Outside of beer, coffee, and the occasional naked bicyclist, nothing embodies Portland’s self-reliant creative streak like its ever-burgeoning rock scene. Always at a steady simmer of boundary-bending, on-the-verge bands, but never likely to boil over into a major-label chum pool, indie rock in the Rose City is a world in which “success” is something you achieve on your own terms.
This through-line of self-sustainability has had many manifestations, but almost all of them can be traced back to the late 1970s, when Fred and Toody Cole were running Captain Whizeagle’s, supplying inspiration, equipment, and ideas to the city’s young punks while cranking out home recordings and handmade fliers for their latest band. (Whether the Rats, Dead Moon, or whatever its name may have been that week.) The Coles’ spirit of exploration and their hands-on work ethic is being carried on today by a handful of bands so unique and self-sufficient—so, well, Portland—that some of them don’t even need a cranked-up guitar to make their point.
Whether dabbling in smoky stoner rock, jangly pop, or sweet country strumming, one thing about Viva Voce remains constant: real-life married couple Anita and Kevin Robinson, who started the band 11 years ago.
“It’s a lifestyle,” Anita says, “and not one that every marriage can handle. [Fred and Toody] must get a perverse pleasure from exploding amps, vans breaking down, bad road food, and not getting sleep for days. The fact that their shows are just as gritty as ever now shouldn’t surprise anyone. They are the real thing. The kind of nonposturing, ass-kicking musicians Portland should be known for.” —Robert Runyon
Portland Cello Project
Just as Fred Cole has spent much of his musical career jumping between rock, country, garage, and punk, the Portland Cello Project’s repertoire showcases everything from Bach to the Dandy Warhols, Dave Brubeck, and Metallica. “Deep down, regardless of genre, you know what’s good and what’s not,” PCP mastermind Douglas Jenkins says. “If you keep working toward what inspires you, then you’re going to be outside of those boundaries.” Sometimes way outside. “Yeah,” he sighs, “people still yell for us to play Britney Spears’s.
Willy Vlautin’s literary muse is fed by his lauded novels, such as The Motel Life and Northline. But when she demands something more visceral, he can always turn to his band, Richmond Fontaine, an act that (like most of Fred Cole’s work) remains more appreciated in Europe than it is here at home. Vlautin looks on the bright side: “Their truck stops have better food, and you can’t go wrong with European beer.” When life on the road gets tough, he looks directly to Cole. “For years, whenever I got disillusioned by music, I’d go see Dead Moon,” Vlautin says. “It made me fall in love with being in a band again. I usually left drunk, with some record I already had. And I didn’t think I was wasting my life playing bars anymore.” —BB
In 2005, Red Fang introduced its heavy metal sound to a Portland scene that was heavily saturated with acoustic guitars and quiet, bearded troubadours. There is nothing quiet about Red Fang.
Although the cathartic crunch of Pierced Arrows or Dead Moon doesn’t sound much like Red Fang’s proto-thrash, Fred and Toody’s attitude still rings true across genres. “More than their sound,” says bassist and vocalist Aaron Beam, “it’s their dedication against the conventional that is inspirational. That attitude toward their music is influential to us.” —Kim Winternheimer
For anyone who came of age in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the Prids might sound like the perfect band. Their wall of black-eyeliner noise uses the best parts of every major musical movement of the era: the sneering detachment of new wave, the jittery angst of punk, and the power-chord pout of alt-rock.
Like Fred and Toody before them, the Prids cut their teeth with a DIY streak a mile long—self-releasing and producing albums, booking their own tours. “[Fred and Toody] embody the reasons why we came to Portland,” says bassist Mistina Keith. “It may be romantic, but our band represents our life’s work, not just a fleeting shot at ‘the big time.’ It always seemed to us that they felt the same way.” —BB