Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.
Name: Jeremy Petersen
Member station/Regular show: OPB Music (from Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Producer/Blogger Host – “In House,” weekdays 2-5 p.m. PT
When people think of music in Portland, what do they think of?
It’s not really much of a secret – Portland is particularly noted for being a kind of indie mecca. It’s not exclusively the flavor, but the earnestly literate and melodic likes of Elliott Smith, The Decemberists and more recent transplants The Shins are some of the more recognizable names that have set the tone for many who have come after. The Rose City is also home to a number of indie labels that fortify the scene, homegrown and otherwise: Kill Rock Stars, Tender Loving Empire, Hometapes, Hush, amigo/amiga, Greyday, Badman, Dirtnap, Magic Marker, Fluff & Gravy and Marriage are but a few of those worth exploring.
How do you help curate that musical scene?
We try to shine a light on acts we’re truly excited about as fans. Of course we’re all over more established artists that people are more likely to know, and of course we try to connect the dots between what’s current and what came before it, but we also spend a large part of our time looking for what’s new and interesting and worth pointing out. That usually means some combination of airplay, presenting the music in a live showcase, and/or recording a session in our studios. These are often the kinds of artists that aren’t going to be getting air in most other outlets, either yet or ever.
How has the Portland scene evolved over the last few decades?
The history of pop music in Portland seems to begin with The Kingsmen and their party staple “Louie Louie.” That seems oddly apt given its idiosyncratic nature and unlikely combination of flavors. The local scene has been, and remains, healthily eclectic – folk, jazz, hip-hop and various strains of roots all enjoy vibrant pockets alongside the more well-documented rock variations. One thing that has definitely changed is the regard for Portland nationally and even internationally: a musician’s status as a Portlander seems to carry automatic caché in many circles.
As scrappy as the indie scene still feels here, to hear some of the old guard tell it, up-and-coming bands are generally more sophisticated now than a couple of decades ago. That means not only more performance-ready from their first show, but also more business-minded and with a better grasp on notions like self-marketing.
What would you say is the most unique thing about the Portland music scene?
I’ve heard musician after musician here talk about the camaraderie that exists in the scene, and these are often those who have lived elsewhere. You can see that kind of thing play out in a lot of different ways and it’s inspiring to see what can come of it. I think it clearly empowers creation and makes the work coming from the city that much stronger. It also makes it feel like a much smaller place.
One other thing – as a musician destination as of late, Portland is really interesting simply because of who happens to be around at any given time, whether that’s temporary, permanent or part-time. There’s always someone of note around working on a record: Other Lives, Deer Tick, Neko Case and Beth Orton are some recent examples. kd lang lives here now. Johnny Marr’s still a part-timer. Peter Buck is often around. Add names like that to the homegrowns and long-timers you’ve heard of and the ones you haven’t (yet), and it equals a rich and vibrant place for musicians to be.
What are three new up and coming bands on the Portland scene right now and what makes them distinct?
This easily could have been a list of ten.
Radiation City: I find them notable for a lot of reasons, the first of which are the vocals of Lizzie Ellison, who brings to mind Astrud Gilberto and sounds as comfortable covering Etta James as she singing the band’s own indie bossanova haze. They’re the rare young band with an ear for subtlety both on record and in performance and they’ve simply gotten better every time I’ve seen them. Look for their second full-length coming soon.
Shy Girls: It’s not often a band from the local scene can claim un-ironic influence from names like Bell Biv DeVoe, GUY and the Backstreet Boys – even less often still that they execute those cues well. Shy Girls, the band started as a one-man bedroom act by frontman Dan Vidmar, sounds transported from two decades back while still maintaining a freshness that rises well above novelty and recalibrating the notion of “neo-R&B” (it doesn’t necessarily come from 1972 anymore).
Aan: This is dynamic indie rock that succeeds largely on the pairing of lead singer Bud Wilson’s cathartic vocal gymnastics with twisting, turning, unpredictable hooks that keep the listener guessing. But it’s not chaos– the band keeps its avant-pop just avant enough while simultaneously daring you not to bob your head. Aan’s just been slated to open up for The Smashing Pumpkins on several of their dates later this spring, and have a full-length release coming later in the year.
For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?
Elliott Smith: “Ballad of Big Nothing”
Caleb Klauder: “Can I Go Home With You”
The Thermals: “A Pillar of Salt”
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside: “Danger”
Heatmiser: “Low Flying Jets”
Quasi: “It’s Raining”
TxE: “The Basics”
The Decemberists: “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect”
Menomena: “Evil Bee”
Onuinu: “Happy Home”
[Photo credit: Inger Klekacz]