IMAGE: Megan Holmes
Just when we thought we had it all figured out.
If you had come to WW’s music staff any time in the past six months or so and asked us who 2009’s Best New Band poll winner would be, we wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. After all, we’ve watched Blind Pilot go from complete obscurity to being an NPR favorite, charting high on iTunes and touring nationally with the Decemberists. Not to mention that Blind Pilot is a very good band with a very good album in 3 Rounds and a Sound.
What we forgot—as we agonized over Portland’s inevitable Best New Band being on a European tour during this Saturday’s free Best New Bands show—is that the local music insiders we poll each year are plugged in not just to the groups that are blowing up nationally, but to artists breaking the mold locally. Among the 121 bookers, label folk, PR people and musicians we polled this year were voters who hoisted instrumental “folktronica” act Talkdemonic into the top spot in 2005, and the keytar-wielding one-man dance party Copy into first a year later. The voters, it would seem, march to the beat of a different drummer—or, in the case of this year’s groundbreaking, dance-tastic winner, Explode Into Colors, two drummers at once. And all 10 spots on this year’s list illustrate that idea.
Every year we give the same disclaimer: that the words “best,” “new” and “band” are all relative. And every year we present you with a list: an unscientific snapshot of what’s making the local music community buzz; a quick primer for those new to Portland music. It’s not our list, and chances are, it’s not your list, either. But we hope it inspires conversation among fans and puts a fire under artists who didn’t make the top 10. More than anything, we hope it gets new fans investigating the clubs and basements of Portland, looking for their own favorites among our city’s rich music community.
IMAGE: Megan Holmes
1. Explode Into Colors(80 Points)
Who: Claudia Meza, Heather Treadway, Lisa Schonberg
Sounds Like: Kings of the Wild Frontier-era Adam Ant in a threesome with Lee “Scratch” Perry and M.I.A.
Before it had even shared a recording with the world, Explode Into Colors was a buzz band. “People were writing and requesting songs as soon as we put the site up,” drummer Lisa Schonberg says. Talked-about performances in sweaty basements and living rooms fueled a fire lit by the band members’ impressive list of past collaborators (regional legends Kickball, NYC dance punks Japanther and respected local songwriter Melanie Valera’s Tender Forever among them). That fire spread with profound speed. “I’ve never fallen in love with a band this fast before,” noted a fan on WW’s LocalCut.com after seeing the band perform in a Northeast Portland living room. “I had cymbals crashing in my head for days after the show.”
“Sharpen the Knife,” the first song Explode Into Colors posted to its MySpace site last summer, was the first track most of us heard. It opens with drummer Schonberg’s funky, fast and rimshot-heavy break, which is soon accompanied by atonal percussive reverb, a hanging Darth Vader bass line and an Egyptian jazz meets Augustus Pablo melodica hook. When bassist-vocalist Claudia Meza begins to sing, her voice rains heavy like another layer of percussion. The words are fuzzy behind the band’s death-march rhythm section, but her sound is a mashup of Bhangra and dancehall aesthetics—her vocals twisting upward at the end of each verse and echoing backwards on the tape.
The track sounds as if it were delicately engineered by a Jamaican dub expert using the antique, ganja-stained recording equipment at Studio One. In reality, it was captured by an oversized Califone cassette recorder—saved years prior from a community college that no longer required its services—set strategically close to Meza’s vocal amp.
And that’s how the whole thing started.
Well, actually it started years earlier. Meza and Schonberg, both alumni of Evergreen State College, met at Olympia, Wash.’s, most notorious club, Le Voyeur, around 2000. Two years later, they formed a band—the almost unclassifiably loaded noise-pop group Thunder! Thunder! Thunder!, which released a single EP and toured the West Coast before breaking up in 2004. Schonberg—who has also drummed with Olympia’s Kickball since that band’s 2001 inception—met multi-instrumentalist Heather Treadway at Evergreen, in the college’s percussion club. “She was a serious member,” Schonberg says. “I attended every so often.”
