On a chilly Sunday this past September, I settled in at Rontoms for one of the club's weekly music showcases, mentally steeling myself for the psych-noise onslaught of White Hills. But by the end of the evening, all I wanted to talk about was the band that played first: No Kind of Rider.
The young quintet played a jaw-dropping set of lush, introspective pop that was obviously modeled after the shoegazer movement of the '90s—lots of dynamic shifts, guitar effects and buttery vocals)—but with its own modern, moody twist. It scratched that deep, Brit-pop-adoring itch I carry with me at all times. I was instantly smitten.
I grabbed vocalist-guitarist Sam Alexander after the band's set, professing my newfound love and peppering the members with questions, chiefly: "Where are you from?" The band was from Portland. So, where had No Kind of Rider been hiding?
"We get that a lot," Alexander says two months later, digging into some tacos at the Cruzroom on Northeast Alberta Street. "'How come we've never heard of you guys before?' You never hang out at the Red Room, I guess."
No one in No Kind of Rider can pinpoint why the band has been flying under the radar since arriving here from Tulsa, Okla., two years ago. All five gents in the group—Alexander, drummer Jon Van Patten, guitarist Jeremy Louis, bassist Wes Johnson and keyboardist Joe Page—arrived in 2008, leaving a healthy fan base and a former name (Black Swan) behind. The quintet hit the ground running in Portland, playing at any venue that would have it and offering up a pair of fantastic self-released recordings (The Black Swan EP and the slow-burning single "Danger") for free download via its website.
NKOR is making all the right moves to get noticed in Portland's overstuffed music scene, but still remains on the verge. For any young band, this would be par for the course, but for No Kind of Rider, it's a bit of a step back from the acclaim it received in Tulsa. In NKOR's former hometown, the band stood out not only because the majority of its members were black (that attention had its drawbacks, according to Alexander: "Without fail, every one who wrote about us would compare us to Bloc Party and TV on the Radio"), but also because "there wasn't anything happening in Tulsa when we first started," Page says. "There was no scene. There were maybe eight other bands that were playing stuff outside the mainstream." The quintet's singular sound helped garner it co-headlining status at the city's annual Dfest Music Festival and heaps of praise from local media outlets.
No Kind of Rider only left Tulsa because the technology company Alexander worked for relocated to Portland. Realizing he didn't want to break up the group, he offered to help move his bandmates here as well. It was, according to Johnson, the perfect opportunity. "I always thought that if we had the chance to move out to the West Coast, we should take it."
Two years on, No Kind of Rider is edging closer to the spotlight: its first show at the Doug Fir, more recordings on the way, and a mockumentary film about the band (produced by musician Jen Moon and featuring folks like Bladen County Records owner Joe Bowden) that has been making the rounds at Portland short-film fests. No Kind of Rider should hear that buzz grow louder once it wraps up its next EP, a self-recorded project that has been going on in fits and starts for the past eight months.
"I think we're deceptively ambitious," says Alexander. "It doesn't seem like people see that until we play out." Johnson nods and adds, "People at my work find out I play music and say, 'Oh, that's nice, you're in a little band.' Then they come see us, and they're, like, 'Whoa! You guys are for real!'" NKOR seems to get more real every day.
No Kind of Rider plays Doug Fir Lounge on Thursday, Dec. 2, with Water & Bodies, NIAYH and Housefire. 9 pm. $8. 21+.