Piefight Delivers with Guts and Glory

Cover art by Ero Gray
Cover art by Ero Gray

Piefight is a band that is about so much more than just the music. It’s what they represent. The original band members started out as volunteers and parents of campers at the Portland nonprofit organization Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls (RNRCG). Inspired by the sounds and energy of camp, the original band members formed Piefight in 2011 and released their debut EP, Ripe, in 2013.

Last year they received the RNRCG AMP award for musicians who inspire girls and women to amplify their voices above the clamor of social injustice. Guitarist Leah Nagely Robbins explains, “We all have supported camp and its mission for years- from being board members (keyboardist Susan Yudt and bass player Kim Meyers) to doing web stuff and volunteering. We’ve played showcases for the girls’ camp and the ladies’ version of camp – reminding everyone that you’re never too old to start a band, and whatever you create – keep doing it.”

And that’s the thing, they are showing the way, not just for girls, but for women of all ages. Portland’s bar music culture is somewhat dominated by all-male bands and cliquish hipsters. So sometimes people don’t know what to think when they walk into a pub and see a group of five middle-aged women rocking out, unabashedly not trying to be anyone other than who they are. The surprised bar goers are at first amused and puzzled, and then they sink into the groove, stereotypes fade, and they join Piefight in rocking out.

Three of the Piefight band members are also moms. Guitarist Leah Nagley Robbins, who has a career as a transportation engineer and Trimet project manager, explains “it’s been great to show my girl that you can do all the regular things and also follow your passion.” Drummer Sarah Stratton works as a public school speech pathologist and is happy that her kids are fans. She says “it’s super cool to have your kids show pride that their mom is in a band.” Kim Meyers, a designer, adds that she is “role modeling that being a parent isn’t all about work and that you can still follow your passion, be responsible, and do something that makes you happy.”

And now for the music- Piefight’s latest release, Guts and Glory, is a six track EP that builds upon their two previous releases but with one major changeup, the addition of drummer Sarah Stratton. (Michelle Panulla joined on lead vocals in early 2014. With her the band solidified their pop noir style on their last EP, This Changes Everything, in 2015.) The five women in Piefight all contribute in songwriting, which results in songs taking different and interesting directions.

The first track, Conversation, kicks off the album with a delightful vocal riff that morphs into distorted guitars, driving bass, and distinct drum parts that show off Sarah’s ability to find the perfect beat for every groove. In this tune lead singer Michelle Panulla sounds a bit like Natalie Merchant.

The album then leans towards pop noir with Beautiful Lies. The third track, Something for Nothing, is a standout track that gallops along with forceful conviction. Half Step starts as a spacious ghostlike tune that could start a séance and then builds to a many layered chorus of voices. Damage goes back to pop noir, but with a jazzy undertone. The final track, Turn it Around, truly showcases the strength of Michelle Panulla’s vocals with an almost Pat Benatar like performance, featuring the lyrics after which the EP is titled, Guts and Glory. The song closes with Susan Yudt delivering a kickass keyboard solo that is the perfect way to the end a great EP, undeniably marking how far this band has come over the years.

Check out their new album on Bandcamp. Follow Piefight on fb and catch them next on July 14 at Starday Tavern with Somerset Meadows and on July 25th at the Girls’ Rock Camp lunch show.

New Not Normals Oozes with Authenticity

The latest full length album from New Not Normals, Web Pincher, is a treasure of inspired rock tunes. The three piece band, consisting of Joshua Boyd on guitar and vocals, Cyndy Chan on bass and vocals, and Dan Kompton on drums (though previous drummers* played on the recordings), is a subset of Trick Sensei, a larger five piece band with multiple songwriters that has been playing around town for many years. Cyndy and Josh kicked off New Not Normals a few years back, as a smaller act with the flexibility to play more often and focus on Josh’s tunes.

