Monday, June 24, 2019

A Conversation with Pacific Mean Time


What have been your musical epiphany moments?

My first musical connection was Prince. His music blew my middle school mind like an atom bomb. I bought every album, poster, B side, you name it. To this day, I can’t think of anything that hits me in that way, such an catchy, alien, sexy, raw sound. It might say more about the impressionable nature of  my prepubescent 13-year-old mind than anything, but I can still appreciate the magic of what that was at the time. At the same time, I grew up in Alabama, so the southern college rock thing was huge. My high school band was all about R.E.M., The Church, Replacements. Anything played fast on a Rickenbacker was the shit. That’s probably what formed my musical mind the most. 80’s college rock. Alternative before that word existed.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

We’ve always been collaborators first and foremost. A piece of music starts as a simple riff or progression  and goes through a dozen different iterations before it feels like our band. For our most recent batch of songs, Edwin would usually bring forth an idea and we’d play around with the tempo or the drum pattern. Then an arrangement and a map of the melodies gets laid down in the end. I’m a big believer in finding the right way to sing something before you put an idea to it.  So the lyrics come last after the right melodic foundation has been laid down. A separate instrument on top what’s already working, if you will.  It’s a lifelong process, learning how to realize an idea on your head.  I’ve come to embrace the fact that you can start a song strong, but it may take hours, days or weeks until it’s right and that it may turn into an utterly different animal altogether.  Good news is that the process will always be exciting to me.

Who has influenced you the most?

I would have to say my bandmates more than anybody. We’re always buying new gear, sharing new discoveries with each other.  For example, our keyboardist Sean Farrell has an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure bands. He’s always bring something new I;ve never heard of to the table.  I love being in a group where everyone has their own unique tastes.  I’ve bought 4 or 5 records recently without listening to them, based solely on his recommendations. And the cover art.  Let’s not forget the cover art, people…

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

Probably radio more than anything these days. It’s easy to dismiss it in the age of corporate radio, but if you look hard enough, there’s plenty of great stations out there. And it’s FREE. Ready to soundtrack your life. I used to be a college DJ and I’ve always loved a well-curated playlist, one where the DJ is really digging for grooves that are overlooked. In the iPhone age, we are constantly being bombarded with marketing, telling us how to think, and when it comes to music, what our next discovery should be. You just have to ignore all that shit. Here in Portland, XRAY.fm does a great job of cherry picking new, more adventurous sounds. And I’ve got a handful of favorite radio stations from around the globe that I listen to over the internet that will surprise me on a regular basis.

We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?

Well, in all honesty, we moved to Portland years ago because of the music. Initially, we were based in New Orleans, but eventually we came to realize that our vibe was not what that town was looking for. If you played original music that didn’t fit the tradition of funk or jazz, you were pretty fucked. So Portland offered an audience that was open to original music, no matter what genre. And even though it’s getting more populated, it’s still an open slate to some extent. Homemade/indie is the unifying factor.  The best bands are often the ones that are not necessarily trying to break out, or tour nationally, just great local stuff to enjoy. As for Portland reflecting in our music, I think it does indirectly. I’ll always be a huge fan of local stuff, whether it’s classic ones that never go out of style, like say Elliott Smith or Dead Moon, or if current stuff is what you’re after, like Pure Bathing Culture or Savila, there’s more than enough to choose from.  You can’t throw a rock without hitting a good band here.

Where'd the band name come from?

Every band I’ve ever been in has had “band name issues”. Usually there’s another band whose name it closely resembles or we figure out later from our friends that they’ve always hated our name.  Information we could’ve used YESTERDAY.  With Pacific Mean Time though, I feel like we finally lucked out on a name that everybody genuinely really digs. It started out as a possible song title for our debut album when somebody, I think our producer, said it would make a good band name.  It just stuck.  I really started to love it when I realized that we’ve been musicians in the Pacific Northwest for most of our adult lives and it subltly gets at that.  In a funny, kinda cheesy way, it’s like one of those 80’s that would name their band after their hometown - like Chicago, Boston or Kansas. So no matter what direction we go in musically, the name Pacific Mean Time says this is who we are. We’re Kansas, bitch! Suck it!

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?

When it comes to soundtracks, there seem to be two general categories: The “ score” heavy soundtrack that is mostly orchestral and iconic (see: the Godfather, Psycho, any film that Ennio Morricone worked on), and then there’s the pop music approach that’s really just a great playlist (see: Goodfellas, Guardians of the Galaxy, any Wes Anderson movie).  I think the latter is wayyy overdone and usually only serves to distract from a great story or performance. I would relish the chance to score one of my favorite movies, “Night of the Hunter”. The original movie with Robert Mitchum is fantastic, but a remake with an uncomfortably dissonant score would kill. Sign me up!

