September 4, 2008
PORTLAND–For people in the know, the nondescript doorway at 1200 SW Morrison in downtown Portland is anything but. It’s a rock and roll portal.
For the next three nights, Portland Beast House curator Katy Sanford has aligned three early evenings of great live music, in conjunction with an annual three-day music festival that brings bands from near and far to play multiple Rose City clubs. “Each of the three nights, our focus is on a different Portland label or publicity company,” says Sanford, who also points out that, “bands can come by before their shows and have a drink.” As bands and fans stream through the door, the Beast House is part “green room” and part semi-private club.
Inside the Beast House, the decor is rich with suede and leather. Artful rock and roll posters line the walls. Catered pot stickers are gratis and locally brewed beer is but a buck. Best of all for music fans, seeing a show in this intimate setting is like seeing a band in your den. It’s that up close and personal.
The Beast House is an environment where artists can be themselves, unguarded and available to fans, industry types and the press. Two of the nine bands that Sanford booked for the weekend’s shows sat down outside the Beast House on a 12th Avenue bench to talk about their music.
First up is Anders Parker, an East Coast troubadour who sings original songs while playing guitar, harmonica and a bass drum.
Q. Where do you live?
Parker: I’m in Burlington, Vermont, now.
Q. Does that have an impact on your music?
Parker: We just moved. My girlfriend and I just moved up there [from Queens, New York] in July. Since we moved up there, I’ve been in the studio. I have a studio in the house and I’ve been working on new recordings, so in the fact that I have the space to do it, yeah.
Q. Do you mostly play solo, like today?
Parker: I’ve done everything from duos to trios to bigger bands, but lately it’s been mostly solo stuff with an occasional band tour.
Q. I noticed that you were recording your own riffs and then using a loop. What does that bring to your show?
Parker: In my formative years, I used to play a lot of open mics. I came out of that singer-songwriter/folk/pop/ songcraft [world]. It’s sort of a murky thing to define. I started out playing acoustic guitar in coffee shops and bars. I liked doing that, but I guess for more of an interesting experience for me and hopefully for the people listening I like to do a little bit more. There’s spontaneity to it. A lot of improv involved in it. Covering all those bases on an acoustic guitar, you can do it to a certain extent, but it’s another flavor, another tool.
Q. What drives you to create? What inspires you to write and perform?
Parker: I just find music endlessly interesting. There are a lot of metaphors, but it’s kind of a river. There’s always something to learn. As a writer, there’s something about that spark of writing a tune. It’s hard to define. There’s a mystery to it. There are certain skills you can learn and techniques and what have you, but that actual spark of a song coming or showing up at your door is a pretty wild thing.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your work and what you’re up to?
Parker: I’ve got a bunch of records I’m recording right now. That’s what I’ve been doing the past two months. Finishing all these records that have been half-finished. I’ve used this year to write and record.
Anders Parker’s 14th & Division (Live) was released by Portland label Bladen County Records, August 14, 2008. ***
Blue Skies for Black Hearts
Next up is Portland pop outfit Blue Skies for Black Hearts, with producer, engineer and live sound man Pat Kearns on vocals and guitar; guitarist Michael Lewis; bassist Kelly Simmons; and drummer Paul Noel. Kearns did not sit for this interview. He was busy running the sound for Dominant Legs, the first act to perform on Saturday evening.
Q. How long has this band been together?
Noel: This incarnation…It’s been 16 months. That’s when I joined the band. But it’s been six years.
Lewis: I’ve been playing with Patrick for seven years. I was looking for a lead guitar player for my band. He called up and said, ‘Yeah, so I’m not really looking to be the guitar player, I’m looking for a guitar player. But I liked your influences. Want to try out?’
Q. What was the band?
Lewis: I have a band called The Very Foundation. I’m still in that band. We’re actually recording with Patrick right now.
Q. What does being part of “the Portland scene” mean to your band? I know you’re on a local label.
Simmons: I used to live in Seattle. The music scene here is really supportive of one another, or the musicians are. So you have this community that didn’t exist in Seattle. You can come down here and be in a couple of bands or be friends with some bands and play a bunch of shows together or borrow gear.
Noel: Or record records.
Simmons: Or record records. That sort of stuff didn’t happen in Seattle.
Lewis: It’s a great time to be in Portland and be an artist. Not just a musician, any kind of artist. The art scene here is amazing.
Q. Your band has been compared to some great artists. How do you talk about your influences, or describe your music?
Simmons: When we record our records, a lot of times it becomes us sitting around talking music-nerd talk. We listen to a lot of records and talk about music and try to turn each other on to really great things. Mostly classic music. We can still find stuff in music that’s happening today. There’s so much music. We gravitate toward great songwriting.
Q. So the idea of songcraft is highly important to you.
Lewis: I would almost say that’s really the focus of the band. I think it’s about songcraft. Pat came from the garage rock scene. I know when he came out of that, he really wanted to make a great songwriting record with that first record, This Black Heart’s Gonna Break. He’s really pushed himself over the last four records that we’ve made, to push himself as a songwriter and have it be a craft as opposed to just being an emotional outlet.
Noel: You can see clear growth, too, in his writing.
Q. How does the band approach songwriting?
Lewis: There’s a lot of value to sitting down with a song and playing what you feel right then and cutting it.
Simmons: Not over-thinking it.
Lewis: We’re a pop band at the end of the day. We want to write songs that make people feel. When we’re writing something that feels good, cut it right then and stop thinking about it.
Q. Where and how did you record Serenades and Hand Grenades?
Simmons: [Pat] built his new studio right behind a music store that’s right off 28th and Sandy. We’d be sitting in there and say, ‘You know what would sound really great on this? Kazoos.’ And you go up front and you go, ‘Hey, uh, you got any Kazoos?’ And they hand over kazoos. ‘Hey, you got a trombone?’ and they go in a corner and pull out a trombone.
Lewis: This band, when we think about records, we think about them like they’re on vinyl. I know when Pat put the order together for Serenades and Hand Grenades, it was important to him that we had a lead song on side A and a lead song on side B. We always think about them in kind of a vinyl sense.
Serenades and Hand Grenades was released May 20, 2008, on Portland label King of Hearts Records.