It wasn’t until 2008 that Meza and Schonberg—who by then had a long history of jamming together and had each relocated to Portland—began serious work on new music. Where their previous collaborations had experimented in foreign time signatures and “mathy” guitar licks, this project was a chance to try something new. “We just threw everything out,” Meza says. The duo’s first jam sessions were all percussion and vocals, and instead of challenging each other to play more complicated, intricate music, they focused on minimalism—seeing how many sounds they could get out of percussion instruments. “It was really exciting,” Schonberg says. “I had never done these simple things before, like sticking my microphone in my bass drum and adding reverb on it. And WHOA!” she motions, signaling the immensity of the sound. The trio breaks into laughter.
As they sit in their Southeast Portland rehearsal space and recount the band’s origins, the tightness of their friendship quickly becomes evident. They describe the first sounds they made together with hyperactive phonetics; Meza imitates Schonberg’s shyness in practices (“it might be great if you’d maybe pick up the guitar”); and they laugh together over Treadway not knowing the names of her instruments. (“What did you name them?” Schonberg laughs. “Everything I play is called the trambonie,” Treadway explains with a straight face to group hysterics.)
The three come from vastly different backgrounds. Schonberg grew up in Staten Island, N.Y., a drum geek from a young age whose parents were patient enough to let her practice long hours in the basement. Treadway, a fashion designer (paperdollfashion.com) who grew up near Seattle, spent years learning—and later teaching—tap dance. Her mother is from South Africa, and Treadway became fascinated with West African music in college. Meza, the Los Angeles-raised daughter of immigrants from Mexico, comes from a musical family and enrolled in one of L.A.’s arts high schools. Her father, a singer-guitarist who’s “big on the Seventh-day Adventist circuit,” taught her to play guitar and sing with him at a young age. In school she began reading articles about underground bands like Sonic Youth. She didn’t have access to the actual music, she says, “so I just imagined what they sounded like.”
Onstage, the trio’s varied backgrounds and musical aesthetics meld into one internationally informed barrage of sound. Shared influences include Japan’s the Boredoms and seminal NYC funk-hop quartet ESG, but EIC is its own animal. Meza and Schonberg make up a sludge-thick but danceable rhythm section, and Treadway alternates between giving the drums even more kick and providing melodic hooks on her various trambonies.
Portland—a city that has embraced original dance music with open arms over the past few years (see previous Best New Bands notables Starfucker and Copy)—has warmed to Explode Into Colors quickly. It’s hard to remember another act that has gained steam so quickly despite a lack of recorded material. But EIC already has a strong local following, separate label deals for three 7-inch records later this year, and a contract with Kill Rock Stars for a full-length release. They’ve been extensively blogged about, including a glowing report from an NME blogger who called the band “chubby grungey girls,” a quip they’re quick to laugh off as comically British.
Despite all the attention, Explode Into Colors is determined to move at its own pace. The band recently declined a national tour with future labelmates the Thermals due to day jobs and a lack of merch. Meanwhile, the band’s local show schedule is jam-packed. “I always wanted to be in a band with rad people, where we could do whatever the fuck we want,” Meza says. And though she’s talking about Explode Into Colors’ music, you’d be hard-pressed to find another local band with this much balls. CASEY JARMAN.
SEE IT: Explode Into Colors plays WW’s Best New Band show Saturday, May 9, at Berbati’s Pan. 9 pm. Free. 21+.
IMAGE: Jay Blakesberg
2. (tie) Blind Pilot(66 Points)
Who: Israel Nebeker, Ryan Dobrowski, Luke Ydstie, Kati Claborn, Ian Krist, Dave Jorgensen, Shawn McLain, Kristine Rabii, and Joel Meredith.
Formed: 2008 (as a full band)
Sounds Like: Rain on a tin roof.
“Blind Pilot? That’s the bike band, right?”
When Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski set out on their semi-plotted West Coast bicycle tour in 2007, they didn’t stop to think of how it would play in the press. In fact, they had never actually gotten any press for their tender-but-energetic folk-rock project at all. “We never wanted it to be a gimmick,” Nebeker says carefully. “It wasn’t a gimmick.” If anything, touring by bike probably seemed an avenue toward willful obscurity. The band (at that point a duo) busked street corners and played to small groups of strangers as well as the occasional friendly venue. “We wanted maximum time outdoors and to enjoy the road,” Dobrowki says.
But to media outlets around the nation, Blind Pilot’s bicycle tours (they embarked on a second, this time followed by a documentary film crew, last August) were something more than that. It was a “going green” story, a peculiar news item from keeping-it-weird Portland, where everyone rides a bike and everyone is in a band. That’s the story that grew serious legs: told and retold by everyone from NPR to the Daily Iowan as Blind Pilot opened up a recent national tour—in a van, this time—for the Decemberists.
