[INDIE FOLK] In 2007, Daniel Dixon left his home in California to chase a girl in Louisville. Instead, his stay in Kentucky yielded a fateful encounter with Andrew Stonestreet. The first night the pair met, they jammed together, immediately hitting it off. "I was like, 'Fuck, this guy can play everything,'" Stonestreet recalls. "'We should definitely play music together.'"
Neither of them could have predicted they'd wind up in a band in Portland.
Soon after their Louisville introduction, Dixon visited Nashville to help Stonestreet lay down a Christmas album he was recording for his family (in lieu of buying gifts). That collaboration marked the beginning of a fond friendship—and of a band, Greylag.
Though the group's look—long hair, cigarettes and guitars—is familiar, Greylag stands out for its simple, folky arrangements of dueling acoustic and electric guitars, which, along with bass and percussion, frame Stonestreet's magnetic vocal melodies beautifully. His vocals vary from soft croons to expressively high falsettos that, when pushed to their limit and backed by Dixon's lead guitar, unfold as some of the purest moments in the music.
Some of the band's strength comes from juxtaposition of styles: Stonestreet, 25 and originally from West Virginia, comes from a self-taught singer-songwriter background. Dixon, 28 and originally from San Francisco, draws from formal composition-based training. "We make each other better by collaborating," Dixon says. "We balance each other's strengths and weaknesses."
After their initial meeting, the two attempted long-distance musical projects. But after skipping around the country with his music, Dixon settled in Portland in 2009. Stonestreet followed in early 2010. With help from current bandmate Brady Swan and friend Brandon Johnson, the freshly rooted pair quickly recorded the excellent seven-track EP The Only Way to Kill You, released in May. "The idea behind it was that it would be capturing the birth of the band," Dixon says. Most of it was recorded in a living room.
Writing most of the songs amid his transition out West, Stonestreet's lyrics on the EP are introspective. On "Tiger," he sings, "We spout off whatever feels and works/ Our good intentions don't mean shit, tiger." The singer-guitarist, who describes himself as "mouthy," says he wrote the line to himself. "I was like, 'Why don't you just shut the hell up for five minutes and witness what's happening around you?,'" he says of the lyrics. "When I listen back now, it kind of sounds like a kid waking up to a lot of stuff."
Since signing with the California-based label Ninth Street Opus and wrapping up separate national tours with Gomez and Augustana, Greylag has been working on new material and letting life sink in. The next record will move toward a full-band vision and be heavier than the debut (Stonestreet has lost three grandparents and two childhood friends in the past year). But catharsis has always been at the heart of the group's music.
"It's a huge release. It's in me to do, and I gotta put it out," Stonestreet says of making music with Greylag. "It's like sleeping now. It's part of me."
SEE IT: Greylag plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, with Catherine Feeny and Suzanne Tufan. 8 pm. $8. 21+.