Stuffed into a booth at My Father's Place, the three men who make up the Woolen Men wear serious expressions as they talk about touring and their place in the continuum of Portland's punk- and garage-rock scenes. But when the conversation shifts to what 2013 holds for the band, the mood changes dramatically. The garage-pop trio is releasing two albums next year: a collection of favorite tracks culled from the band's many cassette releases called Dog Years, and a self-titled LP of new material coming out on Woodsist Records.
"We're pretty excited about it," says singer-guitarist Lawton Browning. "It won't seem real to me, though, until I have the record in my hand.â
"Actually, I have the test pressings with me," reveals drummer Rafael Spielman. Immediately, Browning and bassist Alex Geddes' eyes light up. They insist on seeing them. For the next few minutes, it is Christmas morning, with Browning turning the plain black wax over and over in his hands, inspecting it under the light above the booth.
"This is the culmination of my dreams," says Browning, grinning. "Seeing a tape with our music on it the first time was huge. But this is even better.â
Beyond the thrill of its first vinyl releases—not to mention having one of them released by the label that has been home to such beloved indie artists as Real Estate and Vivian Girls—it's an exciting time for the Woolen Men. The trio feels, after four years and a half-dozen self-released cassettes, it is finally hitting its creative stride.
"All the tapes were built around this exciting idea that we could do whatever we wanted," Spielman says. "There's stuff on those that are pretty outside our territory now—things that we tried but didn't pursue, and things that we kept doing.â
The band has abandoned much of the chime and jangle that cropped up on 2011 album How I Learned to Shave and the lo-fi scuzz smeared over tracks on the 2009 EP Pavilion, but it has kept the twitchy energy and rabid bite for its Woodsist debut.
"We just keep getting more and more punk," Browning says. "There's something about the brevity of punk thatâs really appealing to us right now.â
Of course, coming from a bespectacled graduate student in speech pathology, "punk" is placed in the broadest terms possible. These guys aren't prone to fist-pumping, in-your-face anthems. This is punk more as an ethos than a sound, one that emphasizes self-reliance and community, and the Woolen Men have embraced that from the start. Almost everything the band has put out to date has been through Spielman's fantastic tape label, Eggy Records, and Dog Years will be the first release on his sublabel, Dog's Table. The band also books its own tours, which isn't the most groundbreaking concept, but one Spielman says they take seriously.
"I think of it almost as a duty of being a Portland band," he says. "You have to go out there and experience other music scenes, learn from them and then bring that back here. Itâs the only way to keep things interesting here.â
The band also says that as much as it loves being part of the local scene, it feels more of a kinship with the still-thriving and expanding garage-rock universe centered around the Bay Area, which is why the trio is especially excited to hit the road this month for a West Coast tour that will include dates with like-minded Californian outfits such as the Mallard and Wild Wild Wets.
Still, the Woolen Men have no plans to vacate their hometown any time soon.
"When bands move to L.A. or New York, they're depriving the scene that nurtured them and grew them," Browning says. "We choose to stay here not only because this is our hometown, but also because we don't want to lose our identity as being part of the history of Northwest music and lose what we've built here."
SEE IT: The Woolen Men play the Know, 2026 NE Alberta St., with Still Caves, Hooded Hags and Christian Profeta on Thursday, Dec. 13. 8 pm. 21+. Call venue for ticket information.