“The story of it has gotten bigger than the actual tour was in some ways,” Nebeker says. But that shouldn’t be a problem for the group: Nebeker writes songs good enough to back up any perceived gimmick. Three Rounds and a Sound, last year’s debut full-length, is a breathtaking record. From the delicate acoustic-guitar picking and brushed train track drumming of its opener, “Oviedo”—a song left intentionally sparse to allow for Nebeker’s trumpet-pure vocals and quick lyrical turns of phrase—to the heartbreaking strings of the titular “Three Rounds and a Sound,” the musical landscape is hauntingly familiar, but also strikingly genuine.
That album is going to be hard to follow up on, even if the band’s best song yet—the inspiring, high-energy set-closer “We Are the Tide”—hasn’t yet been recorded. But most of the next Blind Pilot album is still incubating inside Nebeker’s brain, and it has been difficult, Nebeker says, to write lyrics on the road. In the past, the songwriter’s job as a house painter allowed for creative time: “If a song ever came on a particular day, I could just drop what I was doing and write it,” he says. But on recent tours, finding time to himself has been tough. “I was really hoping the back seat of the van would be an inspiring place to be, but it just wasn’t,” he says. And there’s a lot more back seat to come: Blind Pilot is currently playing three weeks in European arenas with the Hold Steady and Counting Crows (an admittedly strange bill: “I keep having this image of us playing our acoustic instruments, all tiny on the stage,” Nebeker says. “Little mice playing mice music”). They’ll spend another two months in North American clubs and at festivals this summer before returning home to Portland.
Luckily, when Nebeker is ready to record new material, he’ll have an amazing crew to work with. Blind Pilot began as a duo, but it’s now one of the tightest ensembles in Portland: a six-piece acoustic monster with a sound that’s rich and organic but plenty capable of rocking out, too.
Seeing Blind Pilot gain so much traction is that rare case of watching the good guys win. For them, the attention has been an unexpected bonus. “It’s a bit overwhelming just how fortunate I feel,” Nebeker says. “We really had no expectations when we made [Three Rounds]. The fact we got a good write-up in Willamette Week was completely fulfilling the expectations for the album.”
In the face of all this new attention, the members of Blind Pilot often feel like they’re just along for the ride. “It’s not what we set out for,” Dobrowski told WW while packing for his plane ride to the U.K. “But it’s fun and it’s exciting. Right now we’re just going with it and it’s happening at a pace that’s hard to even process. We’re kind of getting a crash course in music business.” CASEY JARMAN.
IMAGE: Nilina Mason-Campbell
(tie) 2. Nurses(66 Points)
Who: Aaron Chapman, John Bowers, James Mitchell
Sounds Like: A long-lost psychedelic Elephant 6 band who stole Animal Collective’s gear and tripped out on The Wizard of Oz one too many times.
Last fall, psychedelic-poppers Nurses were in the middle of a grueling, monthlong national tour in Indiana when they realized something: They had forgotten to get directions to the next show. “I don’t think we’re very organized when we tour,” multi-instrumentalist John Bowers says. “It was so bad we had to [text] ChaCha everything—‘Where is the band Nurses playing tomorrow?’ Just go south and it will tell us!”
The band’s three members—Bowers, singer and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Chapman, and drummer James Mitchell, all 25—are so close it’s easy to assume they’re related. On a warm April afternoon in Alberta Park, all three sit cross-legged, nearly finishing each other’s sentences while sharing stories from the road. It’s a togetherness that has come from constant life on the move, living in confined quarters.
Bowers and Chapman, best friends from Idaho Falls who met in junior high school, have been roommates for five years. They started the group in Idaho and went through stints in Southern California and Chicago before taking to Portland and meeting Mitchell on a whim in late 2007. Until last month, they lived together in a decaying attic in Northeast Portland—a house with nine other residents and numerous couch-surfers. That’s where they refined their sound, one mouse click at a time, and recorded much of Nurses’ forthcoming full-length debut, Apple’s Acre (set for release in late July on respected indie label Dead Oceans).
