Portland’s Genders find their dream-pop sound
In order to follow the path that best fits, artists often have to brace themselves for sudden, sharp turns. Such was the case for Maggie Morris and Stephen Leisy. Back in 2012, they were playing in a lo-fi psychedelic pop outfit called Youth. By the time the newspaper Willamette Week announced Youth’s having been voted as one of Portland’s best new bands, Morris and Leisy had already dissolved that outfit and changed plans, regrouping as Genders, a new dream-pop project that the pair were able to dig their sonic heels into.
“By that point, Maggie and I had become better friends and [were] down to try more creative things,” Leisy said in a recent interview.
That creativity proved fruitful, and quickly. Not long after forming and writing a handful of songs, the group hit the road for the first time, playing the renowned Treefort Music Fest in Boise and shortly after joining indie superheroes Built to Spill for a national tour. By the end of 2013, they released their first full-length, Get Lost. Though things were rapidly accelerating, Genders was still getting its footing as a band. Until that point, the sound had teetered between dreamy and aggressive, a mesh of shy shoegaze with bouts of garage-rock cacophony. The band decided to take some time to hone its style, finding its own distinct place on the sonic spectrum.
“We started writing songs in a little bit of a different way after that first tour with Built to Spill,” Leisy said. “We realized things we needed to work on as a band. We got on that tour pretty fast. Even though I think we kept up well, we were extremely lucky to get pushed into a situation at that point because we weren’t quite ready for it. When we got back and started writing songs, there was just a lot more focus—trying not to compete as much with parts and not throw as many tracks on every single song.”
The clarity feels palpable on their just-released EP, Phone Home. Even amid the heavy reverb, gritty breakdowns and wobbly, trebley guitar licks, there’s a sense of rootedness as well as some wide-open space, making it easy to follow along with guitarists Morris and Leisy as they trade off lead vocals (the band is rounded out by Katherine Paul on drums and Toby Tanabe on bass).
The first single, “Life Is But a Dream,” has the clear melodic drive of a pop song, with a psychedelic glaze. There’s an overall downbeat feeling across the five songs, and while the fuzzy drawl of dream-pop already lends itself to a low mood, the events in the band members’ personal lives might’ve subconsciously added to the EP’s overall melancholy.
“I don’t think we necessarily thought of it as being a super dark record,” Leisy said. “I suppose a lot of bad things were happening while we were recording that, so that probably just snuck its way in there. Maggie’s grandparents died while we were working on that. My dad died. I guess it was just kind of a tough time that maybe found its way into the songs.”
The EP was mixed by Portland duo the Helio Sequence, with whom Genders just finished a West Coast tour.
With its strong pop songcraft and dark undertones, the EP finds the band with a more clearly defined sound. And with an album’s worth of new songs already under its belt, Genders would seem poised to continue to build upon its newly fortified foundation.