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).  You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

Too many to choose from, but I’ll go with “Shake Some Action” by the Flamin’ Grroovies. I always come back to this tune as the perfect pop song. No matter what band you’re in, what type of music you play, the perfect song is the elusive goal. One ring to rule them all so to speak. That song always turns me on, no matter what the context. Who knows why but that’s the one for a lot of people. There She Goes by the La’s is a close runner up. Bet I could talk somebody’s ear off about that for 1000 words.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Oy vey.  Where do I begin? I’ve fallen off stages, forgotten lyrics, had my pants fall down mid-song, you name it. A personal favorite was at a ski lodge up on Mt Hood here in Oregon, playing to a small angry gang of snowboarders. After our first song, some drunk heckler yelled out “Go back to college!”, to which I replied, “I wish I could go back to college,dude. It was a fun, you should try it!!” It was all downhill from there.  My good friend Chris grabbed a pool stick and smacked the guy. The rest I can’t remember.

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans? 

I think that we’ve learned over time the golden rule, namely that giving the crowd the best you can offer always makes you feel good.  In other words, it’s not about you. And most crucially for us, once you nail the gear/soundguy factor, it’s nothing but fun.  But getting the audience to hear what you’re hearing can be tough.  For a band like us with 5 dudes and a lot of bells and whistles, it can be a challenge. The setlist has got to ebb and flow in just the right way, transitions need to tight, all that shit.  I feel like we’re getting better and better at it over the years, and you can always tell it’s working when you have their attention at all the right moments. Tough challenge, but it helps to always remember your job is to “entertain”. Never forget!

What makes a great song?

A great song is one that is universally accepted as great by people who would normally fucking hate that kind of music. It’s a song that allows you to forget where you are and what you’re doing.  A pure emotional response. A great song makes you get up and take notice; it gets a reaction. If you could bottle that and reproduce it, we would all be doing that right now. Luck and magic always help.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

It was called Phoenix Pretend and it was an overwrought mess. It was the first big song I tried to write for a band and it succeeded mainly on adrenaline and naivete. When I think back on it, I can hear the painful “grunge” vibe I was going for. Sign of the times. Having said that, it was necessary to figure out what I could do, and what I probably shouldn’t attempt as a singer. It was our set closer for awhile there, so somebody liked it I guess. 

What piece of your music are you particularly proud of?

I feel like our latest record, “An Ocean to Swallow” has some of the best things we’ve ever done. I’m really partial to “Weighing Feathers”, the ballad in the middle of the record. All credit to our lead guitarist, Edwin, who was responsible for the killer guitar lines and vibe of that one. Might be the Rhodes or the 12 string but it just lifts in a surprising way.  With all the moving parts, it can be hard to capture a relaxing vibe in a song, but this one does. It feels confessional and mysterious at the same time. Spooky but personal.  Never gets old.

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

A few faves jump to mind: Andy Shauf, Wand, Mitski, Ty Segall, Big Thief.  These artists combine honesty and intensity in really unique ways. And they’re great musicians. It’s not just beats and lyrics, though that can turn me on too. I just love it when an artist pays attention to building a song.  A good song usually requires a good arrangement, an unexpected melody and dynamics. Maybe not “requires”, but it sure is more effective at transporting the listener with  those essential elements. Who doesn’t want to be taken somewhere else for 5 minutes? That’s kinda the point.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

My gut says VINYL in all caps. Waves always beat pixels. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I listen through my phone like everybody else when I’m out and about. Convenience serves a function. But it’s so much easier to connect emotionally with a favorite record hearing it on vinyl. It’s a truer sound and a more pleasing format. 18 minutes a side is just enough time to make a good cocktail, sit on the couch, check out the sleeve and get lost. Flip it over and do it again.

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice.

Whiskey is always more rewarding from a meditative point of view. It forces you to drink slowly and dwell on what you’re doing. Beer is about speed and group activity. Floating down a river in an intertube? Beer. At home in front of a fireplace laying on your brand new bearskin rug? whiskey. I know my town is filled with beer purists, but it just doesn’t warm your bones like a rye whiskey does.

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Portland is spoiled rotten when it comes to record stores, filled with knowledgeable OCD music lovers eager to help you. I’ll say Music Millennium because it’s 50 years old and still badass, but here’s a partial list of others worth your time: Mississippi, Jackpot, Green Noise, Little Axe, Everyday, so many good ones… They have all shared a percentage of my paycheck over the years.

What's next for the band? 

Starting to write the next record this summer.  Circling the beast, as they say. My favorite part of the process. We’re currently going through a lineup change, though: my good friend  and fellow songwriter Edwin Paroissien is quitting the band to pursue other projects.  We’ll miss him greatly because he’s been such a big part of our sound. But we’re looking forward to writing some new tunes and see where the muse takes us. As a band, we’ve been focusing on the live show lately, so I can envision the new music being more about the audience, rather than a personal diary entry. The music should serve the people.

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

John Cage once said “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I’m frightened of the old ones.” Couldn’t agree more.  Always search for the new, waveriders. Cheers!

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