After years spent as self-described Luddites, the band members’ Portland move and embrace of technology have infused their songs with a new sense of purpose. Much of Apple’s Acre—including the buoyant, echoing standout “Manatarms”—was written over three years ago, but not laid down until Chapman started experimenting with entry-level Mac recording program GarageBand on his laptop last summer. Despite the software limitations, Apple’s Acre sounds fresh and professional, brimming with clever songwriting and tinkly melodies straight out of The Wizard of Oz.
Chapman describes the band’s writing process as serendipitous: It was discovering GarageBand and experimenting with tape loops—often forged out of long, sporadic jam sessions—that led the band in its latest direction. “Even though we have electronics, fundamentally [our songs are] not that different than a folk song or a pop song,” he says. “We got in the habit of making lots of tapes where we just hit ‘record’ and see what happens.”
Nurses’ best songs take melodic ideas written on an acoustic guitar or piano, then dress the tunes up in psychedelic garb (much like the guys themselves, who favor pink tights, sun hats and, in Chapman’s case, his blue-and-red-striped summer “onesie”), padding the songs with a bright, colorful bed of electronics, weird noises and vocal harmonies. The effect often sounds like a 21st-century take on the Beach Boys—if they’d discovered Animal Collective’s bed of electronics and lived to tweet about it. The fun part of the process is in trying to create “sounds where you couldn’t really say what it is,” Chapman says. It’s an often exhausting exercise that effectively forces keyboards and sequencers to act out roles that a guitar or bass might play in a more traditional setting.
While there’s plenty unusual about Nurses, the band members’ interactions with one another are timelessly rock ’n’ roll—it’s evident the minute the trio takes the stage and locks into one continuous, pulsing groove. “We hang out almost every day,” Chapman says, pausing slightly for dramatic effect. “I think the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other is, like, a day. But on that day we definitely called or emailed or something,” Mitchell says, laughing, before chiming in with maybe a little too much information. “I barely talk to anyone on the phone except for them and my mom. I don’t even call my girlfriend [laughs again].” MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Nurses play WW’s Best New Band show Saturday, May 9, at Berbati’s Pan. 9 pm. Free. 21+.
IMAGE: Alicia Rose
4. Grouper(65 Points)
Who: Liz Harris
Sounds Like: This Mortal Coil broadcasting from 30,000 feet below sea level.
The music on the first two albums Liz Harris recorded under the name Grouper sounded like it was being broadcast from far out at sea. Rushes of ambient noise and reverb clouded her vocals and melodies like fog, almost completely obscuring them.
Her most recent work, 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, has brought everything closer to shore. You can make out the strumming of a guitar and some gentle piano playing amid the sonic murk. There are melodies and an almost pop structure to these hazy sounds. But most importantly, the vocals have found their way through the fog. Not enough to grab hold of, but just enough to keep you leaning in to try and catch more of her intoxicating refrains.
The simple act of peeling back layers of her sound has resulted in a great deal of attention for Harris. Dead Deer ended up on many a list of the best albums of 2008, and she spent much of the last year touring the U.S., Europe and New Zealand (where she was able to coax enigmatic avant-garde musician Roy Montgomery out of hiding to perform on a bill with her).
The amount of interest in her work of late shows no signs of dissipating. Harris already has much of 2009 mapped out, after being selected to play the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the U.K., and to open up several dates of Animal Collective’s upcoming tour.
“It’s a little unnerving,” Harris says of the notice her music is getting around the world. “I didn’t really have any expectations that anything like this would happen. It feels really nice, but it’s pretty crazy, too.”
And while she says that her selection as one of Portland’s Best New Bands comes as quite a surprise to her, it’s hard not to notice the dozens of people squeezing into Valentine’s (where we spoke recently) to see her perform. It’s one of a few shows Harris has lined up to prep herself for her upcoming tour as well as to try out some new material, songs that she says are “darker” than her previous work.
As nice as all the accolades are, the biggest coup for Harris was when her father asked if he could come to a show. “Usually, he would just ask me things like, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’ or, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ So to have him ask to see me play…,” Harris pauses, looking slightly emotional. “It felt like a major thing.” ROBERT HAM.
SEE IT: Grouper plays Holocene on Wednesday, May 6. 8:30 pm. $8. 21+.
