album, 2017's The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider, slowly coming together.
Two years later, we released our EP Songs for Birds and Bats. We often randomly burst into song around the house, finishing each other's phrases and harmonizing fervently. Allan has so many snippets of song ideas on various hard drives. Our process of creating songs from scratch together has been so fine-tuned over the years we could create and release music nonstop until we both keel over if we could somehow find a way to swing it financially.
AD: Let's dig into your newest project, Treat Her Strangely. Tell me about its inception.
BH: When the United States was officially thrown into the turmoil and uncertainty of the pandemic on March 11, 2020, the two of us were celebrating 10 years together with dinner at a local restaurant. Surprised to see the Thunder versus Jazz basketball game canceled on the big screens, we added an extra order of wood-fired bread to go as we paid our bill, thinking it sounded like we might not be getting out again for a week or two.
As the months went on and the situation continued to worsen, we dug deeper into the safety and security of our home studio and, that July, began writing and recording the songs that would come to make up Treat Her Strangely, spending the next nine months carefully crafting them, ending up with nine songs that explore very distinctive soundscapes between them.
AD: From a songwriting perspective, how have your collective experiences affected the music?
BH: Allan and I both bring a very different set of life experiences to the table, with trauma in both of our backgrounds having a definite impact on our worldview and creative processes. When we're ultimately in the creative zone together, our exchange of ideas is rapid-fire as we craft our songs, testing out melodies and harmonies as we build bridges and create layers, sometimes using lyric fragments that we scribbled on scraps of paper years beforehand.
AD: How about the production and mixing side of things? Take me through that process and how the final sounds were honed.
AV: The production and recording occurred at home in our upstairs studio. We have a silent control room with bass traps where we record our vocals and the acoustic and electronic instruments. We record bass straight into the preamp dry and don't mess with it until mixdown. A lot of other elements start on our Mac computers. We have three of them daisy-chained together, streaming samples and effects through a program called Vienna Ensemble Pro.
We use some cool virtual instruments from EWQL (EastWest Quantum Leap) and a lot of third-party, specific sample libraries through Kontakt and some of our homemade libraries through Reason. Pro Tools is our main DAW (digital audio workstation), but we did dive into Logic for a few sounds on the album's final track. We used sample libraries like BFD2 and Addictive Drums for our drum mock-ups and recorded most of the high-hats and cymbals in the studio.
One of our final steps was to replace our sampled strings, horns, and pianos with live performances. We always have a home studio mix finished before we bring in our stems for fine-tuning with engineer Wes Sharon at 115 Recording in Norman, Oklahoma. This was our third time working with Wes, and we really feel like we have a unique system of mixing with him. He has an amazing set of ears and an incredible palette of tools and tricks.
AD: Tell me about your track which was featured in the Netflix series Wednesday. What does that level of exposure mean for you? How did it come about?
BH: The opportunity came about via great timing and the tireless work of our music publisher, Bank Robber Music/Rough Trade Publishing. We were thrilled to hear there was interest in “Your Love Is It Real?” for a specific scene, then a few months later got the good news that the placement made the final edit.
Having our song included as one of those featured in the season has dramatically boosted the reach of our music as more viewers continue to enjoy the series, seek out the songs, and add them to their playlists. Having our names anywhere in the vicinity of wildly creative folks like Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, the cast and crew, and all of the artists on the meticulously curated soundtrack has been amazing.
AD: What is it about that track that stands out most?
AV: It definitely has a dark undertone, especially with the haunting chord changes and spaghetti western vibrato guitar hook, but the song also has an innocence to it, particularly in the upper parts of the choruses. Lyrically, It has a slightly volatile and ambiguous message, with a bold statement at the end of each chorus turning into a lingering unanswered question by the end of the song.
AD: Do you have further licensing plans in other series?
BH: We don't currently have anything lined up but love the power music has in making a memorable impact on a production. If another of our songs can help elevate a scene or emphasize a feeling a director or writer is trying to convey, that's all the better.
AD: Will the material get any time on the live circuit?
BH: These are precarious times; while the pandemic is winding down, some in the world seem to think it's not a serious issue anymore or never was in the first place. As vaccination formulations are made more effective, we are hopeful everything will eventually feel more stable. We have recruited two members to join our live lineup and have been practicing and developing our stage show to perform if we have everything ready to go and feel it's safe for us and our audience to do so. Either way, we hope doubleVee's story doesn't end here.
AD: What's next for you?
AV: I would like to secure more film and television scoring gigs, having composed several in the past. I have been teaching guitar/songwriting/production lessons off and on for over 20 years and have always enjoyed that. As Barb stated, we have endless musical ideas and would love to keep making albums. We hope to continue to stay healthy and to see the pandemic ultimately be entirely behind all of us.
Header image courtesy of doubleVee.