[EXPERIMENTAL MUSICAL THEATER] Holland Andrews stands just beyond the fray of the final gathering site at last year's Portland May Day protests, in a video for local music-media website Into the Woods. "All I ever wanted was for everyone to know how to love us," the pierced, feathery-haired 24-year-old sings in a composed, almost operatic voice. âIf you donât know how, I can show you.â
Then she lowers the mic, gets on her knees and starts to scream.
For Andrews, this wasn't an uncommon performance. Since 2010, under the name Like a Villain, the Portland multi-instrumentalist has been using her jazzy clarinet, looping pedals and musical theater-trained voice—along with a musical theater-cultivated flair for the dramatic—to make experimental music that revels in the dichotomy between pretty and provocative. A typical Like a Villain song starts melodic but ends chaotic. Andrews doesn't know how to do it any other way.
"If I were to try and do something sweet and normal, then I would have to somehow alter it or fuck it up, and I wish I could tell you why," she says. "Maybe it has something to do with my parents being divorced. Blame my parents.â
Growing up in Southern California, Andrews, the sister of a drama kid and the daughter of a former member of a '70s soul combo, was supposed to be the artistic, quiet one in the family. But tagging along with her sister to theater camps, she discovered that she came alive onstage. "I don't like to attract a lot of attention, but in places where it makes sense, I enjoy it," she says. "It made sense to be onstage singing."
Andrews also played clarinet in school ensembles, but she didn't put it all together until she moved to Portland and acquired a one-woman band's most important instrument: the digital audio program GarageBand. Yet, while Apple technology enabled Andrews to create harmonies with her chordless instruments and develop her sound, Like a Villain has always been more about performance than recording. The compact tracks from the two collections on Like a Villain's Bandcamp page don't come close to capturing Andrews' sprawling live pieces—to say nothing of her bright-eyed, steady-handed stage presence. Andrews hopes a forthcoming record she's working on with producer Mike Erwin will be more reflective of who she is as a musician. "I'm really excited to finally have something that I think better represents what I do,â she says.
For the time being, Andrews will keep doing with her live performances what she says she's always sought to do through music: heal people.
"Before I play, I cast a little spell—or pray, it's all the same shit—to be able to help people grow, so they can feel deeper next time their lover says, 'I love you,'" Andrews says. "I want to tap into some really deep part of people that at first makes them really uncomfortable, and then they finally crack that shell and there's a flood of whatever needs to be felt.... Performing is the only way I know how to do that."
SEE IT: Like a Villain plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with WL, on Tuesday, March 12. 9 pm. $3. 21+.