(Not yet) big in Japan

For the ragged musicians of Portland’s Southern Belle, Tokyo is not just a destination–it’s a consummate manifestation of the group’s giddy ambitions.

For the ragged musicians of Portland’s Southern Belle, Tokyo is not just a destination–it’s a consummate manifestation of the group’s giddy ambitions.

“We really want to go to Tokyo,” said Southern Belle keyboardist Austin Saylor-Jackson. “It’s the Promised Land. We’ve hardly left Portland; I mean what’s the biggest city we’ve seen, San Francisco? If you were to get Southern Belle, this group of teenagers, and just drop us off in downtown Tokyo, I’m sure we’d defecate ourselves and have a blast.”

Presently, Southern Belle are still contenting themselves with a receptive hometown audience. But the momentum they have managed to stir up with their performances may well land them overseas as they turn “having a blast” into a globe-spanning mantra.

Less than a year into their existence, Southern Belle are nearing the apex of a local scene that has eagerly embraced their jittery guitar warbles. And with a debut album close on the way, it seems that this young group of ruffians is resolute in their commitment to move things forward.

Southern Belle’s two core members, guitarist Ross McLeran and keyboardist Austin Saylor-Jackson, first began their collaboration a year ago with a group of songs that have come to full realization with the band’s current lineup.

“The band started with just Ross, the guitar player, and I,” Saylor-Jackson said. “I play keyboards, and the two of us played music together for six months before we got Nicole [Perry] to play bass and then Max [Lilien] to play drums, but that wasn’t until this past November or December that we had a full band.”

Though the process was not without its hiccups, Southern Belle managed to pull together a cohesive group in time to begin recording their debut album at Portland’s Klickitat Band Camp studios this past January. With a little assistance from drummer and chief Starfucker Josh Hodges, the band was able to set the groundwork for Hurry Up and Thrill Me, their upcoming debut album.

“Before it became the four of us, when it was just Ross and I,” Saylor-Jackson said, “we already had time booked at the studio, and it came down to the deadline and we didn’t have a drummer. So about that time, we played with Starfucker at the Modern Age, and we were like, ‘Hey, Josh, we’re going into the studio in a couple weeks. Can we get you to drum on like six songs?’ So for a couple weeks we played in the Starfucker practice space and got those drum parts down and then went into the studio and recorded those six songs…. It was really cool working with Josh.”

Such collaboration has benefited Southern Belle in their infancy and is in no small part responsible for the maturity represented in their sound, despite the band’s brief history. In addition to Hodges, Southern Belle have been able to work with producer and Klickitat Band Camp owner Shay Scott, whose extensive recording background has helped the group develop a new level of professionalism.

“When we get into the studio, it’s just the four of us and Shay [Scott],” Saylor-Jackson said. “That’s where we really find our songs is at the studio. Out of all the things we have going for us I think this is the most exciting.”

Saylor-Jackson has good reason to be excited. As tracks from Southern Belle’s forthcoming debut trickle out onto the Internet, both through the band’s MySpace page and Klickitat’s Web site, they are being met with recognition befitting their surprising quality.

Stuttering with a mess of jagged keys and guitars, Southern Belle’s latest batch of songs has proven them capable of achieving an all-too-rare juxtaposition of honest grit placed on inescapable melody with hooks sharp enough to attract attention and rusty enough to stick with you well after the song has finished.

Though these rough pop confections have already started attracting accolades, not the least of which is a berth on this year’s PDX Pop Now! compilation, Southern Belle are currently planning on releasing Hurry Up and Thrill Me without the help of a label.

“When we release that album, hopefully offers will come our way,” Saylor-Jackson said. “I mean we’ve planted this seed and been watering it, and it’s finally coming out [this] summer, and we’re about to start reaping the benefits from that, so hopefully something will happen soon on that.”