Like most of us, I’m always looking for bands that say, “Fuck the scene, I just want to make music that’s honest and good.” The Watery Graves of Portland transcend the hipster scene and in a trance-like state construct intimate soundscapes that overwhelm and make juice out of your brain. They have a new album/zine out and I think everyone would be better off with it in their lives.
I handed them a couple questions and they politely handed back some answers.
Who is in the band and what do they play?
Curtis Knapp, piano; Adrian Orange, drums; Hooker, 3/4 string bass
When a graveyard in a floodplain becomes too watery, the bodies of those who fell before us rise up. What is the story behind your band’s name?
C.K.: We think the music and instruments have a nautical feel. We used to pick our song titles randomly from a book of nautical terminology and rules of the rivers I had. The Watery Graves made sense. Watery, dreamy, improvisational, fluid, graves, darker, dead, post. Then we found out that there was this hardcore band in Seattle called the Watery Graves, so we added "of Portland" to the end of it. Hence, the Watery Graves of Portland.
I think you’re like exploring new sound-spaces in the tradition of older progressive and abstract jazz folks like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, yet your sound doesn’t have any hot-dogging going on. What are you trying to do with your music?
C.K.: You got it. To not be cheesy in a jazz setting. We are just doing what comes naturally when we sit down with those instruments together. And also trying to provide a nice sound in the room for other happenings, whether conversational, written, painted, eaten, looked, what have you. I would love to eventually find a sound that can be coined. Like those musicians did, or Erik Satie, or Scott Joplin.
H: I think we’re exploring a more hyper-modern approach, the hotdogging is more in the structure, the structure itself is one big Johnsonville Brat.
When you are playing with your eyes closed, what images come to mind (chess in the park, ice skating, colors, etc.)?
C.K.: I mostly see the audience with my eyes closed. I am trying to concentrate on the sounds we are making and have a picture of the listeners in my head. Sometimes, depending on the song, story-type images develop that help me to follow the sound, to try and give it character, like the person that I see in the story-type has."
H: My eyes are usually locked with one of my bros depending on who’s making the statement. Overall I see waves and sand. As far as what we are trying to do with the music: transcend space and time, mellow out and help others to do so, make a soundscape for perfect memories and daydreams.
Describe the best Watery Graves show yet – where, when, who.
C.K.: For me, it may have been one of our most recent. We played at the What the Heck Fest in Anacortes. The show, the music part of the show was fun although I was missing Davis so it wasn’t the best for that, but the show was awesome because of the activity and the audience. We brought this 44-foot triangular sail and laid it out on the floor of the Department of Safety and put down 30 or so brushes and two gallons of paint, one white and one blue. Everyone painted the sail while we played. In bare feet, they were sliding and painting on the sail. At first it had some individual marks and forms to it but by the end it was a sort of swirling oceanic mess. Our friend Maria Dixon painted the only part I could really recognize figuratively: a giant killer whale or shark curving downwards about three fourths the way up the sail, sort of pulling it all together. The next day we strung the sail up on the flag pole in front of the Department of Safety. It was so beautiful. It would have pulled the pole down, filled up with so much wind, had we left it there.
By handing out stamped envelopes and offering art supplies before your set starts you give the audience a chance to focus on the sound you’re making more than the image of three guys pumping music. Do you strive to connect hand-written letters, poetry and visual art with your music, or are you simply trying a somber yet fun gimmick that nobody’s tried yet?
C.K.: Not a gimmick, although some people receive it that way. Not an artsy thing either, although once someone left a letter they were writing that had a bunch of questions about what it was about and called it that. There’s a lot about it I like. It’s in keeping with the theme of past arts: letter writing, cabaret or chamber music, non-guitar based acoustic music, piano. Also I feel awkward at ‘shows’ a lot, both performing and as an audience member, unless the performer takes the authority to reach out and make folks comfortable. Some people don’t need that to ‘get into’ a show. But I like to acknowledge that we are all in the same room and that we are sharing space for an hour or so and with some strangers around, but can be comfortable, because the performer has sanctioned a private activity as being legit. In other words, it gives audience members the authority to be in a bar or living room or wherever and just sit there and work on paper and not have to feel weird about not talking to someone. Also it takes some of the attention away from us, which is good because I get nervous. I like the sounds to get underneath sometimes too, rather than the splayed out rock style, spectacle thing. And there are no lyrics, so we don’t have to ask everyone for their quiet to hear our words. Plus, who doesn’t need to write a letter. Everyone has someone that would love to get a letter from them. Giving something tangible right at the beginning of an event makes the room feel unified and serves as a nice reminder of what we are there for: to give.
Any favorite Northwest bands that you think the wee little kiddies might enjoy?
C.K.: Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Justin, to give what we sometimes call in this business ‘props.’ All the bands at these web sites are really great and one cannot go wrong purchasing any one of the albums available therein. I am totally serious about that. Check them out: marriagerecs.com, statesrightsrecords.com, audiodregs.com, onomato.org, pwelverumandsun.com, honeymoonmusic.com, jyrk.com, stopdroprecords.com.
H: There is this new band Nudity from Oly that I feel making some of the same choices as Watery, though it’s a lot more rock ‘n’ roll, each member is doing their part to throw in a new texture to the sound.
Tapes vs. big black record vs. compact disk vs. MP3: what’s the difference? What do you prefer?
C.K.: Wow. Here goes. Tape: good for old car, lasts for almost ever, good for old boombox and old walkman, when it unravels you can fix it, fun to copy. Big Black Record: lends authenticity to recording, makes recording seem more important, goes well with ‘limited edition,’ has a different manner of playing back and therefore of listening to, takes more care, melts, comes with bigger artwork, limited spectrum of sound makes us think of other great old records, good for collectors, good for old school DJ’s. CD: lightweight, industry standard, cheap to make, you can burn them, easier to put onto computer, plays in SUV, makes nice throwing star or mirror, easy to skip around fave tracks, makes nice hat. MP3: downloadable, fit millions onto pod, internet listenability, usually free, nice ‘wave of future’ vibe. Our first album was a tape release. Our next was a 12" vinyl that comes with a CD and is available on iTunes as MP3s. So we have covered the gamut. I use all forms. But if it were an all-out brawl, I’d have to give it up to the big vinyl.
H: I prefer vinyl and cassette for ‘humans vs. instrument’ music and CDs for ‘human vs. computers’ and MP3s for purposes other than ‘on the go’ or ‘archiving’ kinda blow.
If the Watery Graves were a tree (or trees) what kind would they be?
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