photos by Kyle Johnson
From our second performance at the Doug Fir during Musicfest NW: Nick Jaina and six other outstanding musicians make up the Nick Jaina Band.
review by Chris Estey
Nick Jaina reissued a 2006 album on the beautifully boutique label Hush last spring that has been in steady rotation in my life ever since. Though he says he hates writing, The 7 Stations is a successfully ambitious acoustic-meets-ambient musical diary that contains some elementally wonderful art-folk songs that are as breathlessly catchy as they are extremely well-played. It features many great Portland musicians on it, whom Jaina has befriended since coming out to the romantic city since 2001. As the Seattle Weekly describes his sound, “The blend of clarinets, accordion, violin, keyboards, random percussion, and guitar sounds like the anthems made for the most glorious hobo nation on earth.” (I couldn’t really write that any better, thanks, SW.) I don’t remember the Binary Dolls too much, Jaina’s first band, but since then he has played out with a legion of also-brilliant songwriters and performers. Rumored to be composed on Elliott Smith’s old piano, the small, alarming masterpieces like “Maybe Cocaine” devastate audiences live.
interview by Jim Beckmann
Jim: How long have you been living in Portland?
Nick: I’ve been living here for seven years. I’m originally from Sacramento, CA, and spent some time in New Orleans.
Jim: What did you do in New Orleans. I read something about a job you had.
Nick: I worked in a restaurant as a busser, but I also painted faces during Mardi Gras. I went out on the street and painted faces on people.
Jim: Did you perform at all when you were there?
Nick: Not really. I listened to music, but I was a little intimidated by the institution of New Orleans jazz. It felt like it was hard as a 20-year old white kid to go in and do something that anyone would care about, so I kind of just sat on my hands and listened. I didn’t think that it really influenced my music, but in retrospect I guess it has to some degree.
Jim: I think a lot! But how about the Portland scene. How does that compare? You seem to play with a lot of musicians in town.
Nick: I wouldn’t say one is better or worse, but here it’s more current. Music as an art form is still being created. It’s not beholden to the past sounds of decades ago. There has been music developed in Portland in past decades, but what’s happening now is really new and people are really excited about it, and people are coming here from all over the country to form bands here and play music. Here you’re free to invent things and be creative. It’s a very different and open thing. Everybody shares band members and everybody shares shows and collaborates on other people’s albums.
Jim: That’s apparent just looking at the bands you list on MySpace, like Loch Lomond and Laura Gibson. So how did you get the band members for this group? Does it change?
Nick: It does change a little bit, but it’s getting more and more solid. The reason why the band is just called my name is because it started with me and it’s revolving. People have wanted to join, and they join, and they stick around as much as they want. And if they can’t make a show, they can’t make a show. It’s sort of a low pressure band in that way. They don’t have to sign a commitment or anything.
Jim: You do the majority of the songwriting, right?
Nick: The songs are all mine. Ideally, they’re songs I could play on my own if it comes to that. But it’s always more fun to play with people, with as many people as possible.
Jim: You do play alone sometimes, don’t you?
Nick: Occasionally. I went to Finland last year and played alone and went to Alaska and played alone. Just for economic or situational reasons. Less and less now. We’re going out on an around the country tour in a week and it’s going to be fun.
Jim: And you have two albums out this year?
Nick: Wool came out in the spring, and A Narrow Way comes out next month. So yeah, that’s two.
Jim: How did you come up with that many songs. Were there like two batches of songs that you thought would make different albums?
Nick: Wool was very much mellow solo piano lullabies that were created away from the rest of the band, in a separate space. The new album is very much the band songs that we’ve been playing for a couple of years on the road and honing those. Wool is almost a side project and more solo than this. The new album is very much what we sound like live and the new songs are the ones we’ve been playing and are used to. It’s more of a document of our live show.
Jim: What are you doing for Musicfest NW? When are you playing?
Nick: Tomorrow night at Berbati’s.