Ghost Cult was fortunate to chat with Sebastian Thomson of Baroness recently. Recognized as one of the greatest drummers in the word, the Brooklyn resident talked about the new album Gold & Grey (Abraxan Hymns), what success looks like for the band, the new writing dynamic in the band with guitarist Gina Gleason, insights into his other work with Publicist and even his old band Trans AM, drums and his drumming technique, and much more. The band kicks off their European tour, tonight, September 23rd with Volbeat, and Danko Jones. Continue reading
The Roadburn Festival, the world première event for all things heavy, diverse, avant-garde, and underground begins today in Tilburg, NL at various venues, under the watchful eye of founder Walter Hoeijmakers. John Dyer Baizley of Baroness curates this years’ fest and performs with his band as well. The fest is nearly a sellout with some limited tickets available for Sunday. Full details below. Continue reading
This year’s Roadburn Festival just gets better and better. The fest has now added twenty new bands such as Whores, Integrity, Cobalt, Bongnzilla, Disfear, Big Business, Trans AM and more. More details below: Continue reading
Ah, music festivals. Home of the raver-boots-and-bikini combo, the infinite porta-potty line, and the tiny speck of a band making murky gurgles on a distant stage. Why bother, right?
Portland Oregon’s Stumpfest, though, has a different reputation. It is said to be less of a festival and more of a gathering of friends and neighbors in the Pacific Northwest music scene (see Ghost Cult’s interview with Stumpfest founder and namesake, Rynne Stump, here for more on that). More importantly, it is held indoors at Mississippi Studios, a compact venue in North Portland known for its quality sound engineering—no murky gurgles here.
So with that rep in mind, I put my festival bias aside and journeyed to Mississippi Studios for the first of Stumpfest’s three nights. Though the fest as a whole was heavy on the heavy—hometown beer-metal heroes Red Fang headlined Friday night and Eugene doom gods Yob closed out the fest Saturday—Thursday’s line-up was an eclectic collection of the fest’s non-metal acts headlined by post-rock genre chameleons, Trans Am.
By the time I parked and acquired a golden pint of Portland’s finest export, opener Hot Victory had already occupied the stage with their unusual setup: dual drum kits arranged side-by-side with a shared hi-hat and a hexagonal drum trigger mounted high on a stand between them. A projection screen showing geometric animations and some hot-blue floor lights completed the setup and gave the stage a laser tag aesthetic. Hot Victory, indeed.
Garbed in black cut-off tees, the two members of Hot Victory, Caitlin Love and Ben Stoller, pounded out bombastic percussion-centric instrumental music that laced sci-fi synths and the occasional sample in with relentless tag-team drumming. If there is an alternate Tron-type universe built of neon and whirring things, Hot Victory would most certainly be worshipped there as Gods. In this universe, the early bird crowd was appreciative, bobbing their heads vigorously and banging them to the occasional blast beat.
Soon after Hot Victory’s intergalactic drum rig was cleared from the stage a mysterious figure emerged cloaked in a shimmering blue and gold robe and sporting face paint reminiscent of Aladdin Sane-era Bowie. Drab Majesty (Incan Abraham’s Andrew Clinco playing under the stage name of Deb Demure) had arrived from Los Angeles to pluck the darkwave arpeggios of sadness. Armed only with a cherry red strat—played left handed and upside down, Hendrix style—and a briefcase full of bass and drum backing tracks, Demure made an earnest go of summoning the spirit of Ian Curtis with gloomy atmospheric pop. But she seemed rattled by problems with the stage monitors and never quite lived up to the promise of her costume, ultimately losing much of the crowd despite the presence of some enthusiastic dancers in the front.
The crowd came back in force, though, for Life Coach, the collaboration between Trans Am guitarist Phil Manley and former Mars Volta/current Queens of the Stone Age drummer, Jon Theodore. The balcony was full. The floor was full. There was a full-screen projection of a mountain top sunrise behind them, and Life Coach laid into their krautrock inspired prog jams with an equal amount of inspirational vigor.
Jon Theodore (voted twenty-third greatest alternative drummer of all time in a made up list by Spin, for whatever that’s worth) is one of those drummers that, witnessed up close, can completely mesmerize you. He sweats; he sways and nods; he does that thing where you mouth the sounds as you make them, like Thelonius Monk at the keys. Theodore’s captivating skin work propelled Manley’s long EBow notes and vocal accents along easily, and their brief half hour set was over before you could you so much as say krautrock inspired prog jams.
