Consisting of the husband and wife team of Allan and Barb Vest, doubleVee is back with their second album, Treat Her Strangely. They strived for a more organic sound this time around by enlisting outside musicians to perform parts initially composed with samples. The album’s nine tracks showcase a unique style that perfectly blend timeless, hook-filled songwriting with creative arrangements and production.
Based in Oklahoma City, Allan and Barb started doubleVee in 2012. They were married in 2015 and released the debut doubleVee album, The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider, in 2017. Previously, Allan was the primary songwriter, lead vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist for the indie/orchestral pop band Starlight Mints. Barb’s diverse background has included writing, hosting, and producing the nationally syndicated public radio film music program “Filmscapes.” Over a Zoom interview, the duo talked about the new album and future plans.
This is your second album, and you’d released an EP in between. Was Treat Her Strangely conceived as a whole, or drawn from material you’ve been writing through the years?
Allan: A little bit of both. We definitely built a few songs up from scratch. And then a lot of other ideas from years ago, to some of them from the last five or so years. We’re always writing.
Barb: Allan has hard drive after hard drive of ideas. We could work on those forever if we wanted to. But it was just being isolated during the beginning of the pandemic and not really knowing how much longer it might be. It’s safer to be right here in this room. So we just started going through ideas and picked them out kind of one by one to work on. The last song on the album was the one that was really a kind of ‘from scratch’ moment.
Given that, at what point did you feel it began to take shape? Was it a challenge in terms of deciding what material would go together?
Allan: I don’t know. I think it was just song after a song. Besides that last song that we’re talking about, we probably had fourteen songs and narrowed it down to eight. Something like that. And at that point, I think we just kind of knew what we were going to work on. But lyrics are usually the last thing we work on. And that was probably the biggest challenge.
Between albums, you’d put out an EP. Many artists these days are focusing more on EPs rather than albums. Was it obvious that you wanted to do another album? Did you consider releasing the material in smaller batches?
Barb: Not really. I mean, we didn’t really have a solid plan. It wasn’t necessarily, ‘Oh, we’re making another album right now.’ It was just that we’re going to keep creating things. And it was actually our publisher initially looking for cover songs. Like positive cover songs for during the quarantine. And we came up with a big list but then just felt, ‘We don’t really wanna work on any of these that we came up with, let’s dive into working on our own stuff.’
Allan: We’ve been keeping busy, that’s for sure. But we mixed this album over a year ago. This album is kind of old to us. So that’s the weird thing about getting back into it. We’ve been actually practicing … we’ve never really been a practicing band; we’re kind of a studio band.
Barb: We’ve recruited a bassist and a drummer and are practicing for a live show, potentially later this fall. But prior to this, we’ve always been a studio band. That first album was our concept album, The Moonlit Fables of Jack the Rider and we had this big stage show idea. It was going to be a revolving set and pyrotechnics and all these ridiculous, huge ideas that weren’t ever going to come to fruition. And then for various reasons we just have kept it off the stage and enjoyed being able to just be kind of insular and work on our art here at home.
Has rehearsing and preparing for live shows made you re-evaluate the music at all?
Allan: For sure. I personally have a lot more appreciation of it going into a live thing. And also we finally have enough material that we can just pick and choose, as opposed to having just a full-length and EP. We were kind of limited, but now we have 20 something songs.
Barb: We’ve crafted a set list between all three releases that we’re pretty excited about. It’s different because when you craft it in the studio with all the samples and things, and then this time we’re like, ‘let’s raise a little bit of money via Bandcamp Friday and bring in some actual musicians for the violin and the horns and the viola.’
Allan: The other two albums were very sample-based, and this one was organic, for sure.
You mentioned you had some theatrical ideas with the first album. Are you thinking about those for your future performances?
Allan: Yeah, for sure. The whole idea of just getting back on stage for me, it’s a challenge just performing. It’s been a while and I think just getting our chops up first is the main thing. But we’re definitely going to have lots of visuals and stuff. We just need to make sure we’re ready before we even commit to playing out.
The reason I asked about EPs versus albums is that I know some artists have changed the way they do things because of changes in the industry, like streaming. I’m curious as to whether the changes the industry has over undergone have affected you at all as artists? Does it make you think about things any differently in terms of the music you create and how you present it?
Allan: I don’t think so. I mean, maybe it should, but I don’t think it has, to me personally.
Barb: I think we’re just a little too old-school that we like the idea still of an album. We like to listen from beginning to end, having a cohesive unit. But we know that it’s different …. it’s a TikTok world and we don’t even have a TikTok. We know we have to assimilate to that and we’re on the verge.
