Portage on Scott Seekins, recording in an attic, and impromptu lyrics

Portage.jpg
Photo by James Cook
Witness the evolution of a young band. Duluth transplants, Portage, bring to Minneapolis a string of harmonies that bring to mind the guts of rock music which are culled from the disheveled corners of generations past. The group is set to release their sophomore album Landings, with songs that segue into needle-like hooks, sharp guitar riffs, and even sharper lyrics.

Gimme Noise spoke with the band before the album release to get their take on the Minneapolis music scene and the work that went into the new record.

Band Members: Adam Rosenthal (drums), Dave Mehling (keys, guitar), Jason Hildebrandt (bass), Trent Waterman (vocals, guitar) The band is originally from Duluth.

What brought you down to the Cities?

Dave Mehling: Trampled By Turtles.

Jason Hildebrandt: Have you ever seen Homeward Bound?

What's the difference in the music scene up north compared to the Minneapolis music scene?

Jason Hildebrandt: The entirety of Duluth's music scene looks a lot like Minneapolis', just compressed. There's a lot of overlap of people in different types of music. The community is very cozy and welcoming. Growing up, there were a lot of group efforts to get shows together at community centers, basements, or garages. 

Dave Mehling: In Duluth it seems a little more tight-knit and there is a real feeling of togetherness. A lot of that exists down here too, but in more diverse and separate circles. Minneapolis' cast of cult figures tend to be more theatrical and flamboyant (i.e. Scott Seekins) while Duluth scene makers are more salt of the earth and elusive (Jeffrey James O'Loughlan).

I hear a lot of classic '70s rock in the music. Do you hear the same thing? Where did you draw inspiration when writing?

Adam Rosenthal: Being from the Midwest, I think '70s rock is an unavoidable influence, but it's certainly not a sound we were intentionally referencing.

Jason Hildebrandt: It's a big old nasty combination of everything we listen to getting filtered through us and put back together.

Dave Mehling: We all draw influences from different places -- I think a lot of our arrangements come from a need to entertain ourselves (i.e. play something interesting). 

Your first album was recorded in an attic. Why was this? What have you learned about recording since the first album?

Trent Waterman: When we recorded the first album, we had just graduated from college and didn't have any money to go into an actual studio. So we went in the complete opposite direction and used this really live-sounding attic in a beautiful house our friends Rich and Emily own in Duluth. The space itself became a vital instrument on that record.

Adam Rosenthal: In a professional studio, you have to be focused and prepared to make the most of it. This time around we came into it with a full set and a pretty good idea of what we wanted it to sound like.

Dave Mehling: It was still done live -- just with more people and better equipment. Having a dedicated and passionate engineer like Ben Durrant helped us feel comfortable and saved time due to his technical wizardry. 

Jason Hildebrandt: I had nothing to do with the last album, but the main thing that's different from previous recording sessions I've done is having Ben and his toy box at our disposal. "You want to play through this head that I got from the core of Mt.Fuji 15 years ago? Cool." 

Besides the recording, how else has the music evolved since the first album?

Trent Waterman: As far as the songwriting goes, melody and mood bigger priorities for me. For most of these songs that made it on Landings, I didn't have set lyrics until the day we recorded them. I would make up lyrics on the spot every time we played a new song at a show, and eventually I found myself repeating some of the same lines at later shows if they stuck in my memory. For me, it was a good exercise in not getting too attached to one idea, and it was entertaining to never know what the song was going to be about.

Dave Mehling: We feel more comfortable arranging songs as a four-piece; our live shows have become more dynamic and the songs without a doubt goofier and a bit more abstract. 

Jason Hildebrandt: It's a whole new world now. We've got a fantastic point of view, with really no one to tell us where to go. Sometimes they say we're only dreaming. It's been a thrilling chase to get this music together, a wondrous place when we get it. For you and me.

How did you meet Ben Durrant, and how did you come to work with him?

Jason Hildebrandt: Dave knows everyone.

Dave Mehling: Toby Thomas Churchill introduced him to me and the band loved all his recordings. He has a tremendously gifted ear, and is one of the most efficient engineers any of us have worked with. 

Any favorite tracks off the new album?

Jason Hildebrandt: "Save You Now" and "Rainbow Bridge."

Dave Mehling: "Down to the Floor" was a blast, because I loved playing fuzz organ. It should be noted the original name was "Al Dente." Thank you. 

Trent Waterman: "Rainbow Bridge."

Adam Rosenthal: I really like the way "Truth Be Told" worked out. We experimented with these gated break-beat drums and the final mix surprised me in a really good way.


What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Jason Hildebrandt: Good people with good attitudes playing good music for other good people.

Dave Mehling: We'll be playing all the songs from the record and a few favorites from The Unsalted Sea.

Trent Waterman: We're really excited to have our friend Chastity Brown supporting us for the release. There will also be unlimited free food and liquor for everyone who comes. And that might not even be true, but doesn't it excite you?

Portage will release Landings with Chastity Brown at Icehouse on Saturday, December 1, 2012.
21+, $6, 11 pm



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