Federation X then took the stage like the grizzled rock and roll veterans they are, joined by Hozoji Margullis of Helms Alee on bass. According to one crowd member, this was Margullis’ first time appearing with the group, but that was not apparent in their playing; her dirty, fuzzed-out bass sound blended well with Ben Wildenhaus’ and Bill Badgleys’ chugging SG attack. Drummer Beau Boyd’s unruly white mane and wild eyes give him an uncanny resemblance to Doc Brown from Back to the Future, and headded that extra dash of weird energy every band needs from the back row. Federation X played though several cuts off their 2013 album, We Do What We Must (Molasses Manifesto/Recess), including standout tracks ‘Maybe We’ll Die Young’ and ‘So Tired’, before calling it quits around midnight.
After some kind words by Rynne Stump, Trans Am began a raucous set of funky electro-rock that, encore included, would run until 1:30 am. Trans Am typically get lumped into the prog rock category, but with their lighthearted approach to genre and their goofy live presence they have more in common with Devo than they do the somber noodlings of Tortoise. Phil Manley sported a sleeveless orange prison jumpsuit for his second appearance of the night, and drummer Sebastian Thomson rocked a beefy chain. Lanky frontman Nathan Means sang into a vocoder for the entire set and led the band through a whiplash tour of styles that culminated in crossed axes in the middle of the stage at the end of the night.
For the first night at least, Stumpfest had lived up to its reputation as an anti-festival festival. The bands played like they meant it and stuck around to watch each other’s sets, and people responded to the proximity and quality of the music in ways you don’t see at outdoor mega-fests. Highly recommended for anyone that wants to check in on the Portland scene and hear music, not see a stage.
Wherever I go, people bemoan the lack of any kind of scene anymore. First of all, I question how long some of these complainers have been around a scene at all, or tried themselves to build anything personally. It is certainly harder than ever to bring together bands and fans and keep it together. So, when we find people who are waving the flag hard for rock and metal, we single them out for praise. One such person is Rynne Stump. She runs the annual Stumpfest in Portland, OR and has growing it slowly into a killer weekend of bands, art, and community. This years’ fest is next weekend, April 24-27 at Mississippi Studios. It boasts a killer lineup of bands like Red Fang, YOB, Trans Am, Black Cobra, Norska, Lord Dying, Drunk Dad and more in an 300-person venue. We chatted with founder Rynne to get the scoop on how Stumpfest came to be and why it thrives.
We jumped into the questions asking about the history of the fest, so named for its founder and former Portland resident:
“I used to live in Portland in the early 2000s, and I used to do small jobs at this club called The Black Bird, where I met with my dear friend Chantell. She put me to work doing random jobs doing posters, doing the door there. She moved to a new club and she asked me to be her assistant. So I started booking the shows, made posters, and eventually ran my own nights. I started booking small shows, my birthday show, I started booking my friends’ bands together. That is kind of where it started to me.”
“I moved to Los Angeles, about ten years ago. I found it really hard to see heavy bands that I wanted to see play, that I had grown so accustomed to seeing in Portland. So it was hard for me to find a place to see my bands play without a venue. It was hard to have a scene in Los Angles for heavy music and it still is. Its and interesting place to be, a lot of people want to “make it big” here. A lot of people want to see heavy shows, but to see them really see them, you have to go to Pomona. And of the bands that are playing Stumpfest, aside from Red Fang and Trans AM, those two are kind of a known market. But a lot of these bands have trouble bringing in crowds, and have a hard time trying to find places to play. A few years back YOB went out with Tool, and the last night of the show, I thought, “This is ridiculous! Why don’t I put on a show?” And talked about it to YOB and said, “Why don’t you do this with me?”, and they said yes. So I booked it at Mississippi Studios, and they were more than happy to have us. They were very accommodating. They have great sound, which is why we continue to have it there. Their hospitality is second to none. They really enjoyed having us in their building. That is kind of the framework for it.”
“As the years have gone by, it has evolved into something that I didn’t have planned, and that is the magic comes from. The things that are happening at these shows that is super inspirational. Bonds are created, friendships are made, and I can’t take any of the credit for that. Bringing awesome people together, these like-minded quality human beings together under one roof. And it evolved into this larger thing, let’s put it that way. It’s great! I don’t know what happened that way. This year, I had no idea. I cast the net wide, and everyone said yes! (laughs) and I thought okaaaaaaaay. I thought maybe we’ll go back to one night, and we’ll party down. But it grew into this whole thing. All of the sudden, there were so many bands, I had to turn some down. So who knows what’s going to happen next year? I have no idea! (laughs)”
Looking at this awesome lineup of stoner rock, doom, other underground bands, this is what attracted our attention in the first place. We asked Rynne how she chooses the bands.
