KEXP at MFNW, Day 1: Port O’Brien

photos by Kyle Johnson
interview by Jim Beckmann

KEXP is broadcasting live from the Doug Fir in Portland during Musicfest NW today through Saturday. We have three live bands each day, including The Helio Sequence, Bobby Bare Jr., Love As Laughter, and The Muslims. Check out the full lineup here. And if you’re in the Portland area, drop on by!

First up, is Oakland’s Port O’Brien, who combine old school with a touch of modernity. Upon its formation in 2005, the band consisted of Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin. While working aboard his father’s commercial salmon fishing boat near Alaska’s Kodiak Island, Van spent his free time creating half of the band’s debut, All We Could Do Was Sing. Meanwhile, Goodwin remained on shore, serving as Head Baker at a local cannery and dreaming up her half of the album. Once the fishing season came to a close, the two compared notes and with the help of engineers Aaron Prellwitz (Death Cab, Mountain Goats) and the Papercuts’ Jason Quever, the deed was done. All of this has led to a nautical-themed brand of folk rock rife with mature songwriting and benefiting from an enthusiastic rhythm section. Last year, M. Ward went so far as to call Port O’Brien his favorite new band of 2007.

Jim: Port O’Brien is out of California, but you do have a Northwest connection, right?

Van: My dad is a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska, and I go up there every summer to work on his boat.

Jim: Do you still go up there?

Van: This is actually the first time that I have not gone. Because we’re touring.

Jim: Cambria, the town you’re from in California bears the same name as you. I assume that’s not a coincidence.

Cambria: My mother visited there when she was a little girl. She ended up meeting my dad there. So there’s sentimental value.

Jim: Do you feel like you have an obligation to move back there at some point?

Cambria: We’ve been staying there on and off. Because we’re touring so much, there’s no sense paying rent somewhere when you’re there like a week out of each month, or less than that even.

Van: My parents have been in Alaska all summer so we go up there during the breaks off. It’s nice to be home in a quiet little town in a while.

Jim: Any dangerous fishing stories?

Van: There have been some dangerous times. When I was in junior high, I fell in between a seiners and a tender in a pretty rocky area in Anchorage, and I was hanging on a buoy line, with my feet in the water. That was probably the scariest moment because if I didn’t hang on to that line, then… you know.

Jim: But it’s not like the Deadliest Catch?

Van: No, it’s not that bad, just because it’s in the summertime and salmon run closer to the shore. Whereas crabs are way out.

Jim: You do write songs while you’re out there, right? So how does that work?

Cambria: I go up to Alaska and work in the cannery as a baker, and Van is on the boat. Sometimes I write on shore and he writes at sea, and when he comes in we collaborate.

Van: We come together to complete the songs. Whereas when we’re here, we can more directly collaborate.

Jim: And you recorded the album at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco.

Van: Right at Tiny Telephone and at Pan American, which is Jason Quever of Papercuts’ studio. We did the electric songs at Tiny and the more acoustic songs with Jason. We originally planned for the album to be half electric and half acoustic but then we decided to intermingle it all.

Jim: So what’s next?

Cambria: We’re touring and touring and touring. We’ll go to Europe for October and miss Halloween on a travel day. Sad.

Van: We could wear costumes on the plane, though.

Jim: I’d be careful. Nothing too bloody.

Van: Offensive costumes probably wouldn’t go over well on an overseas flight either. But you never know…

Cambria: Depending on our mood.

Van: When we get back, we’re supposed to do a West Coast tour, so we’ll be back to Seattle and Portland.

Jim: And what about Musicfest Northwest?

Van: We play tonight at Berbati’s Pan with Love As Laughter, Pseudosix, and Nada Surf.

Jim: Wow. That’s a great bill.

Van: Yeah, we were listening to Pseudosix on the way down. It is so good.

Jim: They played for us here at the Doug Fir last year and were great.

Cambria: I like them.

Van: And we love Love As Laughter and we’ve played with Nada Surf, so it’s going to be fun!

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