If the area's most famous wedlocked group, the Mates of State, are the annoying hipster newlyweds whose arguments and makeup sex keep neighbors awake at night, then Hiram Lucke and Melissa Rodenbeek are like Ward and June Cleaver with Ph.D.s in literature.
But that's not to say their band, the Harvey Girls, is stuffy or dull.
"Remember that the awesome ABBA and Fleetwood Mac were couple bands before couple bands were a big hoo-ha," Lucke points out, "so there's just no way to predict what sort of sound any given couple will emit on a record."
The Harvey Girls definitely don't rock the neighborhood in any predictable fashion. In one moment, the music builds momentum through repetitive, jazzy grooves, á la Stereolab; the next it breaks into a sarcastic, Cibo Matto-flavored dance beat. The melodic indie-rock sensibilities of Beck and Pavement run through the mix, and sometimes the Girls go after Tricky and old-school hip-hop, with local turntablist DJ Sku (Corey Aguilar) scratching on two tracks on their new recording The Wild Farewell. As if that weren't enough genre-hopping, Kansas City choral group Octarium sings on the album, too.
Lucke and Rodenbeek have been playing together for the last year and a half. They chose their band name as a tribute to the waitresses who served hungry diners along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though the band's Kansas connection shines in the choosing of their name, the story isn't as deep as it may seem.
"Melissa didn't like the Fosbury Flops as a band name, and Milk Milk Lemonade was taken," says Lucke, the multi-instrumentalist behind much of the band's sound. "Melissa read something about the waitresses known as the Harvey Girls, and that seemed like the one. We have the highest respect for the women who left their hometowns because they were hungry for opportunity, adventure and love."
The original Harvey Girls were indeed an adventurous group of women who responded to American entrepreneur Fred Harvey's call to provide better food for travelers along the rail lines. Insisting they always appear cheerful and morally immaculate, Harvey offered his girls free housing, high wages and the opportunity to see the country.
The road that brought Melissa and Hiram to The Wild Farewell is winding and wide-ranging, too, linking together Kansas, Europe and New York.
The album was recorded in Lucke and Rodenbeek's home studio in Lawrence, but it's being distributed by UK-based net label SVC Records. The band has gained international fans from music blogs, with SVC's blog, Spoilt Victorian Child, generating the most attention.
"When Simon [the owner of SVC, who prefers not to use a last name] asked us who was putting out The Wild Farewell, we told him nobody but us," Lucke says. "Up to this point, our model was to offer everything for free on our Web site in hopes that people would like what they heard, pass it on and donate to us if they felt compelled. It so happened that Simon was starting a label connected to the blog, and he offered to make The Wild Farewell one of his first releases."
Conceptually, Farewell is the story of Rodenbeek's move from Brooklyn, New York, to Scott City, Kansas, when she was 13. New York is also where Hiram and Melissa mark the beginning of their marriage.
"Originally, we were going to get married at the courthouse in Brooklyn," Lucke says. "But then one of the lovely people Melissa works for told us it was a terrible idea to get married down the hall from where people were paying their DUIs, so he and his wife gave us a beautiful wedding in their backyard in Hewlitt, New York."
The album also contains musings and reflections on the world of literature.
"We got the title for The Wild Farewell from the Byron poem "Don Juan." Melissa's a particular fan of Brit lit and poetry," Lucke says. "Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio was also a big inspiration. We wanted to do a record with lots of character sketches, and with an overarching point of view from a single character."
That's an appropriate reference, considering the cast of players who join the Harvey Girls. Having only two members, the duo feels the need to solidify its lineup in order to become a band capable of playing live. So Lucke and Rodenbeek have enlisted the aid of drummer Brent Piepergerdes, trombonist and guitarist Jon Tveite and bassist, trumpeter and mandolin player John Ralston.
Still, the Harvey Girls are not a seasoned live band. They've played only occasional shows at the Eighth Street Tap Room in Lawrence, though they have plans to perform more local dates. Lucke and Rodenbeek have an aversion to touring, so such shows likely will be the band's only live performances.
"We don't play often because we have travel-heavy jobs, as do most of the people we play out with," Lucke says. "It's hard to translate the dense stuff we do in home recording into a live show, so we're selective about which songs we play out."
Part of the band's set includes prerecorded beats and music, with live music on top. Lucke says the idea is to do anything musically that will make people feel good and dance.
DJ Sku, who laid down blistering scratch on The Wild Farewell's "Hazy Heat," says the Harvey Girls are musical marvels. "I think their album is amazing," he says. "Their influences are so wide-ranged you can really tell on this record. They're constantly trying new stuff and progressing. People need to hear their album."
Do as the man says, then see the Harvey Girls live next week at Henry's Upstairs in Lawrence on December 15.