Scene perspective from the bald dude in the corner

Written by on May 19, 2016

When Lanny (KPSU’s longtime music director) came up with the idea to blog about our favorite Portland bands, dream festival line-up, or a genre specific post I thought it was a rad idea and felt like I had a lot to contribute.  After all, I have played nearly every venue in town (the roseland and moda center have never been up to my standards), I’ve run a nightclub that had local artists, I’m part of a few local music collectives, and for another 3 weeks, I manage a thriving college radio station.  Surely, I could think of something deep, have a revelation on who the new trending artist will be, or put someone on blast (a popular thing to do in our scene right now).

 

It’s taken me 18 days to come with something to write about though, and instead of focusing on one artist, genre, album, or line-up, I am going to reflect on the scene.  This is probably going to be all personal opinion and very long winded, so if you’re hoping to hear me praise or cut down someone then you can stop reading now. I’m an introvert, and not quick witted.  Go somewhere else for good journalism.  I don’t have any for you.  Here is my personal story, weakly linked to the Portland music scene.

 

My time in the Portland music scene is still fresh.  I jumped in headfirst when I moved here in 2006, joining a post-rock group and briefly playing in an alt-country band as well.  At the time the scene felt a lot more connected than the Seattle scene I had just come from.  There seemed to be plenty of great venues, and lots (but not too much) of good local talent willing to take the stage.  We started playing a few shows a month, and had some really cool opportunities getting to open up for some bigger national bands. During this time I also helped manage a night club, and watched the mainstream birth of Dubstep with my head in my hands (over my ears mostly).  The band played a CD Baby Party, did a few tours including a SXSW stop, and got offered a deal with a small label out of the midwest. This was it I thought.  “I’m making the dream happen!” Then I got kicked out of the house we all lived in together, and then out of the band.  

 

I knew my time in that band was ending, and to be honest, already had my feet out the door working on a new project.  When that project got started it didn’t take very long to start getting great shows.  It felt like suddenly we were playing 4-6 well attended shows a month, and I’ve never felt more connected to a local music community.  This continued for a few years, and we did several tours where we learned what being part of a large diy community was about. We show swapped with every out of town act that needed a show, we lived in a flop house where the PBR cans and American Spirit ashes were piled almost as high the pizza boxes. We all worked crap jobs, practiced more than we worked, and drank and partied more than either of those things combined. When ⅗ of that band walked out the door after an arguably successful national tour and a record that was getting great press, I thought it would be easy to start over.  “After all, I’m only 26, and I know a lot of people in the scene,” I thought.  I was ignorant and arrogant, and without a group of amazing musicians in front of me, I floundered to find the space I had been so accustomed to sitting in.

 

By the time we reformed, I found that most of my contacts had moved on, or moved out.  Music as a community is a strange thing, it’s very unstable.  Bands come and go very quickly, the coolest places to play often don’t last because of lack of funding, permits, or interest from the people that started them, and even established venues often change booking agents and operational staff pretty quickly.  It takes a lot of work to stay in the know with where to play, and who the “hot” bands are.  I felt for a long time like the scene was all folk and metal bands, and there wasn’t any place for someone that grew up on Third Eye Blind and the Gin Blossoms during the nu-metal age. Now it almost feels like there are too many indie bands, and any semblance of uniqueness or originality I thought I created, has been drowned out by others doing it better then me.

 

What’s my point?  Well, I guess I’m saying that Portland’s music scene isn’t unique.  We like to think that we are progressive, that there is something special here that isn’t happening anywhere else.  While I think that there are some really cool venues, organizations, and definitely some amazing bands and musicians, I don’t think that after a few years I wouldn’t feel the same about any other place.  Maybe I’ve already burned out of the scene at the ripe old age of 30.  If what I’ve written thus far sounds bitter, that isn’t my intention.  The scene will constantly be reinvented by kids in their early 20’s who genuinely believe that what they have is something more than 15 people in a fire hazard basement who haven’t taken a shower in 2 days.  It’s great, it should be happening.  I don’t know where my place is here right now.  Trying to fit in and act like I’m still in the same place as I was when I was 22 hasn’t been working, my receding hair line and beer gut stick out like a sore thumb.  

 

I do hope that Portland continues to be a place where music starts.  I personally know a handful of local writers, collectives, labels, and bands that are doing it right.  I hope that if they read this it encourages them to keep doing what they are doing.  Even if the band breaks up, you stop printing zines, or you lose a chunk of a friend group over some relationship drama, you still created.  You still made Portland a place where other people felt like was cool enough to move to, where kids from a small town fresh outta high school (or recent college drop outs) move with the belief that Portland is a place where you can think, even for a bit, that you’re more than the sum of your parts.

 

Portland may not be my forever home, but it’s going to be home for a while.  I still play music, and I’m still not ready to give up on the dream of playing music for a living.  I’m a little (a lot?) older now, and the only time music ever keeps me up at 2am anymore is when I’m driving the van back home.  Every show I play now feels a little more special though.  I used to think they would just continue on until I decided I was done, now I know how little control I have over that.  I just want to create music that makes me happy, music that I can be proud of, and Portland,-thanks for the second chance.  I promise I’ll work to appreciate you more this time around.

 

A throwback to when I thought it would last forever

A throwback to when I thought it would last forever

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