The sound of Photosynthesis

A fixture of the Portland music scene for several years running, Plants have become known as the town’s premier source for haunting soundscapes and meticulous minimalism.

A fixture of the Portland music scene for several years running, Plants have become known as the town’s premier source for haunting soundscapes and meticulous minimalism. Their much-lauded creative output over the past couple years has seen them expanding into evermore ambitious territory with concept projects such as Photosynthesis and Four Seasons.

The latter project forced the band to operate under a rigorous creative schedule, putting out one album for each season. The former sees them exploring a more introspective path as they try to create a sonic approximation of the actual molecular process. Josh Blanchard, one half of the husband and wife duo who compose Plants’ permanent membership, recently shed some light on the band’s creative process, their move to a new label, and what happens when a psychedelic band decides to play krautrock.

Your songs are very sparse; they allow for ample space to breathe in their arrangements. Is this something you try to cultivate, or is it just kind of how your writing style develops naturally?I’ve always felt that silence can be just as effective, if not more so, than sound. You can make a passage or a melody so much more powerful if it’s contrasted by empty spaces. Even our more upbeat songs tend to have pretty languid, loose arrangements. We can’t help it!

You seem to draw a lot from nature in your songwriting. What do you think the relationship is between your creative process and your namesake?We’re big nature enthusiasts, not in the sense that we’re going on week-long mountaineering expeditions or anything, but we love to camp, hike and swim. So, many of our best musical epiphanies have happened during long strolls through Forest Park or soaking at Cougar Hot Springs. I used to think of myself as an urban kind of person, but the older I get, the more relaxing I find time outdoors and the more anxious the city makes me feel.

When writing your more ambient pieces, do you start from the feeling you want to evoke or an idea that interests you or something else altogether?Our creative process really differs, depending on what we’re going for. Sometimes, we create an incidental piece of music specifically as a segue between two more structured songs. In the case of Photosynthesis, our inspiration was a little more literal, trying to emulate what microscopic chemical reactions or a plant growing might sound like if you were able to shrink yourself down and perk up your ears.

How has the release of Photosynthesis through Strange Attractors label differed from the other experiences you’ve had working with labels?Hmm, they’ve got a really organized set up there, and everything really came together quickly. Sometimes when working with labels, you finish your album and then wait around a year for it to work through their release schedule, at which point, of course, you don’t relate to the music with the same urgency you once did.

Do you ever have trouble translating your music from your recordings to your stage performance?Definitely. In fact, most of the material we play live these days are more pop-oriented songs that we haven’t recorded yet. It’s a real challenge to try and present these dense ambient pieces we spent months fine-tuning in a live situation, so we rarely even try anymore.

Though I’m a big fan of both you guys and Nice Nice, I can’t really conceive of what you would sound like covering Kraftwerk. What can we expect from your Krautrock tribute show on the 12th?We are actually covering “Oh Yeah” by Can, which is one of my all-time favorite songs! I have no idea what to expect, as we’re not going to practice until the afternoon of the show, but those Nice Nice guys are unreal in their musical abilities, so I’m sure we can just ride their coattails!

Plants will play a Krautrock tribute show on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. at the Someday Lounge (125 N.W. Fifth Ave.) along with Nice Nice, Rollerball, Eternal Tapestry and others. Entry is free.