Portland’s Point Juncture, WA.
Portland’s Point Juncture, WA. is a bit of anomaly. Their band is named after a made-up town in a state in which they do not reside. Their new album, Mama Auto Boss plays with a Transformers in-joke in the title and sounds like the closest the Portland scene will ever come to Yo La Tengo’s classic, Painful. But even more bizarre is the fact that this five-piece actually works democratically, hashing out ideas back and forth and switching off instruments like the kids of Maniac Mansion would switch off investigation. We followed the process of writing, recording and printing the biggest pop song on the album "Happy Ending," in an attempt to see inside one of Portland’s best.
The song begins in the mind of Amanda Spring, whose role in the band is most often drumming while singing. She envisions the familiar ding-dong-ding-dong ring of a grandmother’s doorbell as the melody of a song. She hums the tune for days while riding her bike to and from her work.
Spring shows the idea to Paul Nash, guitarist and vocalist, who begins riffing on the melody. Simultaneously he remembers that a friend of the band has always wanted Point Juncture to be called "Happy Ending" or "The Happy Endings" but the name was killed due to the various innuendos that arise from such a moniker. "Come to Berbati’s on Friday for a Happy Ending." But if the band can’t be named Happy Ending perhaps a song could. When asked if the same sexual overtones apply to the song, Nash laughs it off. "Sure."
Spring and Nash live with bassist and baritone guitar guru Jessie Studenberg. Studenberg starts to envision the throbbing bass line of the tune as he toys with a new baritone guitar that the band purchased for Studenberg’s birthday. The guitar, tuned an octave lower than most, can sound like either an electric guitar or an electric bass. The instrument fits Studenberg’s style perfectly. "That’s all Jessie," Nash said of a particularly beautiful guitar line introducing the band’s "Dishwasher’s Lullaby."
Wilson Vediner, the noisy guitarman who grew up with Nash and Spring in Ashland, sees in the new tune a tightly-drawn pop-song – his specialty. "I’d like to think that’s what I bring to the band," Vediner said. "When the band started off it was just Paul and Amanda and they were doing these really beautiful, long songs that would go on for seven minutes or more." "But I wondered what if we could condense down all that texture so the song is only long enough for it to say what it needs to say."
Once the song enters some semblance of order the band started to approach recording it with their newest member, Skyler Norwood. Norwood, now roommate to Vediner, is an engineer at Miracle Lake Studios in the day and ran the boards with Spring for most of the recording sessions that led to the album. Norwood has a dedication to details. The way that Spring’s voice trails off near the end of the first verse of "Happy Ending" is for him a crowning achievement, "I remember we spent a lot of time thinking about that part." "It’s the little things like that that really set the record off."
With lyrics by Nash, vocals by Spring and a host of musical ideas from each band member, they start doing what makes PJWA (WA is pronounced "wah" in abbreviation) unique. The members start swapping instruments and shuffling ideas around. "Paul played drums a lot," Nash said, "and there was one part towards the end where he’d just go insane and it was great, the beginning wasn’t gelling but the end was awesome."
After the takes are recorded and the mixes are decided, Studenberg and Vediner (who obsessively listens to the band’s tracks on his 30 gig iPod) started working on the sequence of the album, the order of the tracks on the CD.
Meanwhile, Nash and Spring started working on the design of the cover, spraying layers of household paint through acrylic stencils. Each of the 1,000 first run is individually numbered and stenciled with the techniques that Nash and Spring teach in a class at the Independent Publishing Resource Center.
The band reconvenes after a year on and off in the studio in the kitchen of Nash, Studenberg and Spring to fold the cases and prepare for their CD release party. Each a little harried but excited about their work. "We’ve been a live band for so long," Vediner said. "But I like the idea of us being seen as a live band and a recording band."