5. White Fang(48 Points)
Who: Jimmy Leslie, Erik Gage, Kyle Handley, TC Pedisich and a rotating cast of high-energy kids.
Sounds Like: A less sophisticated Libertines high on radon gas and Pixie Sticks.
A great philosopher once said that to get out of the ghetto, “you either slang crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” Not surprisingly, White Fang found escaping the confines of the Portland suburbs far easier: start a punk band, throw a tantrum. The band’s debut, Pure Evil, rattles with the energy, looseness and—let’s be honest—sound quality of kids who found instruments and recording equipment in an alley one day and decided to make an album that afternoon. The urgency is thrilling: When singer Erik Gage begins the record by shrieking, “I woke up this morning and went upstairs for breakfast,” it’s like the Frosted Flakes are still on his breath.
Establishing itself in the local house-concert circuit, the group took its spastically unhinged live show to actual stages (though its members, the majority of whom are under 21, prefer the floor) last fall with a national tour and a talked-about performance at the 2008 PDX Pop Now! Festival. Now, the group has earned a citywide reputation for unpredictable gigs featuring ridiculous outfits, dueling drum kits, and occasional blood loss. “Boredom is an ever-looming presence,” says Gage. “I guess playing shows is part of keeping the big boredom away.” MATT SINGER.
SEE IT: White Fang play WW’s Best New Band show Saturday, May 9, at Berbati’s Pan. 9 pm. Free. 21+.
IMAGE: Jason Quigley
6. Y La Bamba(38 Points)
Who: Luz Elena Mendoza, Ben Meyercord, Mike Kitson, David Kyle
Sounds Like: A gloveless, plugged-in and amplified Billie Holiday meets Dolores del Río.
She sings from a different altitude, where the air is thinner and the footing shakier. Luz Elena Mendoza, leader of Y La Bamba, sings with the bright and humbling flicker of a meteor shower. Untampered folk’s answer to St. Vincent, Mendoza sounds like she’s crooning to the Victrola tube amp that her satin-soft guitar strums blossoms from.
The band’s oft-overlooked song “Hunter’s Hooves” builds a glass showcase around her vocals. Looping voice atop voice with guitar in hand—not unlike a young Leslie Feist—Mendoza’s pipes provide so much muscle they almost send her head flying. “It’s been my concern to lose my mind/ And those things between you and I,” she sings. Up and away, her vintage intonations rise and wag like a balloon on a string.
Mendoza gathered admirers in 2008, when she began hosting and performing at open-mic nights as a way of recovering from a bout with sickness. Friend and fellow band member Ben Meyercord was the first moth drawn to her flame. “Her voice was incredible,” Meyercord says. “Right off the bat I was affected by it. If you have heartstrings, she’ll pluck them.” Together, they fed grander ideas and dashed some contemporary flair onto Y La Bamba’s rustic, barebones style.
Now six members strong, Y La Bamba still tiptoes around the traditional folk elements of its origins. Mendoza’s Mexican side, just a single branch up the family tree, peeks out from behind every track, whether it’s a prickly acoustic strum or lyrical trill. Y ellos son mas fuerte ahora. MARK STOCK.
SEE IT: Y La Bamba plays Friday, May 8, at Backspace. 8:30 pm. $6. All ages.
IMAGE: Ah Holly Fam’ly
7. Ah Holly Fam’ly(33 Points)
Who: Jeremy Faulkner, Becky Dawson, Morgan Hobart, Jeffrey Diteman, Whitney Menzel, Amelia Harnas, Alexi Erenkov, Jared Arave
Sounds Like: Traditional folk ballads outfitted for an old Disney flick restored in gorgeous, hi-def color.Watching the eight-piece, kaleidoscope-folk troupe Ah Holly Fam’ly record at Miracle Lake studio in Camas, Wash., is like sitting in at a musical conservatory. One by one, the members take their spots in the sound room and lay down the perfect banjo and violin parts with seeming effortlessness. Considering the group’s meticulously constructed sound, that’s quite the accomplishment.
Ah Holly Fam’ly’s oddly beautiful songs are the musical equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland: pretty, mercurial and kind of dark. Led by singer-guitarist Jeremy Faulkner—whose soft voice is one part Jeremy Enigk, one part fallen angel—the outfit is currently laying down tracks for its debut full-length, Reservoir (due out in October on Lucky Madison), which pits wandering string lines against stray flutes and contains some of the most gorgeous melodies since the first Iron Wine record.
