Mars or the Moon: transmissions from the Batcave to the universe 

Few subterranean dwellings can live up to a name like The Batcave. Except Kevin Silva's basement.

It's a complete homage to the Caped Crusader, housing every piece of memorabilia one could think of: toy accessories, action figures, posters, even episodes of the old TV series playing on a loop.

The Batcave has doubled as a rehearsal space for plenty of bands, including tribute bands to Tom Petty and Joe Cocker of which Silva's a member.

But this week, the rootsy rock band Mars or the Moon, for which Silva plays keyboards, has descended into The Batcave.

Lani Williams, vocalist and guitarist for Mars or the Moon, slides open a fake bookcase to reveal a secret room, just like Batman's lair.

"Don't be giving away all the secrets," someone warns.

The sound of love

Mars or the Moon started with the core duo of Williams and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Joe Hart. Hart and Williams were married last June, but met almost six years ago when they were in other relationships.

Williams, classically trained on piano and violin and a singer since grade school, always wanted to learn guitar. A mutual friend suggested she take lessons from Hart, who gives them at IRC Music in the Castleton area.

"We liked each other from the get-go as friends," Williams says. "But if he would've told me I would fall in love with him, I would've laughed."

But that's exactly what happened. Over time, Hart encouraged her to perform publicly. Williams started with coffeehouse gigs. Then he asked her to accompany him on some out-of-state shows.

"Basically, he totally seduced me," Williams says (both were divorced by then).

At an Ohio date, Williams couldn't remember the words to a song. Hart whispered them seductively in her ear. Already a musical couple, they were a romantic duo just weeks later.

"We're aware of the necessity of working your music relationship and love relationship," Williams says. "It's kind of two different things, but they overlap. I think we've done a good job."

Hart wasn't even supposed to be a musician. He started playing guitar in his teens, and was soon giving lessons in his hometown of Howe, Ind., near the Michigan border. But his mid-life crisis came early. By age 22, Hart decided he didn't want to be confined to a dead-end existence in the middle of nowhere. He abandoned music and moved to Indianapolis looking for a real job. But the lure of the local music scene proved too much for him.

"I decided I can't not play," Hart says. "After about nine months of trying not to play, I just decided screw it, I'm going to do it."

The Price of Love

Hart and Williams began working on a debut album, The Price of Love, before the band even had a name. It was recorded in 2007 at Indianapolis' Pop Machine Studios and released that fall on locally-owned Indie 500 Records.

"We can get a really full sound as a three-piece," says Hart, describing how he uses a loop station to record himself at the beginning of a song, then play it back while he's performing another part.

Even so, the trio utilized a slew of guests to give the CD a lush, '70s AM rock sound. Most notably, Hart got John Mellencamp's rhythm section - bassist Jon E. Gee and drummer Dane Clark - to play on the album. Gee gives bass lessons at IRC with Hart when he's not touring, and Hart was bouncing song ideas off of him before he asked him to play on the record.

Since the album's release, it has found airtime on radio stations in Bloomington and Muncie, various college stations, and even in San Francisco and Germany. Delta Airlines featured the title track on its flights in March and April, and Ameriana Bank selected The Price of Love as one of only three CDs it's selling in each of its Indiana branches.

New faces

Hart and Williams spent two years shooting down each other's name suggestions until stumbling onto Mars or the Moon during a conversation one night. Hart was telling a friend how he played in a Chicago music festival once with his first wife. The next day all the artists were listed in a local newspaper article. It reminded Hart of reading Rolling Stone while growing up.

"It was the only news he wanted to hear about," Williams says. "Joe said, 'It was like getting transmissions from Mars or the moon.' I started thinking about it and said, 'That's kind of cool.' Mars is the ruling god of Aries (four in the band all share that birth sign) and the god of war, like male energy. Well, the moon is like female energy. I said, 'Hey, that's our band name.'"

The current lineup of the group - a sextet without session musicians Gee or Clark - came together more than a year ago. Silva was in on keyboards by the time of The Price of Love's studio party. Besides being a musician and Batman fanatic, Silva also runs Uncle Albert's Amplifiers Inc. out of his Northeastside home. He's an amp expert to the stars, boasting clientele like Mellencamp, Ted Nugent and Alan Jackson.

Percussionist Lenen Nicola later has known Williams for years, and helped get her a job at the Good Earth health food store in Broad Ripple.

Glen Hopkins, who has played in bands including the All Day Suckers, was brought in on drums. Hart says the first time he saw him on stage, "I thought that would be so great if I could play in a band with him. Fifteen years later we're finally in a band together."

Roger Osburn rounds out the group on bass, although Hart wasn't sure at first whether Osburn, who played in Slipstream and the blues/rock band Locomojo, was the right fit. Eventually he invited him to a band practice.

"Why didn't I get it?" Hart asks himself after describing how well Osburn played, even contributing strong background vocals. "But at the time, in my heart of hearts, I really thought I was looking for someone else. I immediately apologized to him."

Divergent elements

While the band is working on new stuff, the emphasis tonight at the Batcave is on honing the existing material. Mars or the Moon is coming off its longest hiatus yet.

Songs such as the Williams-penned "Peace" encapsulate The Price of Love's aura. The diminutive singer has a honeyed voice that soars above the carefree groove, with Hart swinging his lanky frame and Gallagher-esque visage around the practice space while spiking the melodies with trenchant counterpoints. Hart also gets his kicks with a workout of his British Invasion-inspired "Little Stew."

After running through the bohemian chill of the CD's title track, Hopkins lapses into Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" before abruptly stopping to converse with Silva about what their singer, Bruce Dickinson, is doing nowadays. It prompts Williams to express her love for every Mars or the Moon member into her microphone.

"[Music] keeps us sane," Nicola says during a philosophical moment. "If it weren't for music, we'd probably be in a lot of trouble. That's the secret. Some people say you get into trouble when you play music. The real trouble is when you stop."

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