[PSYCHEDELIC BLUES ROCK] Uncle Walker's Amber Restorative, the debut LP from Portland quartet Spirit Lake, has a history far grander than that suggested by the group's slight résumé.
The band first gained attention earlier this year with its inaugural EP, Between Me and the Mountain, a Black Keys-inflected mix of storm and swagger. Both Between Me and the Mountain and Uncle Walker's sound like the result of at least a decade's worth of artistic trial and error—which, as it turns out, is pretty much the truth.
"Me and [bass player Adam Anderson] ended up forming a band called Marigold in 1995," says Spirit Lake's lead singer-guitarist Travis Ferguson. "There was one summer where we were doing 19 shows a month. And that wasn't even touring."
Marigold, a Brit-pop project since lost to the passage of time, enjoyed a sizable moment in the sun near the turn of the century. In addition to garnering praise from Everclear and the Dandy Warhols, Marigold attracted the attention of Outpost and DreamWorks Records, both major-label subsidiaries under the almighty aegis of recording industry mogul David Geffen.
"Michael Goldstone, the head of A&R [at Outpost], flew up to Springfield with us and hung out in my parents' garage while we played a show," Ferguson says. "He took us out to IHOP."
The band eventually signed with Outpost, though it found the pressures of major-label existence creatively stifling. When the rise of Napster and the record industry's subsequent panic placed Marigold's debut on permanent hiatus, Ferguson was relieved.
"By that point," he says, "it was less, 'I want to be on a major label and be a big rock star,' and more, 'I want to explore music for a while.'"
After Marigold called it quits in 2002, Ferguson moved to Portland and embarked on a period of creative wanderlust, dabbling in prog-rock and eventually returning to his initial obsession with the blues, rock and country.
Spirit Lake, which came together in the spring of 2009, combines its members' love for the Rolling Stones and Gram Parsons with their history of crafting arena-size pop-rock.
Uncle Walker's Amber Restorative adds emotive sturm und drang to the band's building blocks of Delta blues and early Americana. Songs like "High Desert Saints" touch on the migratory struggles that defined the Oregon Territory nearly two centuries ago, while "My My My" provides a cowpoke's reinterpretation of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."
"With Uncle Walker's, it was like, 'I want to write a story,'" Ferguson says. "The perseverance of the human spirit came into play, the idea of the Westward expansion and the Oregon Trail—the idea of just striving to survive."
That's a theme with which Ferguson should be intimately familiar. Having persevered beyond a major-label boom and bust, as well as a subsequent decade of stylistic meandering, his artistic Promised Land is finally within sight.
SEE IT: Spirit Lake plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Friday, Oct. 19. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. Admission includes a free download of Uncle Walker's Amber Restorative. 21+.