Indie trio Rocket 3 is back with a new album that will knock your socks off. Their first album, Burn, was an absolute gem, so it is no surprise that this one, What’s the Frequency?, is solid gold as well. This album is not to be missed, and will take you on an emotional journey filled with nostalgia.
What’s the Frequency? kicks off with a jangly tune titled “I Choose Love.” The use of glockenspiel combined with Ramune Nagisetty’s warm vocals is so soothing, it sounds like a more intricate version of a lullaby. Not only is this a great song, it comes with a beautiful message, especially in this divisive political climate: we should all choose love. The second song on the album, “Echoes,” recounts a memory of an audience member being humiliated in an auditorium full of people laughing at their expense. The lyrics paint this picture as clear as day, and you can’t help but empathize for said audience member. The following tune, “What If” is a brilliant song about the struggles of drug addiction and how a “little pill” can ruin relationships. Despite having such a heavy subject, this song sounds uplifting. The use of masterful lyrics, a lilting melody, an epic rhythm section by Andrew Anymouse and Kenneth Foust, along with soulful keyboard by Gavin Duffy, make this song such a treat to listen to.
Next is my favorite song on the album: “Hip Shot.” This song is unbelievably catchy, and the saxophone playing by the very talented Gavin Duffy, really adds to this track’s shine. The infectious groove of this song will make you want to dance. After this comes “Favorite Thing,’ a song about true love and how it has grown over time. This song has a reggae feel, and is sure to hit home for those in love – both new love and love that has stood the test of time. Following this is a feel good summer jam, “Slow Your Roll,” which is all about taking it easy. The following tune is a breakup track titled “Giving Up.” This song has very relatable lyrics that tug at the heart strings, and will resonate with those who have ever been through a breakup. Gavin Duffy slays on keys, Kenneth Foust and Andrew Anymouse bring the groove, and Ramune Nagisetty nails it on the rhythm guitar as well as on vocals. Nagisetty’s vocals throughout the album are rich and emotional, conveying the feeling of the songs so well.
The next song, “I Don’t Need Ya,” is about the root of all evil, money. Specifically, it’s about breaking away from the concept that money rules all. The closing track on the album, “Evershine,” is about a relationship that has run its course. Nagisetty sings from the point of view of the partner who has been wronged time and time again and is leaving. This song is very musically interesting, and includes gorgeous saxophone playing performed by Gavin Duffy, metallophone performed by Andrew Anymouse, and a melody that is sure to get stuck in your head. This tune starts and closes with beautifully harmonized “oohs” and “ahs” that may induce goosebumps.
This album is incredible from start to finish. It has been in my heavy rotation since I got my hands on a copy in July, and I have a feeling it will be for a long time. Be sure to give it a listen if you are on the hunt for ingenious indie-pop with all the feels.
I spent the whole weekend flat out in bed with the flu listening to Haley Heynderickx. It was somehow appropriate to slow down time and spend it on soaking up the music of this Portland songwriter. Haley grew up in Forest Grove, which is far enough outside of Portland not to be considered a suburb. It is a small college town, home to Pacific University, in the middle of a scenic agricultural valley. Knowing what I know about Forest Grove, it seems nothing less than perfect that her recent album is entitled “I Need to Start a Garden.”
The album is a snapshot of a moment in time in an intriguing journey. Haley is of Filipino descent and grew up in a religious household with a mother who dragged her to karaoke. Then at the age of 11 Haley got a used guitar with a hole in the back and started taking guitar lessons from the only guitar teacher around, who was a bluegrass musician. The bluegrass influence is evident in her fingerpicking style, complete with a bass line, and punctuating flourishes. Her fingerpicking weaves a perfect nest for her fragile voice, as strong and delicate as spun glass. Bob Boilen from NPR’s Tiny Desk even went so far as to use the word frail, but in the most flattering way possible. In fact, she gives Boilen’s Tiny Desk contest a lot of credit for her quick rise, though her label, Mama Bird Recording Co., has done a lot to guide her along as well.
