Author Topic: Portland Becomes City for Indie Musicians  (Read 777 times)

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Myxo

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Portland Becomes City for Indie Musicians
« on: October 13, 2005, 04:32:26 AM »
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PORTLAND, Ore. - Colin Meloy, songwriter for The Decemberists, salts his tunes with antique words — palanquin, gadabout, folderol, coronal — more likely to be heard in a college lit class than leaping off the tongues of pop music fans.
 
"I'm not trying to stump anybody," says the 31-year-old with a mop of auburn hair and     Buddy Holly-like glasses. "It's the beauty of the language that I'm interested in."

Meloy, who hails from Montana, is one of many musical transplants from across the nation who have turned this rainy, laid-back city into a hub for the indie rock scene.

The Decemberists' latest album, "Picaresque," has sold more than 70,000 copies since it was released by the Kill Rock Stars label this past March. The five-member band landed a gig in July on Conan O'Brien's late-night show and have drawn large audiences on tours.

Other big Portland-based bands include The Shins, a former New Mexico group that got a big boost from the movie "Garden State," and the all-female trio Sleater-Kinney, whose ferocious and critically acclaimed new CD, "The Woods," has sold about 56,000 copies since May.

Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, whose on-stage energy and driving riffs have made her something of a female guitar hero, has a theory on what draws indie musicians to this river town.

"Portland is a town entrenched in juvenelia," says the articulate 29-year-old, a place where you can have an "extended adolescence."

That's meant as a compliment. Portland's culture encourages young people to pursue their ideals, and musicians here feel little pressure to sound or look a certain way.

"The reason Portland is so special is people aren't making music for the sake of getting mainstream attention. They are making music because they think art is an important part of our culture," says Brownstein.

Portland also is a cheaper place to live than big cities like Seattle and San Francisco. And since Portlanders embrace artists and experimentation, the city has a multitude of music clubs packed by young audiences.

At least 184 new bands were formed in Portland last year, says Mark Baumgarten, music editor for the Willamette Week alternative newspaper. He arrived at that number after the paper polled local DJs, music writers, club managers, label owners and others to name the best new bands, and 184 nominations poured in.

"A new band starts every two days in this town," says Baumgarten, doing the math. "That's crazy."

As you'd expect, some of the bands are so-so. Some are dismal.

The standouts include Menomena, a trio that has gotten fawning attention from Internet music critics for a complex, multi-layered sound that verges on the ethereal. Some say their debut CD, "I Am The Fun Blame Monster," is like no music they've ever heard.

Justin Harris, Menomena's saxman and bass guitarist, is originally from California but has lived here since he was a kid. The same goes for drummer Danny Seim, who is originally from Hawaii. Brent Knopf, who plays keyboards, guitars and the glockenspiel, is from Troutdale, a Portland suburb. Knopf is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where he developed a computer program the band uses while composing some of their songs.

As they enter a Portland coffee shop for an interview, the first thing you notice about the trio of 28-year-olds is that they're tall — Harris is 6 feet, Knopf is 6-3, and Seim a gangly 6-8.

They also like to clown around.

"Collectively, we're two stories tall," says Harris.

Another rising Portland band is The Thermals, who, like The Shins and Sleater-Kinney, record for the Sub Pop label. Vocalist Hutch Harris and bassist Kathy Foster are from California; drummer Jordan Hudson is from Florida.

Foster said the music scene in the San Francisco area "seemed really competitive, and cold in some ways. People would say, 'Figure it out yourself.'"

In Portland, Foster said, "I've met some of the best people I've ever met. If they make it big, their personalities don't change. They're still willing to help you out. It's a mellow atmosphere."

polkablues

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Portland Becomes City for Indie Musicians
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2005, 03:07:16 PM »
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That's great, except it doesn't address the fact that I get completely and utterly lost every time I try to drive in Portland.  I always end up on the wrong side of that stupid bridge.

Sorry.  Totally off-topic.  Portland just pisses me off, is all.  Good music, though.
Now you're in the *spoiler* place.

pete

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Portland Becomes City for Indie Musicians
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2005, 03:16:46 PM »
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yeah there's that m. ward song about the portland rain.
“Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.”
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