Local Artist Spotlight: Genders

photo by Alex Crick

Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week, we’re featuring Portland indie rock outfit Genders, who play West Seattle Summer Fest this Saturday night.

Portland’s Genders have been around since 2012, but it feels like they’ve already lived a few different musical lives as a band. From their jangly self-titled debut EP to their fuzzed out Get Lost LP and last year’s dreamy Phone Home EP,  they’ve cemented themselves as an act that embraces change. Whatever effects and approaches they take, what really makes Genders such an awe-inspiring act is how they translate their internal struggles into songs. The same tumultuous experiences they felt on Get Lost come up on Phone Home, albeit with a sense of perseverance over existential dread. We caught up with Genders’ guitarists and vocalists Maggie Morris and Steph Leisy about the band’s ever changing sound, working with local indie rock legends, and their experiences with the Pacific Northwest scene.

The songs on your latest EP, Phone Home, feel much more spacious and dreamy than your previous material. What led to change in musical direction?

Maggie Morris: I think having two additional years of playing together and touring together just will naturally evolve your sound. I think we were just growing up and figuring out what we wanted to do.

Steph Leisy: Also, with our first record, Get Lost we just collected every song we’d written since we started the band. On ‘Phone Home’ we were a little pickier maybe.

You’ve described your debut LP, Get Lost, as being about the turbulent times that come with being in your late 20s. What mindset were you in when you were writing and recording Phone Home?

Morris: I think what we were saying there was the instability of being at that age and dealing with a lot of changes. Stephen and I dealt with the deaths of some really important people in our lives, I know that formed a lot of the songs on the EP.

Leisy: It definitely did. It was a rough year that, for me, illuminated the finite number of days we are given in life and pushed me to focus and reevaluate what’s important. I think writing Phone Home helped me stay optimistic and grow instead of just lurking in existential dread. How’s that for drama?

You worked with a couple local legends on Phone Home – tracking with Jackpot! owner Larry Crane and had the record mixed by your former touring mates the Helio Sequence. What was it like working with them and what do you think they added to the record?

Morris: We love Helio Sequence and had so much fun touring with them. They really transformed the record and are so kind and fun to work with (even if Benji thinks he isn’t). We are working with them on our next full-length and I think I can speak for us all when I say that we trust them completely. They have built a beautiful studio, have a laid-back approach, fun creative ideas, and wonderful ears. I think they are our recording soulmates.

Leisy: Phone Home was our first real studio experience. So I’d say the Jackpot/Helio Sequence combo was a perfect introduction. The Helio guys really opened the record up and made the songs sound the way we’d hoped they could. Love those guys.

You’ve been a band since 2012 and, as I understand, were all in groups prior. Throughout your time playing music, how have you seen the Pacific Northwest music scene change? What’s the arts and music scene like these days in Portland?

Morris: It definitely feels like the scene is bigger and more inclusive… I feel like back in 2007/8 there was a big electronic/dance music scene happening that kind of over shadowed a lot of everything else that was happening, and now it just feels like a free-for-all of creativity. It is a kind and supportive community here.

Steph: its thriving. Everyone’s in a band. Or they’re in three bands maybe. And like Maggie said it feels super inclusive and supportive. The scene has your back!

I read that you’ve got a new full-length LP in the works! Could you give a few hints at what we might expect from it? Any dramatic changes or new influences you’re bringing in since Phone Home?

Morris: We are about 2/3 done with our new LP and we are really excited to get it out in the world. It’s louder, faster… it’s actually pretty different. Helio Sequence said, “Whoa…did you know you were going to record this type of album?” After our Treefort performance, Doug Martsch said “well, if it isn’t Rock-n-Roll Genders.” There are definitely a lot of the pop elements still there, but generally I think people are going to be surprised.

Leisy: I definitely agree that it’ll take any folks who have been following our tunes by surprise. Fingers crossed that it’s a good surprise.

For those who’ve never seen you perform, what can they expect from your set at West Seattle Summer Fest?

Maggie: Four sweaty people playing loud rock music! Oh, and our dear friend Jenny Logan (from Summer Cannibals/Deathlist/Sunbathe) will be joining us on bass since our regular bass-man, Mike Wroblewski couldn’t make it. She slays.

Leisy: That sounds perfect. Come for the rock, stay for the sweat and awkward-yet-hopefully charming banter.



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