Haley’s guitar playing and voice are only half of the package. The other half is her songwriting and character. Her songs, some of which were recorded and released more than once, are polished gems with odd tunings and thoughtful lyrics about god, starting gardens, not being put in a box, how people are judged, and so many more things. Her songs are so unusual, they get under your skin with rawness, they don’t inspire humming or earworm jingles- they make you want to listen again, as if you were hungry for something like this. And I think we are.
The attention that artists and bands like Lucy Dacus, Soccer Mommy, Palehound, and Haley Heynderickx are getting is notable. These young women are writing songs that ask questions more interesting than the worn out “I love him so much”, “he dumped me,” and “now I’ll be strong” themes of modern pop divas. These young women are writing songs that are more compelling. On my favorite tune from the album, “untitled god song”, she describes god as a woman- “maybe my god has thick hips and big lips… she speaks every language…. she spins me around like a marionette”.
Haley is unsure as to how her journey will unfold, described poetically by her lyrics “my web is still spinning you can’t see it yet.” She needs to be alone and quiet for her songwriting process, but she’s been touring non-stop, performing with her full band, and sometimes solo, all over the world. She is playing this Thursday, September 27, at Revolution Hall with several other artists on the Mama Bird label.
Haley has given so many great interviews, each shedding more light on who she is. Learn more about her by clicking through the links in the story and the additional sources included below.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to the Portland Notes blog. We are looking for a few more writers who are enthusiastic about sharing their stories about Portland music culture, including album and live band reviews. Contact us if you are interested in writing!
Dr. Something’s new single “Beaverton TC” is adorable, effortlessly enjoyable, and worth listening to on repeat. The chamber pop tune kicks off with a rolling piano riff, evoking the cheery demeanor of the Peanuts theme song “Linus and Lucy.” The contortion of language in support of rhyming makes some of the verses sound almost Shakespearean.
“Where do I go
When I’m looking to catch the bus to Tualatin?
Where do I go
When I’m aiming for the heart of the county known as Washington?”
The tune conjures up visions of a musical about suburban Portland, something along the lines of the Simpsons with a twist of Dilbert. Somehow a musical or TV series on transit centers seems timely now that the Portlandia TV series and the Portland culture of the ‘90s are officially over with. Beaverton TC could inspire a TV series about minivans, high school sports, and very friendly naïve people who are barely aware that a city called Portland exists, except for a few restaurants and an airport. I can already imagine a series of entertaining skits depicting Portland musicians, exiled from the city due to high rents, embarking on Tri-Met seeking affordable apartments in the suburbs. These seemingly related species, city-dwelling musicians and suburbanites are largely unfamiliar with each other’s existence, with the exodus of musicians to the suburbs providing fodder for endless parodies.
It is also worth noting that Dr. Something, a.k.a. Alison Dennis, wrote a worthwhile bonus track to promote the new song. She calls it a “jingle for the single”.Alison is working on an entire transit center collection, which I can’t wait to hear. In particular I’m looking forward to hearing about my own suburban neighborhood transit center, the Sunset TC.
Besides being a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in Dr. Something, Alison also plays keyboards and saxophone in All I Feel is Yes and is a live music sketch artist. Her sketches are a hand-drawn documentary of Portland’s live bands and venues, capturing fleeting moments of an endangered cultural pastime.
Catch Alison with her band featuring bassist Jacob Anderson, drummer Michael Wilding, and back-up singing, go-go dancing sensations Amy Baxter, Erika Garlock and Christie Welsh at the single release party on Thursday, Sept 13, at Kelly’s Olympian. Follow her on fb, check out her website, and stay tuned to Bandcamp and SoundCloud for the rest of the transit center series.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to the Portland Notes blog. Also, we are looking for a few more writers who are enthusiastic about sharing their stories about Portland music culture, including album and live band reviews. Thanks for reading!
Few things give me more pleasure than introducing Portland Notes music fans to Renee Dunn, aka Cocoa Venus. I came across Renee Dunn last fall when the music emanating from a little bar on the North Park blocks drew me inside. It was then and there that I first saw Renee Dunn fronting her previous band, Gold Ensoul, with her unique charisma and strength. I stayed there until the she had played every song she knew. It was one of those cathartic musical experiences, watching local dancer, Natasha Kotey, add another dimension to the show, and seeing how others besides myself were drawn in from the street. Renee and I exchanged contact information, became friends on fb, and I patiently awaited for the release of her debut album.