“I choose basically who I love. Usually, who I love to work with. I worked with Trans AM. I’ve worked with them before, that’s when I met them. Well over the years they have become dear friends of mine. Pretty much everyone of these bands on the bill have stayed at my home and have been my dear friends! (laughs) That was kind of the main idea and theme for me, was to have a show, where I could see all of my friends, so I could see them all at one time. I wanted to come up to Portland, get everybody together to have this, big party. That was the main theme. It has become the whole other thing, and I’m so stoked about it. I’m still kind of amazed at how it’s growing, and the interest that is brings. It’s kind of mind-blowing! The sky’s the limit, I suppose, at this point.”
Mississippi Studios is an intimate place holding about 300 and all of the the three-day passes are already sold out. We asked about the growth of the fest and what the future might hold:
“I wish that we could Livestream it or something like. How cool would that be, if we could actually get that set up sometime in the future. And that would bring a whole other cool element to the festival. Maybe next year. I want it to be reasonably priced. I know that bands are getting bigger. The lineup I want for next year, the one that is my wish for… I might have to raise the prices a little bit, but I hope not. I just don’t know. Every year is a new experience and I just kind of let it unfold as it happens.”
“I realized that bands are getting busy and everyone needs to be paid. Each year is an experience and Mississippi (Studios)…. I love. And I want to keep things intimate. That is one of the main elements of why I think that is why the festival is what it is, and why it is so connecting and fun. Since you are not drowning in a sea of people you can see all the musicians. I want you to feel by buying your ticket, what you have done by buying your ticket. I want people to be feeling what they have done, to maker this happen. It brought this cool vibe. I feel like spectators are able to feel a connection and be an integral part of it. That is what a community is. A community is everybody working together to create something amazing. Whether that be the survival of that said community. Not that Portland needs to survive. But why shouldn’t we do that? But in the hunter- gatherer perspective, why shouldn’t we do that? I want to bring that back into the scene.”
“I’m not into competition. I don’t claim to be an expert about music. I’m a music enthusiast. I love all forms of music! There’s hundreds of amazing bands that I’m sure I don’t know about. I don’t want to pretend I am a master at anything. I am a student, if anything. I love music! I play music. I sang bluegrass when I was a child. I love jazz fusion. I love country music. I write country music. Getting back to the point of community, everybody who plays Stumpfest just brings their “A” game. That feeling translates to everyone, incredibly. The show comes and it just elevates, and elevates and elevates. Everyone just gets super high, naturally off the energy. And that’s not me, that is the magic of it. I am lucky to be a part of this. I just curate it. I am able to curate something much larger than what I imagined. The artwork comes from one of my dear friends Gabriel Schaffer. Another friend of mine, Andrew Brando, who is a friend of mine from LA, helped contribute. Everyone Contributes. It’s not that I am shelling out money, getting everybody’s best work. We all come together because we are a family. Sure, I pay everyone and everyone seems to be satisfied at the end of the night. But some people are like “who cares?” Everyone is just having some beers and having some fun, hanging out, playing some music. It’s a celebration! (laughs)”
“I just want to connect the dots and get everyone working together. The artwork just keeps getting better and Gabriel is getting really excited. It’s so exciting. I’ve got Eric Roper working on a limited edition poster for this now. When in my wildest dreams could I get Eric Roper to work on this. He’s like a Roger Dean. It’s just incredible. It’s just incredible. I’m flattered by what’s happened, that people want to work with me, and want to do this, and want to be a part of it. It’s everybody’s. It’s not just mine. It’s for everybody.”
Contrary to popular belief, Portland didn’t show up on the cultural map yesterday, with a funny TV show lampooning its denizens. Portland has always been a big rock and metal town, as has the entire northwestern USA. Rynne gave us her take on why this town breeds cool bands, and high-minded folks who care about art:
“Well, let’s see… I mean the first time I ever went to Portland, I felt it. Perhaps it’s just a vibe there. Perhaps it’s the 45th Parallel. It’s a vibration. It was thriving well before I got there in 2001. It had already gone through, I mean in the 80s there was a huge jazz fusion boom with Jeff Lorber. Whether you like Jeff Lorber, and Jazz fusion or not, there has always been something about it. Whether it’s the water, the parallel, or I don’t know what. There is just a vibration. When you have a culture, a creative culture in a small area already there, and people want to moving there with like minds, you are creating a microcosm of this world of art. I have no idea why, but it just breeds there!”