The first track on Web Pincher, Valkyrie Rainbow, kicks off the nine track album with the quirky intro from the Laverne and Shirley 1980s sitcom. “Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! We’re Gonna Do It!” is then followed by an unapologetic three minute long rock jam that is loud and inspired and catchy as hell. It’s a testament to how comfortable they are in their own skin. The second track features Josh’s otherworldly theramin playing and Cyndy literally singing out the letters of the song title, S-O-R-C-E-R-O-R-S-A-U-R-U-S, to the beat of the song, showcasing Cyndy’s little known background as a former spelling bee champion. Is this this singing or spelling? Well it’s both. Trying to spell-sing along is guaranteed to trigger a smile. Another standout track, Walking on My Grave, is their cover of a song by one of Portland’s iconic punk bands, Dead Moon, and is an example of how New Not Normals pays respect to Portland’s music culture, past and present. The album is a cohesive collection of 9 tracks playing off of riffs and jams with each tune taking a different twist.

Cyndy and Josh are a backbone of Portland’s music culture. They take pride in the creative lineups they frequently stitch together, often giving up-and-coming bands a chance to be heard. They are a kind of glue that holds together a somewhat fragmented cliquish scene- a positive force who are always finding ways to be more inclusive and connected. Cyndy has even been known to host Sunday brunches for the rock’n’roll women in town, sans instruments, that include casseroles made from the eggs of her backyard chickens and clothing exchanges to energize rock’n’roll wardrobes.

They are also DIY masters. At their recent CD release party at the World Famous Kenton Club they had limited-edition merch on hand, ranging from CDs in hand silk-screened packaging, homemade cassette tapes, and a handful of tie dye tshirts with a must-have psychedelic cat motif that nearly sold out within a couple hours.

Some of New Not Normals’ charm comes from their humility. While other bands seems to be reaching for the stars, New Not Normals seems quite content with playing locally and growing their fan base at a more relaxed pace. In fact, they seem honestly surprised at their growing popularity.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I play in one of Cyndy’s three bands, Avalanche Lily, but neither Cyndy nor her bandmates have ever asked me to write up a review. You can check out their tunes on Bandcamp, Spotify, or whereever you listen to music, and follow them on Facebook. Their next show is an all ages gig and it’s coming up this Friday on May 25 at the American Legion Post 134.

*Tracks 1, 2, 4, 6: Drew Anymouse on drums, auxiliary percussion
*Tracks 3, 5, 7, 8, 9: Kevin Okerlund on drums

Streetcar Conductors is Killing It with Hit after Hit

It is 48 degrees outside and raining but the new Streetcar Conductors album makes it feel like summer. This debut record is fittingly called “The Very Best of Streetcar Conductors.” It is a collection of the best of Jonathan Moore’s extensive repertoire of songs and represents the culmination of years of studio work and incredible patience as Jonathan has searched for the perfect bandmates to bring his vision to life.

I’ve already listened to the CD many times in the two days since I picked it up at the band’s epic CD release party with King Black Acid and the Fur Coats. The songs are catchy retro pop hits full of irresistible earworms along with sometimes hilarious lyrics that are the embodiment of Jonathan’s personality- insightful, unpretentious, and self-deprecating at times.

The first track, “Pushover,” is a hit that has the tone and feel of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me”. Right? That’s a pretty amazing way to kick off the album, but it doesn’t stop there. The second hit, “Let’s Not (And Say We Did),” starts out with a megaphone blasting what sounds like the bitching of suburban housewives, and then goes on to explain that the long term risks of falling in love outweigh the temporary benefits. The brilliant lyrics continue with “Pictures of Ourselves,” which depicts the modern culture of selfies, and “The Absurdity of Life,” which is self-explanatory.

Great music finds a balance between being new and refreshing yet sounding familiar, which is the beauty of Streetcar Conductors. “Summer, Whatever Became of You?” could fit right in on the Grease sound track. “Throw Your Love Away” channels John Lennon. “Other People’s Happiness” and “True Love, They Say” have an Elvis Costello vibe. “Staring at the Sun” and “You are the Brightest Star” swing along like Roy Orbison tunes. “Losing Streak” has a hint of Vampire Weekend in it. And there are endless comparisons to Weezer. At this point you should probably just listen to the album because reading about it isn’t nearly as good. Streetcar Conductors is on bandcamp, Spotify, cdbaby, itunes, YouTube, or wherever you listen to music. Follow the band on fb and check them out live at the Local Roots Showcase on May 9 at Alberta Street Pub.

If you’re still reading, it’s interesting to note that Jonathan Moore not only wrote all fourteen songs, but played nearly all the instruments. The liner notes list the usual things like drums, guitar, bass, synth, percussion, and piano, but also more unusual things like mellotron, vibraphone, air organ (which is unlike air guitar), and electric sitar. In the live band, Jonathan plays drums and shares singing with Carmen Charters, who brings the yin to the yang and has been described as the missing puzzle piece in completing the Streetcar Conductors’ musical vision.

