Portland trio is changing the face of punk rock
OK, everyone knows that Portland is the mecca for all things indie rock. Artists like Quasi, M Ward and The Thermals have found the city’s drizzly gray skies to their liking. It’s even been reported that Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, The Shins’ James Mercer and Jicks leader Stephen Malkmus all live in the same 10-block radius.
But there’s something else going on up there in the Pacific Northwest. A small DIY zine is shedding some light on punk rock made by black women in a city that is 75 percent white. Portland musician Osa Atoe started Shotgun Seamstress in 2007 as a way to reach out to black punks, feminists, queers and weirdos. The zine’s first two issues included stories on Portland bands like The Gories and Latino punk duo Magic Johnson, as well as a feature on Sun Ra.
While a movement focusing on women of color who bash out music mostly associated with young white males is exhilarating, it isn’t likely to overshadow the bands themselves.
Atoe is also the violinist for art punk trio New Bloods. Yes, violinist. The band, which includes drummer Adee Robeson and bassist Cassia Gammill, is making some noise along with other Portland garage-psych bands like the aforementioned Magic Johnson and Purple Rhinestone Eagle (whose guitarist has been referred to as a female Jimi Hendrix).
New Bloods play frenetic and danceable songs that stir up the energy of past Riot Grrl bands without being overly brash. The rhythms are dancey, almost tribal, with Robeson and Gammill providing the backbone to Atoe’s bow-shredding violin. All three sing, and their voices come together in a harsh and haunting chorus that is refreshingly unaffected. Imagine going to an 1850s hoedown after dropping a couple of acid tabs on your tongue.
“The songs have definitely changed,” said the soft-spoken Robeson, explaining that New Bloods’ music has become less hectic over the past two years. “A lot of stuff chilled out as we’ve gotten more settled in Portland.”
New Bloods formed in March 2006 after all three members had relocated (by coincidence, Gammill and Robeson both moved from New Orleans). Gammill had never picked up the bass, which has become her main instrument.
The band put out a demo and a 7-inch last year while playing a number of shows in Portland and splitting town for the occasional tour. It’s no surprise that New Bloods was eventually picked up by Kill Rock Stars, the label responsible for Sleater-Kinney and Riot Grrl bands like Bratmobile and Bikini Kill.
The band entered the studio in November 2007 and will release its first full-length, The Secret Life, in April. They’ll also play this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
The band will hit punk-rock hub Monstros Pizza tonight (March 6) along with Magic Johnson. The duo gets by on fuzzed guitars and ramshackle drums, which add up to wonderfully noisy two-minute songs. MJ will hit the road for two weeks including a series of dates with New Bloods.
It appears the underground scene might be putting out the truly exciting music in Portland.
While it appears New Bloods are on the brink of perhaps bringing their message to a larger audience, the members are keeping active in racial and social issues in Portland.
But Robeson says it’s simply writing songs about their everyday lives (all three are queer; Robeson and Atoe are black).
“We play music in a place where there’s war and homophobia,” she said. “It’s bringing awareness through art.”