The tall, lanky Faulkner resembles a camp counselor, a fact all the more apparent during Ah Holly Fam’ly’s live shows, which find Faulkner steering a sound that’s often aided by instrumentation outside the usual realm of pop music: singing saws, whistling and layered full-band harmonies. The whole experience is gorgeous and a bit disorienting; much like the jaded, unwritten children’s movie this band was born to soundtrack. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
IMAGE: Nilina Mason-Campbell
8. Guidance Counselor(31 Points)
Who: Ian Anderson, Keil Corcoran
Sounds Like: A post-punk dance party where the DJ accidently layers beats over your favorite Joy Division song.
Watching Ian Anderson crack, flail and spaz across the stage, you’d have no idea that he’d be so reserved and, well, normal in person.
“I just have a lot of energy,” the 22-year-old says from Salt Lake City, where his dance-punk band Guidance Counselor is opening a cross-country tour for 2008 Best New Band runner-up Starfucker. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep bottled up—and performing is my outlet.”
Originally a vehicle for Anderson’s solo electronic experiments, Guidance Counselor became a duo last September with the addition of drummer Keil Corcoran—who also keeps time in Flaspar and, since February, Starfucker—and will soon incorporate a bass player (Erik Hansen of Hot Victory ) into the mix. The new live setup has fleshed out Anderson’s sound, an often unsettling mashup of distorted, crunchy beats and layers of thin, piercing guitar that recalls Bernard Sumner’s work in Joy Division and New Order. Guidance Counselor’s rise parallels that of its friends in Starfucker, which also began as a one-man dance outfit before becoming one of Portland’s biggest musical exports.
“Playing two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge and Union Hall in New York was probably the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Anderson says. “I never really thought that this project would become what it is.” MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
IMAGE: Jason Quigley
9. Old Believers(30 Points)
Who: Nelson Kempf, Keely Boyle and lots of friends.
Sounds Like: A pre-emptive soundtrack for the 21st-century dust bowl.
Two years and over 2,000 miles separated Keeley Boyle and Nelson Kempf from the founding of Old Believers and the release of its debut EP, but the duo doesn’t look on that interval as a delay so much as a period of distillation.
“When I write songs it just kind of comes out the way it is, and it’s just kind of coming from my heart,” says Boyle. After listening to Old Believers’ 2008 EP Eight Golden Greats, it’s hard to argue with her earnestness.
Conceived and recorded in Oregon, Idaho and the duo’s home state of Alaska, Eight Golden Greats is an exquisite piece of Americana, equal parts M. Ward and Arcade Fire. Boyle and Kempf’s loping tunes spell out a biography of their experiences, happily bookended by the talents of Portland’s own Eskimo Sons (which recently re-formed as Congratulations). “We initially got involved with Eskimo Sons because they wanted us to be their backup singers,” Kempf says. “Then they became our backup band.”
This pedigreed collective is currently at work on the Old Believers’ debut full-length. As yet untitled, the LP is slated for a late-2009 release on Brave Records, a label Kempf and bandmate Dhani Rosa are in the process of cultivating. Like all Old Believers output, the record finds its emotional center in Boyle and Kempf’s experiences and its execution in their painstaking dedication to that vision.
“We’re not in a rush,” says Kempf. “We want to make sure we get things right, no matter how long it takes.” SHANE DANAHER.
IMAGE: Sam Guerrero
10. Jared Mees and the Grown Children(28 Points)
Who: Jared Mees, Megan Speer, Aaron Sweet, Sean McCormick, Sam Cooper, Josiah Payne, Megan Cronin
Sounds Like: All your best friends getting drunk, wordy and melodic together.
Four days after the Grown Children’s tour van was stolen from the parking lot behind Jared Mees’ Northwest Portland screenprinting store, Tender Loving Empire, police recovered James Brown (“the hardest-working van in show business”) six blocks away, out of gas. Inside the 1982 Ford Club Wagon was a glut of presumably stolen goods—including three pairs of khaki slacks and an Arabic-English dictionary—that Mees threw away, and one item he kept: a mix CD titled You Go Girl, Vol. 13. This will be a first-rate addition to the band’s summer tour, which is highlighted by a Fourth of July show at Mees’ high-school reunion in Pagosa Springs, Colo., but will not include James Brown, who does not offer enough seating for Portland’s most happily inclusive ensemble and its significant others.
