It's easy to get trapped in a small city's music scene, especially one with a history of blasting successful artists as "sellouts." Touring frequently and releasing a haunting new album on a prominent independent label, The Standard makes its move to spread its sound to a wider audience.
A full year after the band recorded it for another label, The Standard's August will finally appear this week on Chicago's Touch & Go Records. It's a gorgeous record, moving decisively from lush cascades of rock power to moments of plaintive delicacy. From the opening guitar gusher, "A Year of Seconds," with its subtle vocals and soaring keyboards, to the string-laden final track, "The Quiet Bar," August generates simultaneous feelings of longing and transcendence.
Tim Putnam is the band's vocalist, guitarist and lyricist. His voice has been compared to Neil Young's quaver, but his emotive delivery and elusive lyrics invite comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum.
So what's the plan for this distinctive sound?
"We're hoping basically to tour the record as long as it will allow us to," Putnam says. "Immediately after that, we're going to record the next record, and do the same thing, I guess."
"For the rest of our lives," adds Rob Oberdorfer, who plays bass and guitar.
Not on the to-do list: becoming rock stars. Drummer Rob Duncan (who's played with Pinehurst Kids and Spectator Pump) explains, "I don't think we're interested in having radio pick up our songs, becoming this huge thing for, like, 10 minutes, and being considered has-beens."
So does this nonchalance towards big-time success make The Standard an "indie" band? Mention the I-word, and the stuffy air in the band's basement studio heats up.
"To me, 'indie' has become another word for 'lazy,'" Putnam says. "I think people hide behind the word indie, instead of actually putting work into making good music."
Making good music is something these people take very seriously, citing trust--both musical and personal--as an important component of the collaborative process. Most of them live together in North Portland, with Putnam's classic Airstream-style trailer parked out back; the basement houses a studio where they record their own and other bands' music.
Since the band's 2000 debut first stirred up a Northwest buzz, The Standard has completed its lineup with guitarist Gail Buchanan, who played with New York's Sons of Bitches before migrating west and working at Portland's beloved Jackpot Studios (where she was kind enough to record a few tracks with me). Buchanan considers touring with respected musicians a major reward of the band's success. "We've been really fortunate in being able to go out with bands that we've grown up with or listened to a lot," she says.
Where else do the members of The Standard want to go? They want to stay in Portland and commit to the band long-term. "It excites me to think about us all making music together when we're all 40 or something--or 50, God willing," Putnam says.
Oberdorfer grins. "As long as we don't pull a Stones and have to suck in the last years," he says.
The Standard, 31 Knots, Eldoras
231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579
9:30 pm Friday, Aug. 23
Touch & Go