On The Road With Port O’Brien – Interview

By Dan Evon

I had been listening to Port O’brien for an entire week. I had gotten their album, All We Could do Was Sing, the previous year and was enamored with the eclectic mix of acoustic guitars, ancient rhythms, and choir like singing that reminded me of the Polyphonic Spree. Every track was a celebration, a group of friends who had the best time creating music. I could see them singing, dancing, playing, drinking.

Their latest album, Threadbare, has a more somber feeling to it. It is still a celebration, but in a calmer, more adult light. The songs are more lyrically focused, more mature, more structured. I listened to the album and heard an entirely new band.

When I called Van I was promptly told to hold and wait until my party was reached, and then, Usher. Well, to be fair, it was R. Kelly featuring Usher.

Van – Hello?

CMP – Yes, Van. Is that your ring tone?

He laughed to himself and rolled up the window. They were on tour along the east coast. Driving together as a band, as a family, on the road to their next gig.

CMP – So where are you guys now?

Van – We are, where are we right now? Just outside Philadelphia. We played Philadelphia last night. Yeah we stayed a little bit out of town, we stayed at Bob Evans.

I was caught off guard again. First by the R&B, and now by the Chain restaurant that, apparently offers hospitality to bands on the road.

CMP – wait, the restaurant?

Van – yeah, it was, it was interesting but, yea, it was good.

CMP – You guys are on tour right now promoting your new album, which is a little bit slower then your last one. Is it being received well?

Van – Yeah definitely, most of the songs we’re playing are off the new record, and well, it’s a supporting tour for Sea Wolf. So most of the people we’re playing for have never heard of us. Which actually makes it a good opportunity to roll out new songs.

CMP – Yeah Sea wolf is another one of my favorite artists. How did you guys end up hooking up with him?

Van – He’s kind of a friend of a friend actually, and we’ve been talking about doing a tour for a while, a couple of years now, and it just never happened. You know, we were either going to Europe, or he was doing something, and whatever, but its been in the works for a while now.

CMP – You guys head to Europe again in a couple of weeks.

Van – Yeah, for like the 6th time in two years or something like that.

CMP – You guys have a following over in Europe?

Van – Yeah, definitely. More so then hear actually.

CMP – You guys have a new album out. And there is definitely a different feel to it then your last album. Is this attributed to recording with Jason Quever in his living room studio.

Van – Yeah, he actually recorded parts of our last album too, and he’s a good friend, and a great engineer. a really great producer.

CMP – He gets a very intimate sound.

Van – Yeah, we started recording in a really big space, but it just wasn’t working. So we went back to his place. And it’s a full on recording studio, its just at his house. So it’s a lot more intimate, and personal then other studios.

CMP – How did you guys form a band? I did some research and it almost seems like this all happened on accident. You guys were just playing music together, and people wanted to hear more and more of you.

Van – Yeah, that’s pretty accurate, I mean it started I don’t know, maybe three or four years ago, and Cambria and I were writing songs together and recording. We would play little shows, like impromptu shows, stuff like that. We weren’t really trying to climb the ladder, or anything like that. But we started getting more and more opportunities. So yeah, it formed really naturally.

CMP – When was the last time you were in Alaska?

Van – It’s been a couple years now. Cambria went up this summer.

CMP – Is there any desire to get back?

Van – Yeah I just haven’t been able too. Touring and everything, it’s just hard to take time off. Hold on one sec. I’m coming up to a toll here.

He puts the phone down and I can hear him ruffling around in the car. There are voices in the background. They are really on tour. Squeezing in interviews, constantly working.

CMP – Your driving right now?

Van – Yeah, always driving.

CMP – Is the whole band in the van right now?

Van – Yeah, the whole band and our sound guy Jake. All bundled up here, heading down to, we play tonight in Baltimore, Maryland.

CMP – Your last album was influenced a lot from the Alaskan life, fishing, things like that. Is this life of touring changing your songwriting at all.

Van – In a way I guess, I mean the subject matter and the lyrics are different. It’s not about fishing or Alaska or any of that shit. But we’re not writing about touring either. It’s hard to pinpoint it.

CMP – Do you guys start with lyrics, or how do you go about your writing process.

Van – It changes, I guess you usually start with the melody. I guess the only time you really start with the lyrics is if you had like one good line.

Van has the strange habit of using “you” instead of “I“. He talks collectively, as the group and for the group. But with a selflessness that is apparent through his music.

CMP – Where did you guys get the name Port O’Brien

Van – Port O’brien is a place up in Alaska. My parents met there, in 1969. My dad, came up from La, to work on a boat, and my mom, came up with her friends,

CMP – Did you grow up there, or in California. Or kind of moving back between the two.

Van – I grew up in Cambria, in California. But we’d go up, like four months a year, so I guess in a way both were home in a way.

CMP – Okay. I saw on your Myspace a bunch of music videos. Who’s making those videos? It seems like you guys are having a pretty good time.

Van -Two of them were made by our friend Joey Izzo, from San Francisco. And the other two were done by some friends in LA.

CMP – They have almost like a Stephen Gondry feel to them. Do you have any other creative outlets, besides music?

Van – No, not really. I’ve never really been good at anything else. Cambria has baking, which is her main passion. I really like baseball, the Dodgers. I guess, that that would be my other outlet.

CMP – So what do you guys have planned next?

Van – Well we got about three weeks left of this tour. Then we go to Europe for like four weeks. Then we’ll take a break for the Holidays. We’ll be back on the road in early Spring in the states, Then probably another Europe tour.

Life on the road is endless. Van and Port O’brien have moved on from the harsh weather, and endless summers of the Alaskan wilderness, but have found a new life, and a new voice on the open road. Port O’brien’s latest album Threadbare, opens up a new chapter for this very impressive band.


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