[PSYCHEDELIC GARAGE] Justin Fowler, singer-guitarist for psych-garage conjurers Wooden Indian Burial Ground, has been around Portland long enough to remember what the city used to be like. According to him, back in the day, local shows would often look like a scene from Road House. Just ask him about playing gigs in the early 2000s at Jolly Inn, a beer-stained Southeast dive since remodeled into the Firkin Tavern.
“It was fucking insane,” says Fowler, gathered around a table with the rest of his band at George’s Corner Tavern on North Interstate Avenue. “My mom came to a show there. She had a pint glass get thrown right by her head. It was great!”
Over the last decade, Fowler has witnessed his hometown become a much less rowdy place, producing more delicate folk singers than wild, lysergic rock bands. He went through a period of calm himself: After years of peeling back skulls in various noisy, tripped-out projects, Fowler started Wooden Indian Burial Ground as a mellow guitar-and-drums duo with his girlfriend. Gradually, though, the volume of Portland’s music scene has ticked upward again, and Fowler, too, has returned to his heavily distorted roots: His now four-piece band’s self-titled debut, released in October, is a blizzard of in-the-red guitars, squealing Farfisa organ and cranium-collapsing feedback, all swirling around in a whirlpool of hallucinogenic reverb.
“It was, like, bullshit for me,” Fowler says of his time walking on the mild side. “Not that quieter music is bullshit, but it just didn’t feel right. I like to rock out. I’m 32 and, like, regressing into a teenager again.”
Maybe that sounds like a quarter-life crisis, but if Fowler is truly devolving into his younger self, his bandmates are glad to fall back with him. Even before they were recruited into the expanded Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Fowler’s loud-and-loose aesthetic exerted an influence on them. For drummer Dan Galucki and bassist Perry Pfister, it happened when Fowler, for a time, joined their former band, the rustic Run On Sentence.
“He really started to push that band to getting more raucous and kicking shit over and going a little nuts,” Pfister says. “Justin kind of broke the dam down for all of us.”
Along with keyboardist Paul Seely, the band began work on its eponymous album earlier this year, recording in Fowler’s living room and laying down songs almost as soon as they were written. Then they hit the road. The group just returned home from a national tour, which culminated at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, where it was praised by NPR and The New York Times for its commitment to ramshackle abandon. Having seen the country, Fowler confesses a desire to finally leave town. But this is the place that taught Fowler how to kick up a racket, and for that he’s forever grateful.
“I grew up here watching Dead Moon, so it’s like, fuck it, I can get real over the hill and shred until I have hearing aids,” he says, “just get louder and louder until you can’t hear yourself.”
SEE IT: Wooden Indian Burial Ground plays East End, 203 SE Grand Ave., with Au Dunes, the Caste and Bubble Cats, on Saturday, Nov. 24. 21+. Call venue for time and ticket information.