Her new album, Honey, released under the artist name Cocoa Venus, shows that the spirit of the blues is alive in Portland, Oregon, of all places. I spent my college years in Chicago listening to the live blues of Koko Taylor, Melvin Taylor, Buddy Guy, and Junior Welles. That’s where I witnessed the blues firsthand, and the emotion that drives it. While Dunn resists being categorized or labeled, she conveys a similar passion and authenticity as her musical forbearers, but she takes that torch and moves in a new direction, with an updated message that fits with the modern world.
The first track on the album, called My Last Give a ***k (where the last word rhymes with duck), might be my favorite song of the year. It’s the perfect song for anyone who is struggling to hold on to their zen in the face of adversity and rejection, which deep down inside is practically everyone who is following a creative pursuit. MLGAF, at nearly six minutes long, lets the listener sink into the groove and get carried away. I’m a complete sucker for the Hammond organ, and Tony Ozier, aka Dookie Green, displays serious wizardry on that first track. City Life is another standout track, showcasing rich vocals, dexterous guitar riffs, a tight rhythm section, and relatable lyrics, “I never dreamed of kids and white picket fence. I never would have made it. Neat little houses and suburban bliss, I surely would have hated it. I never said I wanted life neat and nice. I beg to differ from your version in my version of paradise. I know what I need. And I get that from the city.”
Renee heals and inspires people through her music and stories, as well as through her profession as an empathic tarot card reader and spiritual astrologer. Learn more about her amazing life experience, perspective, and musical process in the interview below, check out her album, follow her on fb, and go to her free all ages CD release party on Sunday, August 12, 4-6 pm, at the White Eagle.
PN: Is this your first professional recording production?
CV: It is! I’m still low key in shock and awe that this is mine, tbh.
PN: What inspired you to record these songs?
CV: I have been a singer since I literally physically could, and writing -including song writing- always came easily to me. 3 out of 4 of the songs on this E.P. have been floating around in this head of mine for years, I just never had the just right moment or the just right people in my life to make it happen. And, if I’m going to keep it all the way real… I think there was a bit of not feeling like I could, or that anyone would ‘get’ my art if I did; being seen as both Black AND ‘alternative’ hasn’t always been a thing. Even now there is a fight to not be automatically labeled.
But then a combination of things happened that sorta turned it around for me: I spend my professional life in service to helping people heal and it is my truest hope to have every client leave their session with me feeling competent, capable and seen. In my soon to be 12 years of doing this work I have witnessed so many people take these awesome steps toward their dreams. Turning 40 did something to me. It made me realize I TOO could be taking those awesome steps. It lit a fire in me to start trying to actually do something with the songs in my head. So for the next 3 years I had failed attempt after failed attempt with various Portland based producers/beat makers/musicians and it straight up at times felt like I was almost cursed! People ghosted, talked a big talk and couldn’t deliver, etc. I was really upset and angry….but I mostly just really felt hurt and rejected.
One evening and I’m sitting in a cute little jewel box of a bar with a friend that has been one of my #1 cheerleaders and *I* think we’re there to work on a project and that’s how it started out. Little did I know I was totally being set up! She knew the owner of the bar and I’m pretty sure she had talked about my being a singer. Also…it just SO HAPPENED to be open mic night. One thing you learn about being friends with this particular woman is that it is really hard to tell her no when it’s something that’s going to grow you, haha. So after a good amount of ‘encouragement’, haha, I folded and hopped up on the stage to sing. The evening ended on an offer to do a monthly gig. All I needed was a band. A band I had been trying in various ways to form since 2005 when I moved here!
