The members of the Lower 48 are digging their new rehearsal space, and well they should: At their last spot, the band was beset on all sides by the uniform blare of death metal. This place, a cozy upstairs cubby in an artists collective off Southeast Milwaukie Avenue, is abuzz with more multifaceted forms of creativity. Welders, painters, woodworkers, designers, mechanics and even a kids' summer camp call the expansive warehouse home.
The dynamic environment is a fitting backdrop for the Lower 48's own transformation. After four years performing together, the trio is switching things up a bit. Since making the pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Portland as wide-eyed 18-year-olds in 2009, the Lower 48 has been trying to integrate the city's folk scene. Now, they want to rock.
It's not an identity crisis, they promise.
"We still love what we used to play, but I think the folk music was just a phase, sort of an introduction to playing music together," says singer-bassist Ben Braden. "Once we started working on different material, we experienced a rush of energy that has affected us and our live performances ever since."
"We didn't plan for it to happen," adds drummer Nick Sadler. "It was very organic. But this feels more like us than it ever did before."
Gravitating now toward classic, Beatles-esque rock 'n' roll, the band's forthcoming self-titled release transposes Braden and guitarist Sarah Parson's crisp harmonies over upbeat, joyous pop rock, with notes of brass and tambourine peppered throughout. Embedded within those new songs, you can still hear drawling echoes of the group's folky past, primarily in Parson's sweet, twangy vocals.
But while earlier material was inspired by its cross-country move, calling upon themes of wanderlust and the search for a sense of place, the Lower 48's latest work signals an affirmation that it has found a home on the West Coast.
"I came from a small town in Minnesota, and moving here had a big effect on me," Parson says. "We have embraced the scene out here, and it has definitely played a role in our shift as a band."
Although the Lower 48 has been playing rock-oriented shows for the past year, the band's new album will be its first recording showcasing the stylistic switch-up. It helps that the young trio plays well together, as both a folk group and a higher-energy rock outfit. The members have a wealth of tastes, ambitions and talent, signaling they won't be content to rest on their laurels. And they're prepared to face the future.
"When you release a record is when people take a moment to pay attention to you," says Sadler, perched on the rooftop outside the rehearsal room window. "Our new music is ready for that. We're ready for that."
SEE IT: The Lower 48 plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Tango Alpha Tango, Blue Skies for Black Hearts and DJ AM Gold, on Friday, Aug. 16. 8:30 pm. $8. 21+.