Best New Bands are all well and good, but there's also something to be said for longevity in pursuit of a shared goal. This week, singer-songwriters Adam East and Kris Deelane kick off a celebration of their 20th anniversary as musical partners—a bond that's outlasted their romantic partnership by 13 years—with the release of Swim, the new album by their band, SweetJuice. The disc—which puts a slick, early '80s vibe on quirky pop-rock songs with ornery electric guitars and precise harmonies—is one of three records the duo will issue this year, including an album as acoustic duo Adam + Kris, and one by "mod" outfit Mod Lewis. The two—who met in L.A. in 1988 and moved to Portland 10 years later—play more than 100 shows annually, and still find time for outside projects. East plays bass in Celilo and Casey Neill's Norway Rats, and produces other acts; Deelane, meanwhile, plays solo and recently sang on the Decemberists' "Valerie Plame." We spoke at their base in Northeast Portland about the difference between folk and rock—including their very own "Dylan at Newport" moment.
WW: You wait until the second half of the new album to even turn an acoustic guitar up in the mix. Is it important to you to distinguish the band from your acoustic work?
Adam East: It's been a struggle, because we had some success in the folk world—we got booked at [major folk festivals] Kerrville and High Sierra, all these places, as Adam + Kris. But we wanted a band identity. Part of the original goal with SweetJuice was no acoustic guitars. But it could be hard for our audience. One year, we brought the band to Kerr-ville.
Kris Deelane: And they hated it! We didn't get asked back for years! Their jaws dropped!
East: But the young kids?
Deelane: LOVED it!
East: Got up dancing, digging.... Maybe it was an identity thing. People there were so into what we'd been doing.
Deelane: We're not "mellow folk." For two people, we have a really heavy sound. They'd wanted to support that.
Do you have a different attitude toward the audience when you play with the band?
East: When I see an acoustic group or singer-songwriter, I'm in the mood to hear a story behind a song. It's intimate, you can learn something about the performer. The audience is there for a different reason when it's a band.
Deelane: When people start dancing, as opposed to sitting and listening, we get more energy to give back. It's nice being listened to, having lyrics really touch somebody. But then there's the tribal, community element of sharing an experience where all life's problems are gone for a couple hours.
East: It's a visceral versus an intellectual bond with your audience. That's why we formed a rock band.
Deelane: 'Cause it rocks!
SweetJuice plays at Lola's Room with Cabinessence. 9 pm Saturday, May 9. $12. 21+.