The dream of the 1970s is alive in Paradise.
"We actually had a plan," says Tamar Berk, the Portland band's vocalist and organist. "We were gonna start a band from the '60s and move them into the '70s, as if we lived at those times."
These days, that kind of high-concept rock'n'roll is rarer than phone booths. But the members of Paradise like to think big. The band has no delusions of grandeur. With serious day jobs—Berk is a school teacher, and her partner, guitarist Steven Denekas, works in advertising and design—heavy touring isn't possible. Since getting together eight years ago, though, they have been slowly unfurling an ambitious recording career. And their new album, Dawn of Paradise, is their most grandiose yet: a double-LP rock opera, produced by the guy who engineered Quadrophenia.
After two albums, Berk and Denekas knew it was time for the band to take an evolutionary step. Together, they conceived a story about a mother and her son, with shades of serial killers and the Illuminati. The next step was to immortalize their sci-fi rock opera in the best studio setting possible.
Berk recalls brainstorming with Paradise drummer Thom Sullivan, known for his exceptional chops and encyclopedic knowledge of rock trivia. The dream, she says, was to convince somebody who actually recorded some of the classic '70s albums serving as their template to be their producer. The first name Sullivan brought up was Ron Nevison, best known for his work with the Who, Led Zeppelin and Heart.
"Ron had the drum sound that everyone else was trying to get," Berk says. It seemed like a long shot; they weren't even sure if he was still working. But they looked him up. "There was a website. It was so dated that instead of having an email, it was like, fill in the form and you might get a response back."
Nevison wrote the very next day. As luck would have it, not only was he still recording, he was living in Hood River.
"A lot of things about this record were just magic," Denekas says.
Of course, a producer with gold records from the likes of Meat Loaf, Ozzy Osbourne and Bad Company carries a hefty price tag. Luckily for Paradise, Nevison wanted to experience "the Portland thing," and was willing to work within their budget.
"The thing that struck me," says Berk, "is that, once we got all the details sorted out, he became a true producer, which is how it was in the '70s. He booked everything. He negotiated everything. He sat in our practice space. He gave us feedback. He took notes. This is how it was. We really experienced it."
With Nevison at the console in Southeast Portland's Hallowed Halls, the record took shape. Dawn of Paradise is a shameless rollercoaster trip through the anthemic, hard-rocking rainbow vibes of Styx and ELO. Denekas' voice cracks like Tom Petty covering Roger Waters on "A Boy and a Rhyme," while his guitar rings like Pete Townsend's in the opening salvo of "Discovery." Before the album was even finished, Berk felt ecstatic.
"Just listening to the roughs, with nothing being done to them, I was just, like, tearing up," she says. "Did we do that? This is what we wanted. It was awesome."
Denekas designed the cover art to look like an old sci-fi paperback. When the record was complete, the band hosted a listening party for friends at OMSI, complete with a period-appropriate laser light show. Now comes the live celebration, with Paradise performing its magnum opus onstage—including all the interludes. Berk couldn't be more proud.
"Even now I just listen to it and I love the way it sounds," she says. "I love the memory of it."
SEE IT: Paradise plays Tonic Lounge, 3100 NE Sandy Blvd., with LiquidLight and the Wilder on Friday, Dec. 15. 8 pm. $8. 21+.