By Dawn Duncan
“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”—Thoreau.
VIVIAN, the duo originated by veteran Colorado musicians Alana Rolfe (formerly of Stella Luce and Fierce Bad Rabbit most recently) and Timo Massa (formerly of Stella Luce), sparked from unintended roots. Though difficult to peg this union of musical souls in terms of genre, their first album, The Warped Glimmer, released in May of 2020, lends itself to dream-pop, trip-hop, and electronic, with an ever-changing course that will be interesting to follow into their next release. Where their seasoned foundation will lead is hard to say, but whatever transpires, it will be unique and their own.
When the quartet of Stella Luce played their final show at The Mishawaka in July 2019, both Rolfe and Massa wondered what would come next for them as musicians. Having been part of multiple bands during their time in Fort Collins, both aspired to continue writing and playing music but were unsure of the details. Massa was leaning into production, fulfilling a lifelong dream to produce his own music and other musicians. He and Rolfe teamed up for Rolfe’s first solo project and went to work with Massa supplying melodies and beats. At the same time, Rolfe concentrated on lyrics that would lend themselves to her signature soprano, haunting voice. Once working together, everything shifted, both personally and professionally. The two began a relationship and also moved into creating what would become VIVIAN.
“I was originally going to perform under the solo act name of Vivian Cecil, a sort of alter ego,” Rolfe said. “These are the first names of my grandmothers. But the few people I told the name to only seemed to ever remember ‘Vivian,’ and so it stuck.” Massa and Rolfe, now VIVIAN, ended up recording the majority of the first album in Massa’s mother’s basement in Wellington, Colorado. They had just moved in together as a couple and now were furiously working as much as possible on their music together while they continued to work their day jobs, which also happened to be together. “Our jobs working for The Mishawaka and Aggie really helped us. We learned the music industry inside out, not just from the angle of our own performances. We met national acts, their managers, publicists, promoters; watching it all go by us and through us put us right in the middle of it all,” Massa said. Massa eventually phased out of his work for the venues and became the lead of the new School of Rock in Fort Collins. When the school launched in early 2020, COVID-19 hit, and everything changed for the world. “I quit my job with the Mish and Aggie two weeks before the pandemic,” Massa laughed. “As weird as it sounds, it was actually something that resulted in good timing musically. This project, even though it was started in August of 2019, really started to take shape during COVID. We finally had the time to dedicate fully to music, and that was something we had each dreamed about our entire lives,” he added.
And dedicate fully they have. Massa ended up leaving School of Rock in order to commit to VIVIAN and doubling down on learning, along with Rolfe, as much as possible (and quickly) about production, recording, editing, videography and video editing, radio promotion, and media. While exploring different musical genres and instruments, sounds, and avenues for VIVIAN, Massa and Rolfe opened the floodgates wide to usher in new life for their creativity and make the best of the bizarre unknown that is our current reality. If the pandemic has taught us anything, perhaps it is that with the gift of time, we can create a new paradigm; for VIVIAN, that includes taking Master Class sessions, dedicating time each day to writing and recording, and constantly pursuing what is yet unexplored. Rolfe commented, “With the Master Class education we have had, one thing always seems to be a theme, no matter what the topic is, and that is be true to yourself. That’s what VIVIAN really reflects for us; we got real and told the truth about who we are and what we want. This is what came from that.”
Today, VIVIAN focuses on writing trailer music, composing a second album, planning for eventual touring (whenever that can happen), and relocation. The duo will move to New Orleans in early 2021, leaving Fort Collins. “We feel so fortunate to have come up through the Colorado music world,” Massa said. “Now, we want to make plans to do small concerts in people’s homes, depending on what is allowed, to tour when the time comes, and to keep moving forward with licensing opportunities and getting our music out to the world,” he added. We can expect to still hear myriad instruments used in their compositions, including Rolfe on viola, keys, synth, and guitar paired with Massa’s strong punch of guitar, both electric and acoustic. Together, they create a mesmerizing and dreamscaped journey for the listener to travel along, peppered with unexpected vocals and significant lyrics.
“We want to write as if we are supremely confident beings,” Rolfe said. “Unstoppable heroes, superheroes. We want to take a bold approach and be unafraid.” Recently, Massa and Rolfe realized that each of their VIVIAN songs follows the roads of different genres. Each song is also dramatically different when stripped down to just acoustic. Having recorded an acoustic version of their song “Break,” and the electronic version in a new video professionally filmed in Idaho by Dan Gibeau of Lucky Line Cinema in October, it became apparent that this music is not only difficult to describe, it has a life all its own, depending on the delivery format. “We want this to be escapist music,” Rolfe remarked. “Not like a hug; like a bath…a womb. Whatever we do with it, no matter how we play it, it will be ‘vibe-y’ in its impact.”
For now, VIVIAN will continue to create what they call “musical surrealism,” much like what they joke stems from their mutual love of David Lynch and the Twin Peaks series, which they re-watched during quarantine. They joked, like Twin Peaks, their music will always be “aware and that it will definitely lead you somewhere.” The second album will differ from their first in that round one; you hear two people coming together for the first time as a musical duo, leaving the familiarity of their former band and alter egos behind, creating new personae and also falling in love. You can hear this in the songs, one to the next, as their story unfolds piece by piece. Massa stated that the next album would reflect different themes, more fantasy about diving into your own inner world as the outer world unravels. It will showcase more evidence of world events and reflect what we are experiencing collectively. “We’re writing about the world at large, and right now, we are blessed with time to do our work and create. What else do we really need?”