Portland-based Souvenir Driver is on fire. Self-styled as bliss pop, this collection of musicians is making waves in the city with a lineup of songs skirting the spheres of Brit-pop and shoegaze, with just a hint of post-punk sprinkled into the mix.
After a hectic round of live performances and production, Souvenir Driver is out with their newest LP, Living Water. This 10-track album follows their first full-length one, Lifts the Curse, released in 2012, and is available in vinyl, cd and digital formats. To celebrate the work, the band will perform at a release party at North Portland’s Mississippi Studio tomorrow at 8 p.m., along with fellow area bands, Tender Age and Bubble Cats.
In the spirit of previous work by the band, Living Water features an array of tracks, pop-infused and dreamlike, uplifting and sweetly dreary. Haunting guitar leads sparkle atop a backdrop of searing synthesizers and driving bass lines, creating an atmosphere evocative of bands such as Interpol, Explosions in the Sky, and the Lower Dens. Frontman Nate Wey’s reverb-washed vocals sometimes whisper into the compositions, distant and solemn, before rising to raw and emotive heights.
In addition to Wey, the band is made up of bassist Ethan Homan, drummer Bob Mild and keyboardist Travis Hendericks. Having formed in 2011, the band has seen a consistent evolution of their sound. Wey pointed to Souvenir Driver’s proactive cycle of writing and recording as a key factor in developing their style.
“You start getting more comfortable playing around each other, and you start to get a feel for what the other person’s going to play,” Wey said. “You might be jamming, and eventually you hear this sound, and you feel, ‘oh, that sounds like us.’ It’s like this muse that’s in font of us. We find it and approach it, and it moves further away, so we look for it again.”
Though Souvenir Driver maintains aspects of familiar genres in their overall sound, the band’s songs manage to capture something uniquely their own, through what Wey described as a willingness to write dangerously.” For Living Water, he pointed to a desire on the band’s part to explore a range of sounds and moods.
“We’ve always been interested in having our own kind of sound,” he said. “I mean, it’s pop or rock and roll, so it’s not like an experimental band. But we’re all really focused on pushing the ideas we explored earlier even further. We tried to encompass a lot of different moods in the album. There are some sugary songs, and some darker tunes also.”
Living Water could certainly be described as moody. “I Touch You Honey” has all the bubbling pop-punk bounce of a Ramones hit, with airy vocals lending to a quality more nostalgic than playful. “Jellyfish,” meanwhile, is a resonant dirge, its guitars droning and somber. “All the Patterns” uses a mix of watery guitars and crooning vocals to compose a stirring, soulful ballad.
The album was recorded and mastered by sound engineer Greg Williams at his home studio, The Trench. Wey noted that he was impressed with Williams’ intensity of approach to recording, as well as his innovation in setting up the recording space. Recording of the album took place in less than a week, with Williams invested in every song each step of the way.
“It’s really insane,” Wey said of The Trench. “He built it so that every room in the house has XLR inputs and outputs. You can record in any room you want to. He was really good at catching all the different moods we wanted. He was really proactive about every single song having different sets of microphones and instruments.”
For its part, Souvenir Driver practices a similar intensity in their process of writing, performing and production. Though the band has only been together for four years, they have maintained a consistent performance schedule, playing in venues across the city and in California. But they’ve never stopped writing. Wey considers that an important aspect of the band’s success.
“A big part of how we approach the band is never to rest,” he said. “We can’t just sit back once the album’s done. We always start right back up with writing the next one. With Souvenir Driver it’s awesome because nobody in the band is afraid to try new things. Everyone has a fresh approach to things, and it’s very safe to try something new or different. When we’re rehearsing, no one’s going to judge anyone in the band for busting out something new.”
Living Water provides another example of Souvenir Driver’s ingenuity as songwriters. With simple, soaring leads and a cool, groovy rhythm section, these musicians craft a sonic environment that is both blissfully distant and immersive. Their presence is emotive, but cerebral, invoking the dreamlike writing influence of Latin magical realism, offered by Wey as personal inspiration to his own writing.
Whether a fan of gritty rock tunes or reverb-laden shoegaze, any Portland indie follower is sure to find something special in Souvenir Driver.