The saying ‘timing is everything ‘ proved true, like, INSTANTLY and I suddenly found myself the frontwoman to a badass group of crazy talented musicians. I couldn’t believe my luck and I was scared sh*tless. I started a soul cover band called Gold Ensoul and got a taste of what it meant to be a front woman and what it takes to be a performer and not just a singer. I got so much education and love from those few shows that I thought to myself…why not go for it? So I’m 44 and I’m thinking…if not now WHEN?? If this is meant to be, it’ll work. The Universe dropped my producer into my world and 10 months later…Honey is born.
PN: I first saw you perform at Sante with a small tight band, and Natasha Kotey was dancing to your music. How do you know the musicians and dancers, ie, can you describe the music community/scene/culture that you participate in?
CV: This has been a really difficult part of my creative experience because when I say I’m an empathic introvert I REALLY mean I am truly an empathic introvert. Artists have to have a certain amount of extroversion because there is a lot of group get-togethers/meet and greets/jams and that is sincerely a form of torture for me. The thought of lobbing myself into a group of strangers fills me with anxious dread. I know what you may be thinking: You get up on stage and entertain! Right? Haha. But it’s not the same thing at all. I say all this to say that I did this all via a secret FB page for artists of color in Portland. And those two or three posts gifted me with all but one person in my band and every single dancer that danced with us.
I’m really working on getting myself to go to jams and meet other artists…because that’s truly where the deepest connections are and there’s no better way for people to see what you’re working’ with than to show up and let them see for themselves. Ugh…it’s not easy though.
PN: Who played on the recordings? Anything you want to say about them?
CV: Some seriously talented BAD ASSES played on my recordings 🙂 I have and will always have nothing but high praise for each of them.
Eric Blood, on that fat bass and Max Zatarain on that sizzling guitar were my core creatives. God bless them! Haha! I say that because what you have to understand is that all I do is sing and write… I have literally zero formal musical education. They’re asking me “Okay, what key is this in?” “Ok what this or that or the other?” The BASIC musical terminology…it all sounded like the adults in the Charlie Brown comics speaking to me. And I’m standing there smiling and blinking at them, like.. “Um.. I can sing it to you and here are the words?” Haha! Once they realized that they weren’t gonna be able to communicate with me in that way, I have to commend them on just getting down and gritty and intuitive with me. They ‘got’ me. They ‘got’ where I was wanting to go.
Darian Anthony Patrick, on those tiiiiiiight drums was part of the Gold Ensoul blessing that landed in my world and I am STILL trying to figure out how I got that damn lucky cuz that man is super talented and has done work with some pretty impressive artists; including Dirty Revival. Eric, Max and my oh so psychic, intuitive, creative producer; Febian Perez and myself, would get together with Darian and show him what we had and he’d just jump right in there like “Oh, you mean this?” and then lay down fire.
It was all just… Magic. So many times, especially being the only woman in the group, I had to hold it together til the end of the practices and I’d sit in my car and just smile while my eyes watered up because it is something so special experiencing the music that’s been cocooned in your mind all these years being understood, appreciated and taking shape right in front of you. The magic was so thick in those practices. I will carry those moments with me always.
PN: The recordings are on Soundcloud. Will they also be on Spotify, iTunes, etc?
CV: Haha! I am EMBARASSINGLY technologically deficient. I’m literally recruiting a gifted all-things-media teenager to help me with things!! I’m so not kidding. iTunes is in the near future. For now I’m going old skool with CD’s at shows. I know…I know…
PN: On FB I see you are very vocal about various social issues (LGBTQ, black, and perhaps other issues as well). Can you please comment on your views?
CV: I don’t think you get to be a woman, who is dark skinned, bigger bodied and queer and NOT speak on these issues. Your very being is made political when this is skin you’re in. In my vocation I am about education, comprehension, compassion and liberation. That way of being doesn’t have a border for me so it absolutely blends in with my personal life. I like depth. I’m comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and inner work that requires going deep down. I’m comfortable with loving you through to a perspective your personal life experiences would have never turned you onto.
PN: You have a way of inspiring people. In your opinion, what can we do to make the world a better place?
CV: I do? That’s an incredibly kind thing to say! Thank you.
What can we do to make the world a better place….. Hmm…..unfortunately – with the exception of a trip to Vancouver BC in my early 20’s – I’ve never traveled out of the United States, so my perspective about what the entire world needs is rather limited by that.
