Apparently Craigslist is good for more than fetish-laden late night hookups. The classified ad site helped bring together Shane Blem and Saren Oliver, the Portland garage pop duo that in four short years has already churned out two stellar records and are very quickly winning over fans across the country thanks to infectious numbers that bring to mind everyone from Cheap Trick to The White Stripes.
Shortly after handing in their self-titled debut, Oliver (drummer) and Blem (guitar and vocals) headed into the studio with Steve Fisk, who has worked with folks like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees—you know, just some local Northwest garage bands. The result is ‘It’s Fine,’ another full length that manages to best their last album (no small task), thanks to a more focused, consistent sound.
Oliver was kind enough to speak about the new record ‘It’s Fine,’ the origins of the band’s name, and why they seldom make plans.
Innocent Words: Let’s start off with how you guys first met and when you decided to start the band?
Saren Oliver: We met on Craigslist in 2012. I had just moved to Portland from San Diego and left a band there, and I wanted to continue making music with people. I didn’t know anyone here, and the easiest way to find people to play with was through the Internet. Shane had also just left a band and had posted an ad seeking collaborators on a project he had started on his own. Originally, we were a three piece with me on keyboards and a drummer that we also met on Craigslist, but after about a year we decided to part ways. Shane and I were reluctant to stop playing together because we got along so well, but we were also reluctant to bring anyone else into the mix and start all over, so we moved forward as a duo.
Innocent Words: What’s the story behind the name of the band?
Saren Oliver: Since it was Shane’s project to be begin with, he was the one who named the band. He essentially wanted something unique that you could Google and find easily, so he messed around with columns of random words until a catchy combo came along that also made a good acronym. He had incorporated women’s names because of another concept that never came to fruition—originally he planned to incorporate graphic novel-type art about different women to correspond with songs and tell a story. But when we all started working together and got everyone’s hands in the mix it ended up just being a band with a random name that stuck.
Innocent Words: This is your second full length in just over a year. Did you go immediately from tour to the recording studio?
Saren Oliver: We practice and play together so much that to be honest, by the time the first record came out we already had half of the second one written. We had really started to come into our sound at that point. We were learning to write well together and falling into a style we enjoyed, so we were creating a lot. There are tons of songs we try that never get heard by an audience, but we were writing so prolifically that it just didn’t take a lot of time to put together another record we were proud of. We were so excited to get it out in the world and play the new songs at our shows that we just went for it and hit the studio as soon as they were ready.
Innocent Words: How did you end up working with Steve Fisk?
Saren Oliver: Some buddies of ours from another Portland band introduced us. They had worked with him and thought we would be a good fit, and we were of course very eager to get in the studio with him, given his incredible history and presence in Northwest music. It ended up being a really nice relationship and we work very well together—we trust him and honestly didn’t even really consider working with anyone else on the second record.
Innocent Words: You guys were still pretty new as a band when you started working on the last record. Do you think much changed with you guys style-wise or how you write and work together when you started pulling together songs for ‘It’s Fine’?
Saren Oliver: Totally. Our first record was more of an experiment for us. It’s definitely much more eclectic. We were and are very proud of it and were stoked on the positive response it received, but it was mostly a result of trial and error in songwriting together. Not to mention that I had only been playing drums for about five months on that record; we were definitely building the plane as it was flying. By the time we decided on the songs for ‘It’s Fine’ we had our feet much more firmly under us. We decided that we were going to focus much more heavily on a simplistic guitar-drums structure that we could easily recreate live. We also got away from synth hooks and went much more classic rock ‘n roll, partially because we learned that that is the style we most enjoyed playing live, but also that’s what we were listening to at the time. So we pulled from different influences. The songwriting process became more streamlined too, and we got much better at allowing songs to change if something wasn’t working.
Innocent Words: What’s next for you guys?
Saren Oliver: We don’t have a concrete plan in motion, on purpose, for ourselves. We are excited to see where this record takes us and we’re open to any opportunity, honestly, as long it’s the right one. We would love to pull off a tour but mainly we just want to grow our audience, whatever that looks like.
Saturday, April 2nd, SUNSET TAVERN, Seattle, WA
Kool Stuff Katie – CD Release Show Seattle – 9pm
Friday, April 15th, RIVER CITY SALOON, Hood River, OR
Kool Stuff Katie w/ Stubborn Son – 9pm
Saturday, April 30th, KELLY’S OLYMPIAN
Kool Stuff Katie – CD Release Show Portland