Allan: We’re slowly on the verge of getting into that. I think that personally, album-wise, I don’t take it as seriously as I did in my past band, where I would think about the transition from song to song, actually having no breaks sometimes. I think that there is a conscious decision to have the song actually end and pause, go to the next song, as opposed to back in more of the album days when it was more of an experimental sort of thing.
Barb: I think after this, we’d probably revert more to working single by single. Just because we’re self-released, we don’t have a lot of funding behind us. We’re not getting any younger, so we have to be a little more cautious with future plans and hope this album catches a few more ears.
Allan: And I think one thing about this last album, we really started coming into our own as a team. As in working fast. The last track we built from scratch, “The Question’s Closed”, only took a couple of weeks. We’re pretty excited about writing. It’s been a year now. Besides doing a couple of covers and some other things.
Barb: We tried for … there was a series that we had an opportunity to write a song for, and then it ended up not being chosen, but now there’s this another series and it looks good, fingers crossed, a Netflix series. We can’t say anything else about it, but it’s looking good that we may have gotten one of our new songs in it. That would help with visibility.
Allan: That’s sort of the bread and butter, how we can survive, to get and stuff like that.
I was looking at Allan‘s website and it listed all the studio equipment that you have. I’m curious if specific tools or production techniques played a particularly big role in the making of this album?
Allan: We have a lot of sample libraries and we utilized them, but then we kind of redid them with real instruments. We’ve invested a lot in software over the years, but really this was pretty organic, this record. I think the biggest difference in this record is we used to use a certain mic for all my vocals and switched microphones. So that was probably the biggest for me; I don’t know if there’s a noticeable difference [for listeners]. But basically, we have a pretty simple setup here. A good two-channel preamp and a bunch of mics and this and that.
Barb: There’s a smaller room [for recording.] This house was built in 1940 and this was a former guest room. Allan and my dad built all the bass traps and we really kind of built it up quite a bit over these last ten years.
Allan: It’s a very dead room, which is a good and bad thing. But for our case, it’s a good thing because you either want something like a really big room that has a lot of character or you want to kind of have something that’s dead, then you can add character to it later. We do add a lot of character to our music when we go into mixing.
Barb: We work with Wes Sharon at One 15 Recording. We’ve worked with him on all three releases.
Allan: Me and him kind of just reconnected. We were together in my very first band years and years ago. And then he moved out to California, worked in studios and stuff, and came back to Oklahoma about 15 years ago. He’s great to work with.
Could you talk about the guest musicians you worked with on this album and what they’ve brought to it?
Barb: Brent Williams, the violist had worked with Allan before in Starlight Mints.
Allan: Yeah, I think he worked on the middle two Starlight Mints records. We had four records. He worked on “Built on Squares” and “Drowaton”. He was kind of my go-to violin player back then. And so we recruited him back.
Barb: He’s great. Lives in Kansas. And of course, this is all very much height pandemic times.
Allan: We’re all on in masks. Critical time.
Barb: And Christi Wans, our trumpet player. She’s incredible. We actually just found her on the internet and we’re really lucky that she was available. She’s a firecracker, really sweet, and really talented. Having the live horns and strings really kicked the songs up a notch. And Kevin Webb on trombone really added a lot.
Allan: Kevin’s a great guitar player, too. When I first started teaching guitar back in the day, I’d substitute for him. That’s how I met him, but he ends up being this awesome trombone player who also played on the third Mints record. So he’s got a history.
Is it generally a case of you having a song you started and feeling it has a need for an instrument, or do you write to accommodate the musicians you want to work with? How do they fit into the initial songwriting process?
Allan: We definitely write all the parts. I take pride in arranging things, it’s kind of my thing. And with our sample libraries, it already sounds good, going into that. But we just want that sort of authentic, raw feeling. Previously, we did have a trumpet player on our first record, Kevin Stringfellow. He’s a horn player named Stringfellow. He was the only player that we used though, on that album. So it was a lot of fun, and then getting Barb to play on her piano downstairs. That was a lot of fun to do; a little bit of a challenge recording it, but it was fun.
Do you feel that you were affected by the pandemic in terms of the amount of time you spent on it? Do you feel you spent more time on it than you would’ve otherwise?
Barb: I think we tend to be very focused in once we get working on music anyway. But yeah, we were just very worried and didn’t want to cause problems for ourselves or any other people. So it really wasn’t that difficult for us to just hone it.
Allan: But it really wasn’t much different other than not seeing friends and stuff like that. We’d sometimes play snippets for our friends in the past, whereas this time we didn’t really even see friends.
For more info, visit doubleVee.net.