26 March 2011

Ports of Call Answers 5

Hailing from The City of Brotherly Love, Ports of Call’s “Fractals” EP blew my mind away back February (link to review). Trust me, being so close to Philadelphia, on my list of things to do is to check out the band live, because as you listen to their songs, you are can only imagine how powerful they can be live. A few e-mails later, and too much time elapsing on my behalf, I am really excited to post this very in depth interview. I would like to thank Ports of Call members Tom, Thomas, and Charles for taking the time to Answer 5.

Photographer Barry Lindenmuth

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Tom: Lou reed, Echo and the Bunnymen, Radiohead. Countless others that I am not worthy of.

Thomas: Grant Morrison, Pale Saints, Sarah Records, Sartre, The Lilys, The Swirlies, many other bands with the word “the” in their name, Sebadoh, Stereolab, The Muppet Show, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Charles: I'm typically influenced by whatever music I'm listening to at any given moment in time. Lately, it's been a lot of older bands like Afghan Whigs (a band I'm ashamed to admit I missed out on in the '90s when I was younger), Swervedriver, and The Dismemberment Plan, as well as new(er) bands like Warpaint, Tamaryn, and Deerhunter, among many others. I'm constantly discovering older music I've missed out on as well as checking out new stuff, so anything that catches my attention is an influence on me.

2. One of the things I really like about “Fractals” is just how hard it is define musically. To call is shoegaze and move on seems a bit inane, but of course “labels” are always used in describing music. So here is your chance, how would you define the Ports of Call sound?

Tom: We try to stay away from calling what we do "shoegaze" just because it would be misleading. We love shoegaze bands, and some of that definitely makes its way into what we do, but we don't consider ourselves a shoegaze band. We are just a rock band that's been influenced by tons of different sub-sub-genres of whatever. We like spacey keys and fuzzy guitars. So... we are a spaceykeyfuzzgaze band... I guess.

Thomas: Yeah, it's hard to label, probably cause we're somewhat frantic and a bit ADD; I usually just say we play fuzzy pop songs.

Charles: In my opinion, one of the best things that defines our sound is that none of us are extreme virtuosos at playing our instruments or being "musicians"... although Andrew Grossman, who played bass on both the first album and the EP, is pretty close to being a bass master. In any case, we try to utilize what we have within our abilities and play off each other when we make music.

3. Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle – that is what most people think of when they think of “rock” in the USA. What does The City of Brotherly Love have to add to the mix?

Tom: It's funny you say that, because there are a bunch of Philly bands that, in the last couple of years, have really started to gain some attention... Kurt Vile, Reading Rainbow, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Free Energy, The War on Drugs, etc... And there are plenty more who should get some attention. It seems like it's always been hard for bands from Philly to get fans outside the city. There have always been tons and tons of great bands here.

Thomas: What Tom said; Philly has a lot going on right now, a lot of great bands on the cusp and some great bands just getting rolling like Party Photographers, Creepoid, Pet, Milk, Memory Tapes, and so forth. I think what Philly has is we aren't NY or LA or seattle. What I’m amazed at is I hear there are some bands coming out of Brooklyn now, I was amazed, I mean bands.... from Brooklyn, who knew?..... But seriously I think what Philly has is a passion and a hunger that can only be found in a city that isn't.

Charles: Philadelphia equals a working class city, so it's fair to say it's a city full of working class musicians. I feel that most artists and bands from Philly, no matter what genre, work hard to make great music and do everything in their power to earn what they get.

Photographer Barry Lindenmuth

4. One of your recent Tweets really got my attention: “Congrats to Arcade Fire. Maybe it’s not rigged after all!” Are you as cynical about the music industry as I am? What is your take on the current state of the industry?

Tom: I wouldn't say I'm cynical about the music industry... I think the parts of the industry that we care about are thriving right now. It is easier than ever for bands to get their music to a wide audience. What I more meant by that tweet was a cynicism about the Grammy awards specifically. The album of the year category has always been kind of a commercial award, given to the most financial viable nominee, and not necessarily the most creative, innovative or critically acclaimed one. It was just very refreshing.

Thomas: Yeah, though that wasn't my tweet, I still think it’s rigged – the industry at large I mean. There are tons of people doing great stuff and starting to get recognition, but still its hard not to see that it's a lot easier to pay a promotion company a couple thousand dollars to pimp you out to all the big blogs and college and Internet radio stations, than it is to just push yourself as much as you can. I mean we've had those conversations with people inside the industry and it's a bitter pill to swallow, but it kind of comes down to what road you'd rather take and what kind of stuff you're willing to put up with.

Charles: Who is Arcade Fire? Ha, just kidding... Like every other year, I didn't watch the Grammy Awards. I mean, good for them and all, but I couldn't care less. The real winners out there are the kids who are making music with their friends in garages and basements, and don't care about record sales or award shows, but rather just having fun creating something to share with anyone who is willing to listen to them.

5. I love vinyl, but this post-broadband revolutionized world is all about digital music, especially in the USA. Trust me, I am excited about getting “Fractals” on vinyl, but what is the rational?

Tom: Surprisingly, vinyl sells much more often than CDs at shows. CDs are dying out because they're just a digital format that takes up physical space... if you can get the exact same quality or better without having the physical product, wouldn't you just opt for downloading it? Independent labels have been doing a great thing for a few years; they give a free download with the vinyl copy of the release. Vinyl is made for people who want a physical copy, something they can't just download. You can be much more creative with a vinyl release than you can with a CD release... choosing the color of the vinyl, the quality of the vinyl and there is a lot more room for creative artwork. Also, Thomas and I are pretty big vinyl collectors ourselves.

Thomas: Yeah, I think the digital revolution brought vinyl back alive with a vengeance. With an iPod/iPhone what’s the point of a CD? But with vinyl and a digital download you get great bit art, something big and fun to have and cherish, and a digital file for all your 01001001 goodness. I mean for me there is something wonderful about the experience involved in vinyl. Having to get up, flip the record, listen straight though. I remember in college I worked at a little record store in West Philly and I bought a used copy of My Bloody Valentines “Loveless” that came in, and I went home and listened to it on vinyl for the first time and it was like a religious experience. Laying on my bed just zoned for the entire first half, and then at the perfect time getting up just as I was falling to the lull of the music, and switching the record to fall right back in from a rest point. It was amazing and I think it's a connection with music that a lot of people are still looking for. It’s something you can never get from an mp3 alone, and with vinyl + digital download you cover all bases.

Charles: I'm not a big vinyl collector, and I don't really buy CDs anymore either. In fact, I sold all my CDs a few years ago so I could make room for other junk. But to Tom's point, I think a lot of true music lovers out there either want the ease of digital media, or the tactile experience of owning and collecting vinyl. Or both! CDs feel like throwaway media more and more these days; I don't think any of my friends even buy CDs anymore. We all get our music digitally or on vinyl.

Keep up with Ports of Call at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and purchase “Like Thieves...” and “Fractals.” Also, head over to their Kickstarter page and help support the release of the “Fractals” EP on vinyl!

Here are the tracks “Fadophobia” and “Ballinora” from their Bandcamp page.

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