Barely the girl you knew

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We gave Amber Voiland a great send-off in 2003 with a CD release party and an opening slot at the Big Head Todd and the Monsters concert.

As she packed her car to leave her hometown, Voiland said she was going to Austin, Texas, to find a band, find her voice and begin a lifelong career in music.

¤ Love Buck-It ¤ 9 p.m. today ¤ Boothill Bar & Grill, 1000 Highpoint Drive ¤ Free ¤ 879-8048

Two years later, she's back for a visit to let us know that she's doing all the things she set out to do.

At 24, Voiland is coming into her own. You may not recognize her unless you catch a glimpse of that tattoo cog spinning up the side of her calf.

She sounds different. Her voice is louder. She's almost screaming into the microphone, encouraged by her new band Love Buck-It, a trio.

The 1999 Steamboat Springs High School graduate arrived in Austin with talent at the keyboard and a coffeehouse singing style.

It took her awhile to adjust in a city more than 60 times the size of the only town she'd ever known. The music scene ran the entire spectrum. There was room for her, no matter where she decided to fit in.

After a year, she found a regular Monday night gig at Trophy's Bar. She already was stepping up her "pretty, emotional voice" to fill the noisy room and keep the attention of the musically demanding Austin crowd.

A drummer named Sol (some rock stars just don't have last names) saw her play. Sol already was an established drummer in Austin, holding down several bands, but he liked Voiland's style and was open to the idea of joining her on stage.

"I liked her construction," he said. "I liked how dark it is. It's different. There's nothing fluffy about it."

Voiland had never played with another musician, and she had to learn. The first night they played together, an emcee got inspired to jump on stage and join them.

"He was beatboxing and singing and flowing poetry over what we were doing," Voiland said. "Before I knew it, my Monday nights turned into an improv hip-hop night.

"It was like I had magically created this thing, and it was giving me a chance to really play music instead of just going off by myself."

Three weeks later, bass player Jim Alison walked into Trophy's and stepped onto the stage. Although the characters would change from week to week, a strong musical triangle quickly formed among Sol, Alison and Voiland. When the hip-hop night eventually fell apart, the three continued to write music and play together.

They named themselves Love Buck-It and started playing shows across Austin. The music of Love Buck-It is a strange brand of experimental folk noise -- Mr. Bungle meets Cat Power.

Alison seems to be wringing the sounds out of his bass, and Sol isn't limited to his drum kit. He creates rhythms with bells and children's toys.

Voiland joins in with a moan, a chord and a few sparsely placed lyrics.

"We're so in-tuned with each other," Voiland said.

"Sometimes, we'll finish a song, and we'll just start laughing," Alison said.

During the one year they have been together, Love Buck-It has been building a local following. They plan to begin recording their first professional album when they return home. It seems that all those things Voiland set out to do when she moved to Austin are happening.

"(Tonight) is my first time playing in Steamboat since I left," she said. "I'm really anxious for those people who remember me to see how I've been able to find (a band) that lets me truly express what I feel.

"They'll be surprised."

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