I think a lot of people that want us all to come together are putting an imbalanced emphasis on the fact that we are all so much more alike than we are different. It’s true…we are so much more alike than we’re different… but those differences matter.
They want to get to that yummy kumbaya by stepping over the hard stuff! The uncomfortable history of how we got here and of the fact that we are indeed different in ways…but that those differences aren’t bad at all and need to be acknowledged and respected and embraced. We can’t come together if coming together means you choose to only acknowledge the facets of my being that toe the line of your unchallenged comfort level. We can’t come together if you’re asking me to cut off innate parts of me to make me more like you. I believe in LOVE and I also believe that love is a VERB that is comprised of empathy, compassion and a willingness to be uncomfortable to get to the good stuff 🙂 That’s a really huge question though!
PN: Who are your influences?
CV: This is sooooooo hard to answer! I grew up partially in South Central Los Angeles in the mid 70’s /early 80’s and partially in the suburbs of Seattle in the mid 80’s/early 90’s. They were vastly different places and I am truly a product of them both. Although my father was a more peripheral figure in my childhood I was a preacher’s daughter and my grandmother- who predominantly raised me- was deeply religious, so I grew up on gospel and of course there was soul and funk and blues. But when my mother moved me to the suburbs of Seattle, I began developing a deeeeeep fascination of new wave. Then in my late teens there was dark wave, goth, industrial music. I truly believe that a blend of Chaka Khan, Aretha, Whitney, Stevie and BB King on one hand, blended with Concrete Blond, Grace Jones, Tori Amos, Portis Head, Nine Inch Nails and grew me. That’s the smallest sample ever, though, of my musical influences.
PN: Can you comment on the meaning and or lyrics of the songs “My Last Give a F***” and “City Life”?
CV: I looove those songs so much! City Life… as I mentioned, I grew up in South Central L.A. and it was such a sprawling, gritty place to grow up. I loved it! My uncle was one of my favorite people in the world when I was a kid and he was flaming gay and very alternative. He would gather all the cousins and take us to Venice Beach and Hollywood and Long Beach and museums and art galleries and show us the world outside of our immediate neighborhoods and it made a deep and lasting impression on me. It’s where I could see art, and people who were just like me and that weren’t like me at all. I loved a day of play and then coming back home, bussing or driving through the late night city with all the lights and drinking in the way the nighttime energy changes the very air around you. Then when I turned 18 I moved from the suburbs of Seattle into the city, and after having a rather strict upbringing, I tore into Seattle night life with everything in me. I know it’s an unpopular opinion but to this day I LOVE the city, especially the city at night.
My Last Give A F*** wrote itself into existence from an impromptu jam where I was looking to work with a synth musician to be able to more fully realize some of the more ‘alternative’ sound in my songs. My guitarist had joined the synth musician and all of a sudden the line, “This is the place where I lost my last give a f***,” landed in my head and I started giggling. Later that night I sat down and 90% of the song wrote itself in about 20 minutes. It’s one of my favorites because it’s so damn REAL! I saw an interview with Amy Winehouse once and I remember her saying that she hates how everybody is too cool for school now. So unbothered and that she wanted to make music that felt like real life. That resonates with me so deeply. So many songs either talk about a break up in a surface emo sadness way, or in an “I’m just gonna step right over this and replace you” kind of way. But the break of a deep love is a HOT MESS! One FULL of feels. So MLGAF takes you through the stages of a long term relationship that breaks; numbness-the echoing songs beginning, depression- “Whatever, I have ceased to care. Should probably change these clothes…but sun has set again.” Anger: “I’m talkin’ bout that whiskey gin and rum. It aint gonna fix me but I still want some.” Reckless need to feel desirable again: “Tough women sweet men, both built for sin. No they aint gonna fix me none, but I still want some!” All the way to a crescendo’ed crisis and then an end where the person says “That WAS the place where I lost mlgaf…..I think it’s time to move on.” And then you get it together, heal, pick yourself up and move on. Ahhh love, right? 😉
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.