Port O’Brien have just released their new album Threadbare.
The indie-folk band started modestly as the bedroom project of Canadian fisherman Van Pierszalowski and his girlfriend Cambria Goodwin. Swelling organically, Port O’Brien netted a rhythm section, before crashing to shore with the acclaimed debut album All We Could Do Was Sing.
If you’re not familiar with Port O’Brien the band, you’ll know their music. Their infectious feel good hit I Woke Up Today has received high rotation in Australia, even being featured on the Dulux Commercial.
Here is the new video for their first single off Threadbare, My Will Is Good.
Pedestrian chatted with Van recently about all things Port O’Brien; touring Australia, fishing, the new album andâ€¦gangster rap?
PEDESTRIAN: Your new album Threadbare is set for release in Australia in Octoberâ€¦can you tell us a bit about the new record and what we can expect?
Van: It’s a lot different than All We Could Do Was Sing; it’s more ofâ€¦one piece if you like. It’s an album with a more cohesive story. The arrangements are a lot different, plus Cambria sings a lot more and there are lots of different instruments.
P: What are some of the new instruments?
V: Well Jason Quever, who is in the band Papercuts, produced a lot of the songs and played all kinds of things on it like melatron, organs, piano, cello and a lot of different types of guitar.
P: You split up the recording of the album between Jason’s living room studio in San Francisco and a full recording studio in L.Aâ€¦what was the motivation behind that?
V: We worked with Jason for I think about 23 days in a row, on this massive stretch of all day work and throughout that time we were also finishing up writing four songs and we knew we wanted to record three of them. And then it just happened kind ofâ€¦we thought those songs might benefit from a bigger sound, a bigger studio and also, Jason was leaving for tour.
P: So did Jason have an influence on the cohesiveness of the album?
V: Yeah Jason’s role in that was huge. He totally gave us the creative sparkâ€¦the creative vision we needed.
P: What does the title of the album mean to youâ€¦and is that a thematic anchoring point for the record?
V: Yeah definitely. The theme is in reference to Cambria’s life, which was kind of barley hanging on by a thread. You know, feeling really volatileâ€¦feeling really fragile.
P: With the last album’s title being All We Could Do Was Sing, which was, I suppose, a reflection of the boredom stemming from the isolation at seaâ€¦would you say now, that singing was a way out of tragedy, something that gave you hope?
V: Yeah definitely, especially for Cambria. Loosing your brother is an amazing weight of feeling. It was a way of healing, and copingâ€¦having some project to work on, to express what you’re going through. It was an amazing tool.
P: How is the band feeling now with the album recorded?
V: Oh good! We have two new members in the band who have been playing with us. Everyone is getting along well and enjoying the new songs.
P: You spent 15 summers working with your dad as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. Are you still doing that or has the band become full-time?
V: He’s still up there fishing right now actually, but yeah I haven’t gone up this summer or the lastâ€¦I’ve skipped two summers. Cambria went up for the last of this summer to work in the bakeryâ€¦
P: Summer has just passed right?
V: Yeah it’s just sort of ending.
P: Is there still a lyrical or musical connection to that sea faring lifestyle?
V: No not really…a little bit on the new album, but in general I’d say I wanted to move away from that and get a fresh perspective on stuff. I didn’t want to become known for thatâ€¦
P: At least it has prepared you for life on tour – with early starts, sleepless night and I guess foul odors?
V: (laughs) Yeah definitely. All of those things are exactly right! It really did help with that. There are a lot of similarities. Everyone in the band did a really good job with it all, but it’s very familiar for me.
P: What was it like touring with bands like Modest Mouse, Nada Surf and Bright Eyes?
V: It was cool. All the bands were different; they were all a completely different experience. And that for me really decides whether the tour is going to be fun or not. Touring with Modest Mouse was amazing. Cambria and I had been fans of their band for years. It was a little bit different with Nada Surf and Bright Eyes because I’d never really listened to those bands before we played with them, so you just kind of get to know them without the preface of knowing their music.
P: So being fans, did you approach Modest Mouse? Or did they approach you to tour with them in Europeâ€¦
V: Yeah they approached us, which was an honour.
P: I noticed on your tour videos that you spent a lot of time eatingâ€¦did the other bands share the same penchant for food?
V: (laughs) We have a notorious reputation among the touring bands as a band that eats a lot. We tend to pack on a few pounds while on tour, but its kind of our way of coping. We don’t do drugs really besides drinking.
P: I read that Oakland along with Long Beach are the most ethnically diverse cities in the Statesâ€¦you must have been introduced to a lot of good food?
V: I lived in Oakland with Cambria for a very long time. I mean all California is diverse, everywhere in L.A is. All of America is diverse, but especially along the coast. But yeah, the Mexican food is amazing (laughs). I personally think we have the best Mexican food in the world.
