Travis Erickson and Jake Pavek, the founding members of A Piano In Every Home, are a good match. The band’s vocalist/guitarist, Erickson, is outgoing — a clever storyteller, always ready with a sharp metaphor. Meanwhile, Pavek (piano) settles back into conversation, usually comfortable to listen. The two have been friends since they were 12.
Just a few years ago, Pavek and Erickson created A Piano In Every Home, a folk-rock duo-turned-quartet that now features drummer Jake Wallenius and bassist Mark Kartarik (both, like Pavek, are Taj Raj alumni). The band is about to release the first half of North American Review, a two-part, eight-track album that surveys relationships, the passage of time, and several of the United States.
Actually, the original North American Review is a 201-year-old literary magazine. It’s been showcasing prose, poetry, and art from United States authors (such as Heid E. Erdrich, Kurt Vonnegut, and Yusef Komunyakaa) since its Boston genesis in 1815. In that tradition, North American Review — the album — maintains a certain vintage, well-organized allure. Erickson’s vocals deliver serenity, especially when paired with guest vocalist Kara Laudon’s, and the music itself is clean and tender. Listening to Part I is like resting in a library with tall windows and shelves, surrounded by old stories and sunlight.
As their song titles (“Anchorage,” “Monterey”) suggest, Pavek and Erickson are tenaciously travel-minded. They’ve each spent months in Europe, northern Minnesota, and, together, Southeast Asia. Erickson described the latter trip, laughing. “It was a series of unfortunate events,” he said — in the span of 24 hours in Cambodia, he and Pavek found bedbugs, accidentally visited a brothel, and suffered from brutal food poisoning. But they “had a great time,” Pavek added. Their “This Old Medicine” music video is filled with footage from the trip.
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Pavek and Erickson went to the same school, getting to know each other well after Pavek’s unconventional catapult to seventh-grade glory. Erickson told the story: “It was your typical talent show. It’s crap, it’s crap, and it’s some guy on an acoustic guitar trying to play Jimmy Eat World.” He leaned forward, saying, “All of a sudden, the AV guy rolls out a television, puts in a VHS, and it’s a video of this guy” — pointing to Pavek — “skating. And he’s just killing it! […] I thought, ‘I need to be friends with this guy.’”
As the duo grew up, they learned about music, and they even went to their first big concert, Muse, together. All these years later, they’re still playing, their current band name borrowed from a Wurlitzer keyboard ad. When A Piano In Every Home write, “each person is a sounding board,” Erickson said. Wallenius, in particular, “keeps us pop-focused.”
Even as their music is a group project, every song turns out as a self-portrait, according to Erickson. “You learn something about yourself at the end of it.” Later, he said, “We try to make the music a representation of the best parts of ourselves.”
The North American Review Part I release show, featuring Chris Koza at the top of the bill, will take place at Icehouse on March 19. Look for a Part II release show this spring.
Cecilia Johnson is a freelance writer from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. Her favorite things include graph paper, Kehlani, and palmeras.