by Gus Marshall
Thursday night Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno, an acoustic old-time duo will take the stage at the Royal Room, tapping into some of Appalachian’s earliest forms of country and folk music.
Leva is a singer and songwriter of impressive caliber and taste. Calcagno provides solid rhythm and lead playing, while also offering sincere back-up harmonies that add up to more than mere accompaniment. The two twangy youngsters create an eerily beautiful sound together.
The pair is currently zig-zagging their way across the United States and Canada in an effort to support Vivian Leva’s debut album, Time Is Everything from Free Dirt Records. Before the young musicians made their way up to Seattle, they spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about their own experiences in music.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Gus Marshall: How long have you two been playing together?
Vivian Leva: We’ve been playing together for about a year in a half. We met a couple of summers ago in Port Townsend, Washington, when I was teaching at Voice Works with my mom, and Riley was coming with The Onlies, because FiddleTunes was next week. That was kind of the starting point for us playing together. So, we all joined together and I joined The Onlies, and played music with that band. But right away we would split off and just start playing with just the two of us.
Riley Calcagno: That about covers it.
GM: Vivian were you sitting in with The Onlies, or playing with them full-time?
VL: Well, so, like a year and a half ago we were just jamming for the first time. But we did a tour together last summer. That was the first time I was playing actual shows with them. We did a West Coast tour and an East Coast tour last summer. We all go to different schools all across the country, so it’s not a regular thing. But, we are actually in Walla Walla right now because we were playing a gig with the Onlies at Sami Braman’s school, Whitman College. And we have a couple shows booked for this summer, so, it’s here and there.
VL: Pretty Occasional, but I think I have been officially added, so…
GM: But it’s just you two performing together this Thursday at The Royal Room?
RC: Yeah. We have been on the road for about a month now, which is wild. We started out in Seattle and we drove all the way through Canada, especially up into the northern parts like Manitoba. We have just been playing old-time country duo stuff, we both write songs, and then play some old songs, and some fiddle tunes. We went on a Homewards tour through all these rural communities in the state of Virginia.
Then we boarded a plane the next day, and flew back to Seattle we have been doing this duo thing pretty heavily, and we just came out with this record on Free Dirt Records, and it has more of a full band sound which is really cool. So, at the concert on Thursday, we’ll do mostly duo stuff and then play a couple songs with a bass player and a drummer, but it will mostly be the two of us.
VL: We’re both taking a semester off from college, from January to next August, and we’re touring the whole time. So, this is the first time that we have been able to hit it really hard as a duo.
GM: That’s awesome. What about folk music speaks to either of you?
RC: I really love the community aspect of it, there are people from all generations. It’s a great community to be raised in, everyone looks out for each other. I also think there is something about the sounds that feel so genuine, and it feels just like the music that people made. It’s not going through anything, not using false fronts, just a true representation and the purest form of acoustic music. I don’t know. What do you think Viv?
Uh, she says she doesn’t know.
GM: What are your goals as musicians?
RC: I think right now, we are taking things one step at a time. All this has happened so fast. We got signed to a record label, and we’re getting all sorts of emails and calls. The Rolling Stone piece came out, and stuff like that, so there seem to be a lot of people interested. So we’re taking it one step at a time. Just seeing where it goes, and it’s just good to play music, travel, and meet people. I think we are both going to go back to school and we’ll keep playing music. We’ll try to, I don’t know, just skate along on it.
GM: Are there any people similar to your age at your shows?
VL: Totally depends on where it is, and who is hosting it. In Canada there were no young people at our shows, everyone was sixty-five plus, most of the time. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, maybe like fifty-five plus. That was because we were going to really isolated communities, and I don’t think a lot of young people lived there. There were some towns in B.C. that were like all young people, or like our show at Walla Walla, it was all young people. So, it just depends. We are used to playing to an older crowd generally, because that tends to be the people who are actively seeking out our concerts and willing to spend money on it. We do end up playing some shows that end up having a young crowd, and they are really fun.
RC: It’s really surprising to me when we do play for the young crowd. I always get a little nervous, because we usually play for the older folks. But our music, like some folk music, does seem to resonate with them. They come up to us after the show, and tell us they really liked it. So, it’s always really cool to have young people at our shows, because it gives us an opportunity to share a spark and hopefully inspire them to, maybe play it, or, I don’t know.
GM: It’s cool what you two are doing. You two are continuing an oral tradition in the time of the internet, where you can learn almost anything at the click of a button. How do you think learning folk music now is different from your parents’ generation?
VL: My dad is a really amazing fiddler. He would hang around a lot of the older fiddlers. I am from Virginia, and he would go visit people around there, and learn from being there, and listening all the time, and there weren’t any recording devices or anything, it was completely oral. And it’s funny watching Riley or Leo learn a tune because they can just go online and find any source recording and slow it down to whatever speed they want it, and then learn it that way. But I think it still is an oral tradition, and there are just a lot of resources to make it easier to learn. You can listen to pretty much anything that you want now. Where when my dad was learning to play the fiddle, they would get a vinyl and he would have to share it with four people, and maybe he would only have it for a week, and that would be his only chance to listen to anything for the month.
What: Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno Album Release Concert
Where: The Royal Room. 5000 Rainier Ave S.
When: Thursday, April 5, 2018. 8pm
Cost: $12 advanced. $15 day of show. $10 student