Chuck Westmoreland has lived through some serious shit. Between owning a bar and watching his wife battle cancer, the deep well of the 37-year-old singer-songwriter's inspiration is unsurprising. His preference for country music may come as a surprise, but as far as Westmoreland is concerned, he's just a good, honest dude making good, honest music.
"It's a sound that I think is really honest when done well," says Westmoreland. "Something about that and the rawness really appeals to me. When I listen to music, it's usually at work, and George Jones sounds really good when you're mopping a bar floor."
Born in Louisiana and raised in the Bay Area, Westmoreland moved to Portland in 1999 after a brief stint in Ashland. Drawn to the music scene and the cheap rent, Westmoreland soon found himself at the helm of the synth-pop outfit the Kingdom. Though sincere efforts by all estimations, the conceptual fantasia of the group's two records—2005's Unitas, which portrays NFL legend Johnny Unitas as a "celestial deity hurling footballs across the cosmos," and 2006's K1, which has something to do with a Cannonball Run-style auto race from upstate New York to Brooklyn—is a stark contrast to the bittersweet sincerity that drives his eponymous solo debut.
Westmoreland helped open North Mississippi Avenue barbecue joint Miss Delta in 2006, and by the time he moved on to his current post—co-owner of North Albina Avenue patio spot the Red Fox—he was over being a musician. He got into tying flies and woodworking while he supported his wife during her victory over cancer, and ended up making a few homemade guitars. Figuring he might as well put them to good use, Westmoreland found the plainspoken roots country of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt as a natural place for his sound to land—synth-pop roots be damned.
"I've always tried to write honest songs," says Westmoreland. "I don't think there's a difference whether there's a synthesizer or a steel guitar. If you write honest songs, it kind of transcends the hype and bullshit and baggage that comes with a genre."
Chuck Westmoreland is the sound of a confident songwriter who can talk the talk and walk the walk. The lilting shuffle of opener "There's a Pattern in the Blood" is classic country of the pre-Nashville hit-machine variety at its finest, while stomping barn burners "Satin" and "Echo One" are guaranteed to cause a ruckus at a place like the Landmark Saloon. Portland isn't exactly a hotbed for country artists with crossover appeal to hit paydirt, but Westmoreland is more concerned with hard work than genre alignment.
"You're always worried that people won't give a shit, or that you're delusional," says Westmoreland, "but not based on genre. That was never really a question. What's good about Portland is that you can see a synth band playing with a hip-hop band playing with a death-metal band. I'd like to think [the scene] is diverse enough for that to happen."
When asked about the aesthetic of the album cover, which features a photo of Westmoreland decked out in Eastern Oregon rancher chic and the kind of groovy typeface you'd see in the end credits of a late-'70s action flick, Westmoreland insists the music speaks for itself. After a few spins of his achingly beautiful record, you believe him.
"An honest song is an honest song. I don't think it matters what you look like—that's the bullshit. You write songs, and you go out and play them. You love people and treat people with respect, and that's it. I don't think anyone's checking out my shoes or making sure my jacket is ripped up enough. People know what's bullshit and what's not."
SEE IT: Chuck Westmoreland plays the Fixin' To, 8218 N Lombard St., with Sad Horse and Paper Cameras, on Saturday, Nov. 5. 8 pm. $5. 21+.