This video from the CD release party features one of the tracks that is not on the new album. It’s one of Carmen’s songs and just for fun, I’ve included a video of the same song performed last summer when Jonathan and Carmen performed as a duo. The band has come really far in a short while, making them a top contender for Portland’s Best New Band in 2018. Bravo Streetcar Conductors!

Link to first video

Link to second video

And finally, apologies for being so infrequent in writing up reviews lately, but these days I’m actually working on getting my own album out as well. Portland’s music culture has so much to write about and be a part of. It’s tough to keep up with it all.

Streetcar Conductors is Ready to Roll

Photo by Christina Osborn

The Portland Notes coverage of Streetcar Conductors last summer was titled “Streetcar Conductors, Timeless Power Pop that is Worth the Wait”. Well, the wait is over! The winsome duo of Jonathan Moore and Carmen Charters have expanded into a full five piece band, with Jonathan taking the helm from behind the drumset while singing lead. Carmen has honed her power pop keyboard riffs and vocal harmonies. Additions to the band include, Matt Dinaro, The Toads’ bass player and local blogger, and Jimmy Ling and Michael Hollifield on electric guitars.

The full band debuted on March 11 at the Local Roots Second Sunday Happy Hour, which takes place every month at the McMenamins White Eagle Saloon. The monthly event is free, early, all ages, and hosts top notch local acts, like Streetcar Conductors.

Streetcar Conductors have been compared to Weezer, but the guitar tones and riffs definitely have a Cheap Trick vibe, and the vocal melodies hint of the Kinks. Who can argue with that?

The Streetcar Conductors performing “Pushover”, which will be on their upcoming album.

The band is releasing its debut full length album, many years in the making, on April 27 with a CD Release Party at Mississippi Studios. Don’t miss this impressive bill, which includes local legends, King Black Acid and the Fur Coats. Tickets are already on sale.

The Streetcar Conductors performing” You are the Brightest Star”, which will also be on their upcoming album.

Minda Lacy has a Beautiful Preoccupation with Worms

Minda Lacy’s has a beautiful preoccupation with time, the future, death, and worms. Minda, a recent transplant from New Mexico, says her songs are about “finding contrasts such as beauty in the ugly, silliness in the serious, humor and light in morbidity.”

Her minimally produced blues and jazz influenced folk songs have an immediate familiarity and consistency, evoking Courtney Barnett, the Be Good Tanyas, and Leonard Cohen. Her voice, bare and sweet, yet grounded, along with her matter of fact light-hearted philosophical narrative is the kind of thing that feeds the soul. Her latest album, Worms, was released by Outfield Records, a small label from Olympia, Washington, in October 2017, two years after the release of her debut in 2015, Owl Faces.

Worms is a five track EP that starts with an endearing tune called Time. “Time time time I do this all the time I spend too much time thinking about time… I’m starting to worry that we’re all in a hurry… I wouldn’t feel so far behind if I wasn’t so restless all the time… I’d figure it all out if I could, but I got a terrible feeling I’m not doing what I should.”

The second track, A Letter, looks to her future self to give perspective to a present day situation. “I’m looking forward to a time years from now where I can write you a letter expressing how you make me feel right now.”

The final two tracks, Dying and Worms, gently make light of life and death. While the lyrics seem a little grim, the tone of these toe-tapping songs is charming and whimsical.

“I’m dying, and you’re dying, we’re dying… only for a lifetime… I won’t be dying any more when I’m dead… everything is here until the second it’s gone… and if it doesn’t go right it doesn’t have to be wrong”

The album cover is actually a picture of Minda taken by her uncle when she was 6 or 7 years old looking through a magnifying glass that she got for her grandfather for Christmas. It’s a curious photo, and perfectly depicts the unique lens through which she views the world.

Minda enjoys collaborating and playing with a variety of musicians. Just Buns is a group that she is involved with that released an album a year ago. Another one of her groups, Bitches in the Beehive, is set to release an album this year.

Follow Minda Lacy on Facebook and check out her latest album on Bandcamp, Spotify, and everywhere you listen to music.

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