May 22, 2013

Powerkompany's Shifting Identity

Photo Credit: Grace Long


"I am more than this/ More than what you see"

-Powerkompany, "More Than This"

Don't be fooled by the motorcycle helmet in Marie Davon's hand: she and her husband, Andrew Heaton, have been zipping around town together on a moped. (As if she's worried about people underestimating her toughness, Davon blurts that she "used to have a motorcycle.") Heaton and Davon's band, Powerkompany, released its debut LP this week via Mazarine Records. I Am More Than This is an intrepid record that highlights the group's—and its members'—adaptive qualities.

Davon, in particular, is a model of evolving identity. A biochemical researcher by day, Karolyn Troupe assumes her stage name when performing in, writing for and even thinking about Powerkompany.

"It was this secret identity that's not so secret anymore," she says, explaining that the pseudonym sprang from a desire to separate her artistic and professional lives. "I have a very serious controlled side, but I also have this hypersexual, silly, very diva side, too. And that's totally Marie Davon. I don't want them to be separate. But I feel like when I start writing, that's who is thinking. It cannot possibly be Karolyn, because she's very mathematical."

The band name itself is an extension of Davon's personality; her online handle for years, it presented itself as an apt descriptor of the music the couple began making together, starting with Comfort, a 2011 EP that Heaton describes as "a demo that got out of hand." It was both a logical continuation of each member's musical history—Davon, then Troupe, was an integral member of beloved local indie-pop institution Venice is Sinking; Heaton continues to play fiddle and sing in Packway Handle Band—and a vast departure. Acoustic guitars and dramatic viola coexisted with burbling electronics, thanks to Heaton's latent production talent, while Troupe's strong, seductive voice, limited in Venice is Sinking to a utilitarian role, soared above it all.

"It was totally an experiment," says Davon of Comfort. "In fact, we didn't even intend it to be an album." But the recording took root. In March 2012, Pulse, a collection of remixes by local producers, appeared. The addition of beats to the group's dreamy, drumless sound was a revelation, even to Heaton and Davon, who then approached I Am More Than This with a newfound focus on rhythm and texture—and time.

"We wanted to spend a little bit more time on the next group of songs," says Heaton. "When you make that decision, you inevitably start adding more and more. Maybe more than you need to, in many cases."

The new album occasionally suffers from an abundance of ambition. On the title track, the band tries to cram too much energy into three headachy minutes: there's the hammy chorus, the aggressively orchestral backing track, the Dylan-circa-Desire violin solo.

But I Am More Than This also houses the group's most nuanced tunes to date. The sad, gorgeous lullaby "Lost" and the striking acoustic narrative "Blame" are obvious highlights. The subtle electronic alteration that dots closer "Mermaid Sunlight" is an especially nice touch. 

These standout moments owe to a shifting dynamic, the band explains. Specifically, Heaton has taken a more hands-on role. "I've gotten a lot better at accepting his advice," Davon says with a laugh. "Before, I would get kind of offended." In addition, both members contributed lyrics to the new record; it's often obvious who wrote what. Heaton describes himself as "much more of a conversational lyric writer," while Davon is more abstract. ("I think a lot of that comes from hiding behind a veil," she says.) 

In the album's best moments, the two styles converge, as on "Another One Born in New York," which channels the band's hero, Leonard Cohen, in sound, title and attitude. It's not the album's boldest track, but it is probably its best. It's no coincidence that it also sounds like its truest collaboration. "The good thing about me and Andrew is that we have an underlying current that is very, very similar," Davon says. "I think if our rivers aren't the same, they're at least parallel."

But Davon is still the star of the band, and more than anything I Am More Than This reflects her growing confidence as a frontwoman. "I need to be fearless," she says. "Because, otherwise, I do terrible things. I release myself in other ways, and if I don't do it onstage, or in my art, I'm going to be self-destructive." 

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it almost works. But even when the band overreaches, it's all kind of captivating, these two seasoned musicians rediscovering their potential and, in the process, redefining who they are. 

"I guess I already knew [this], but I keep finding it out more and more," says Heaton. "You really do have to go for it. When everybody's standing around saying, 'Should we do that?' The answer is usually, 'Yes, you should.'"

WHO: Powerkompany
WHERE: The World Famous
WHEN: Thursday, May 23
HOW MUCH: $8 (adv.), $10 (door)