IMAGE: Tucker Stevenson
In 2008, Kaddisfly was within sneezing distance of the majors. It was a Portland band that never saw much of Portland, and with good reason: The prog-metal quintet had spent a decade touring and maneuvering itself to the cusp of stardom.
There were side stages at the Warped Tour, albums released with an increasingly reputable set of indie labels, and sniffing around by major labels that might not guarantee Big Things, but at least put them in the realm of possibility.
It was, needless to say, a disappointment when the band combusted on the edge of its crowning success. A set of demo tracks were received with less than the expected fanfare and the resulting absence of a label caused bassist Kile Brewer to leave.
But for the remaining quartet, the question of whether or not to pack it all in was never much of a question at all.
“It’s a family,” says drummer Beau Kuther. “We never really thought about whether or not to start another group after Kaddisfly—it just sort of was.”
For Beau and his brother Kelsey, the band literally was family. When the pair joined up with Kaddisfly vocalist Chris Ruff and guitarist Aaron Tollefson, founding Water & Bodies was simply a matter of habit for musicians who’d spent the previous eight years collaborating both in the studio and on extensive tours.
“It all goes back to time spent together,” says Kuther. “We’re all so comfortable now with each other, we can say, ‘Hey, try something different’ without stepping on each other’s toes.”
That “something different” has been a resettling of talent within an already well-developed group. Water & Bodies takes Kaddisfly’s wild prog-rock and sharpens it to a point. The new group amends Kaddisfly’s guitar acrobatics with the hook-centric excitement of the Smashing Pumpkins. The music is still too aggressive to be called “pop,” but Water & Bodies’ self-titled premier EP is a collaboration that finds balance in playing to its strengths: “Free World” and “Celebration” showcase Ruff’s howled emoting comfortably flotation atop guitar lines bubbling with lascivious reverb. Water & Bodies obsessively layers its compositions with synthesizers, buttressing the songs with strong hooks.
“With this band we’re really taking it slow, and we’re trying to focus on writing music,” says Kuther. “We’re focusing on creating a really strong local following…and local friendships with all the musicians and people out here. There are just so many great people in this scene, and first and foremost that’s what we want to do—be involved as much as we can.”
This week marks the release of the second half of a two-EP set the quartet has dubbed the Rain City Sessions, a prescient title given the circumstances. Rather than shooting for the stratosphere of rock ’n’ roll fame, the group has decided to explore its own backyard. Judging from early mixes of the new material—a studio-sharpened extension of the first EP—these guys didn’t lose any talent or energy in the transformation from Kaddisfly to Water & Bodies.
SEE IT: Water & Bodies plays Doug Fir on Wednesday, Jan. 13, with Empty Space Orchestra and Symmetry/Symmetry. 9 pm. $6. 21+.