The first thing one might notice about Irving Ave’s music is a lightness.
Not that it’s frothy or lacks heft in its subject matter. Quite the opposite. With songs exploring grief, longing and even spirituality, the Wheaton-based duo doesn’t shy away from messy human emotions.
“Clearly,” the band’s new single out this week, “is about how we live in a culture of busyness, whose voices are the loudest, and we’re all a lot more disconnected from each other than we realize,” said Jake MacAdam, Irving Ave’s lead vocalist, drummer and pianist. “It’s about how there’s something really special — that most people don’t see — about removing yourself from all of that and committing to a place and a people.”
It’s a song swept through by a natural-feeling freedom, spirited but laid back, like a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
MacAdam and musical partner Alek Woltjer first met on the worship team at Wheaton College as freshmen. By the time they were sophomores, they were dabbling with other musicians in the formation of the rock band, Victor. Neither attended college to pursue an education in music, but they both became involved in the growing music scene in Wheaton.
Four years later, the recent graduates have progressed toward rebranding the band as Irving Ave, named after the street in town where most of the music came together, and tackling new life challenges. Woltjer, who studied mechanical engineering, is exploring different career opportunities, while MacAdam, whose family moved to Wheaton from Rockford when he was in seventh grade, got married and has returned to the school for graduate studies.
“I was originally studying applied health science in the pre-med track because I really wanted to be a medical missionary overseas,” MacAdam said. “After two years of that, I had this moment where God made it really clear to me that I should change directions and study Christian Formation & Ministry.”
Both said their beliefs are a driving force in their music.
“I think our faith influences every song that we write,” said Woltjer, who pens most of the vocal melodies along with playing electric guitar and bass for the band. “I often use music as a way to wrestle with some of life’s big questions, and I think one of the main goals of our music is that the people who listen would ask some of those same questions. Questions like ‘Why am I here,’ ‘What makes my life meaningful,’ ‘Where do I go when I die,’ and ‘Why do people suffer?'”
“We’re both Christians, which means we’ve repented of our sins and accepted God’s free gift of grace He offers to everyone,” MacAdam added. “And following Jesus has changed our lives dramatically. I think this has made us write in a way that always shows that there is hope and that there is real meaningful life to be had in something other than what the world has to offer.”
Woltjer said he doesn’t feel that their music is “worship” music, but he does hope their music and experiences will help people focus their beliefs. Irving Ave peppers religious imagery among the personal stories — both uplifting and heartbreaking — on which each song is based for last summer’s 11-track release, “Through These Eyes.”
Through those songs — and even reaching back to their original partnership in Victor — genres shift and morph as MacAdam and Woltjer grew into their sound.
“Victor represented how we really enjoyed playing and creating music in that rock/punk genre,” MacAdam said.
“We both felt like we personally had been inspired by a lot of the pop music that had been coming out recently and felt like we were excited to try making music more in that genre,” Woltjer added.
In its shift toward a more indie-pop sound, Irving Ave creates a warm space to contemplate life’s big questions. Or just slow down and lose yourself for a little while.