P: Although there would be competition between fishermen, I’d imagine you would form a community that looks out for each other at seaâ€¦is that true? And have you found the same kind of support in the music industry?
V: Yeah my dad fishes with a couple of the same boats everyday usually. You have to be friends with all the tenders and build partnerships. And at the time they kind of seem genuine, like you’re really friends or something, but really your just helping each other out in a business sense. A lot of the time I feel that’s what it’s like in music; It feels natural, like you’re all hanging out and being friends, but behind it all it’s this weird way of working together to help each other.
P: You signed recently with TBD records home to Radiohead, White Rabbit and Other Livesâ€¦how did that come about?
V: When we finished the record we already had labels in Australia, Europe and Japanâ€¦we believed we could do things ourselves in the states. But with the new record we wanted to pass it on and sign to a label here. We sent it out to a bunch of labels and got a bunch of offers, but ended up really liking all the people at TBD.
P: Are there any collaborations in the works? Or have you met any off the other bands on the label?
V: Um noâ€¦I haven’t (laughs)â€¦
P: Is there anyone you’d like to?
V: We played a festival in Europe with Radiohead and we were supposed to meet them, but it ended up being on a different day so we didn’t get to.
P: I’ve heard you be compared to bands like Arcade Fire, The Broken Social Scene and The Decembristsâ€¦Do you find these reoccurring comparisons flattering or annoying?
V: Well I don’t find them flattering (laughs). I personally don’t like any of those bands, but at the same time I don’t hear the comparisons that much. People writing about albums just want an easy one and it used to be everyone saying ‘Beatles-esk’ and now it’s like ‘Arcade Fire’. What does that even mean!?
P: Are there any bands you wouldn’t mind being compared to either musically or in terms of professionalism or reputation?
V: Um, I don’t knowâ€¦I don’t really care too much who people compare us to, but in terms of music we like, we’re really big fans of Bon Iverâ€¦but we really don’t listen to hardly any new ‘indie’ stuff. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and rap.
P: (laughs) Really? Who are you listening to at the moment?
V: I’ve been listening to a lot of Dr. Dre actually right now. I’ve been in this weird Death Row kind of place.
P: I’ve been there for 10 yearsâ€¦
P: So your live shows seem to have a lot of energy and cheerfulness, similar to that of a hip-hop showâ€¦watching it I was thinking you’d be a fun band to tour with. You give the impression that the tour would be one big sing-a-long. Is that the case?
V (laughs) Kind of. Things get dramatic on tour, like most bands. But we do always have a lot of fun. We don’t really sing with any other bandsâ€¦I don’t really like doing that. But yeah it’s always fun, it always feels like a family.
P: Has there been any initiation ceremonies for the new members of the family?
V: (laughs) No not yet! Just a bunch of practice and going to bars I guess.
P: You came to Australia early in the yearâ€¦how did you find Australian audiences?
V: Oh we absolutely loved it. They were awesome. At all the festivals there were big crowds singing a long and doing whatever we wanted. I invited them on stage at the laneway festival on the first day. They all came up and almost collapsed the stageâ€¦
P: I saw the footage of that. There were even people playing on pots and pans in the front rowâ€¦
V: Yeah that’s exactly right. At every show we always try to bring a bunch of pots and pans for people to play on.
P: And do you take the same ones with you everywhere?
V: (laughs) Um, noâ€¦we had our label there get some for us and we have our own here.
P: Do you ever secretly dream of getting big enough to have your own roadie specifically to look after the pots and pans?
V: (laughs) Oh now that could be cool!
P: A lot of people in Australia, who may not be familiar with your albums, would probably recognise â€ I Woke Up Today’ from the Dulux paint commercial. How did you end up being involved with that?
V: Our music publishers there sent our music to different adsâ€¦TV shows and movies that they thought might work well or whatever. They got that for us and paid us a heap of money, and it’s kind of been the only thing we’ve had to live off for the past year.
P: (laughs) It must have been tough considering you haven’t worked the last two summers?
V: Yeah I haven’t paid rent or anything for over two years. In between tours I’ve just been crashing at the parents or with friends. We’ve been making it work, but I don’t know how long it will last (laughs).
P: So what’s the next big single to be released?
V: The new single is already out, which is called ‘My Will Is Good’. We are going to be working on the film clip this week actually, down in L.A.
P: Will it have the same director as the last two?
V: It not, it’s a new guy.
P: Who’s that?
V: I don’t know his name actually! (laughs)
P: And finally are there any plans to return to Australia soon?
V: I don’t know of anything concrete. We’re organising some stuff, I really hope we can, but I’m not sure.
P: Well good luck with everything. Looking forward to hearing the new album and having you grace our shores again soon!