The rotating cast of the group—formed in October 2007 by Mees and Megan Spear, a fellow graduate of Christian college Azuza Pacific—is crunchy in two ways: They sound like a fiddle-driven hootenanny with hard-driving riffs. The Grown Children (nearly dubbed “The Neighbors’ Kids” before Spear noticed that was “pretty creepy”) has developed a reputation as a sing-along act: A recent Doug Fir show culminated in a 10-minute rendition of “Let the Sunshine In,” and Mees has composed a specialized birthday song. (“Birthdays, birthdays. Everybody has a birthday. Birthdays, birthdays. [Your name] came out of a vagina.”) Spear loves the group crooning: “It makes me think of youth and watching Disney shows.” Mees affirms: “Mary Poppins and shit.”
You go, girl. AARON MESH.
SEE IT: Jared Mees and the Grown Children play Saturday, May 16, at Backspace. 7 pm. $8. All ages.
Catching Up With Past Best New Bands
Since winning WW’s inaugural Best New Band poll, Menomena has signed to influential Seattle label Barsuk and garnered worldwide attention for its mathy, experimental pop. Though the band’s releasing albums slowly, its touring schedule has been breakneck: In the past year, Menomena has toured Europe five times. 2009 should be a busy year for the trio, which plans to finish its next album, rerelease a special-edition version of its debut, I Am the Fun Blame Monster, and work on various side projects (Brent Knopf’s forthcoming solo album and three separate Danny Seim projects among them). “We’re doing our best to rise from the ashes like a Joaquin Phoenix in 2010,” Seim says.
Electro-acoustic duo Talkdemonic has kept a steady release schedule since winning the Best New Band poll in ’05, and plans to stay on that path. “We like the even years, and we don’t want to jinx that,” says project godhead Kevin O’Connor. Which means 2009 will be spent largely in the studio. But with three gorgeous albums (2008’s Eyes at Half Mast being the most recent) and a handful of national tours to its name, we know the duo won’t stay quiet for long. And despite its name, the band played its first show in a church earlier this year. “Maybe we can do an entire church tour once we change our name to Talkangelic or Talkevangelic,” O’Connor says. “And it’s all cause of BNB 2005.”
The first and only solo artist to win a Best New Band poll, Copy (a.k.a. Marius Libman) is a cornerstone of Portland’s dance and electronic music communities. He released his second album, Hair Guitar, shortly after winning Best New Band ’06, and has toured the country, remixed a handful of his favorite bands (Ratatat, Truckasaurus, Panther, and Starfucker among them) and joined local electronic dance band Atole since then. Atole’s album is due toward the end of 2009, as is Copy’s own new album, more than two years in the making. “I’m really excited about how the record turned out. I’ve put a lot of hard work into making it and it’s something I’m really proud of,” Libman says.
2007: The Shaky Hands
The Shaky Hands had already established itself as one of Portland’s favorite rock bands by the time it won WW’s Best New Bands poll, but the then-quintet was changing faster than we knew. By the time the Shaky Hands took the stage for the Best New Band show two years ago, the group was debuting slower, darker new songs along with heavier riffage than previously showcased. Some of that music made its way onto 2008’s excellent and eclectic Lunglight, which was co-released by Holocene Music and Kill Rock Stars. A partial lineup change, which added ex-Joggers drummer Jake Morris to the group, took place last year, and the reimagined Shaky Hands is currently out on a national tour with the Thermals. “Every day I get to play for a different town, every night I get to hang out with my best friends in the world,” says bassist Mayhaw Hoons. “It sounds cheesy, but it’s amazing.”
2008: The Builders and the Butchers
Since winning Best New Band last year, shout-along folk-rock troupe the Builders and the Butchers has toured continuously, playing well over 100 shows in 2008. The band also recorded a new album with the Decemberists’ Chris Funk and “some of the most amazing musicians in Portland,” BB frontman Ryan Sollee says. The new full-length, Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well, is slated for a June 16 release on Gigantic Records. Things just get bigger from there: “We’re pretty excited about playing Sasquatch and Lollapalooza this year, and have our first headlining tour starting in mid-July,” Sollee adds.