All right, maybe he didn’t have all that much to do with it. Still, Wilson’s encounter with the Nosferatu of alt-rock last spring is emblematic of the frustrating roadblocks that kept him from just getting the damn album out. Aan’s management company insisted the group position itself to make a huge splash with its debut, and that included five dates supporting the Smashing Pumpkins. Leaping from playing clubs to sold-out amphitheaters six times, the band’s approachably off-center sound translated well. It wasn’t until the last show, however, that the Great Pumpkin himself deigned to commiserate with his opening act.
“We went to his dressing room. He’s in nothing but a white robe, and his Yoko is in the room, not saying anything and giving us hard eyeballs,” says Wilson over beers and a Blazers game at Maui’s on North Williams Avenue. “Five of us are piled into the room. Everyone has a question, and he’s clearly not interested in us, but he’s polite. He’s like”—Wilson affects a pinched nasal whine—“‘You guys have a good tiiiiime?’ We left there like, ‘That just happened.’”
That, it turns out, is the only thing that happened. A big label deal never materialized. Meetings turned into more meetings that turned into dead ends. Meanwhile, the album Aan spent two years making sat in limbo. Aan had flirted with the big time, and all Wilson got was a lousy anecdote about meeting an aging rock star.
Things used to be so much simpler. Aan (pronounced “on”) began as a way for Wilson, the son of an Idaho cattle rancher, to learn how to write songs between his sideman duties in exploratory Portland rock bands like Ghost to Falco and Ohioan. Expanding gradually out of Wilson’s bedroom, Aan cycled through members—Wilson estimates he’s played with seven different guitarists since the project started—and musical styles, from psychedelic pop to noisy folk. An agent at an L.A. management firm, which shall remain nameless, got hold of Aan’s EP, I Could Be Girl for You, and convinced the band it was ready to “take a big step.” But promises continually fell through, and calls began going unreturned for days at a time.
“I kind of had a breakdown,” Wilson says. “I’m getting pulled at many angles. One person in the band is like, ‘Let’s drop them right now,’ and one person’s like, ‘Let’s just wait it out.’ Finally, I had to make my own decision and let them go. I was like, ‘OK, that’s exactly how I don’t want to do things.’’”
Aan signed with upstart Portland label Party Damage Records and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to finance its album release. Not surprisingly, after all this time, Amor Ad Nauseum hardly sounds like a debut. It’s a confident, muscular record that never quite does what you expect. Songs like the eruptive opener, “Wet and Dripping,” a redux of an earlier track, and the aggressively churning “I Don’t Need Love” are grounded in sharp melodies and vibrant indie-rock guitars, but the arrangements jerk and jolt at odd angles. Even in its quieter moments, it’s an exhilarating listen.
And now that people are finally able to hear it, Wilson is looking to move on as soon as possible. He’d ideally like to have another piece of music out this year, but the band hasn’t exactly reached an ideal level of stability: Current guitarist Patrick Phillips could get called back to his main act, Brainstorm, at any moment. But after spending the past few years in stasis, Wilson can’t complain about a little volatility in the lineup. Or much else, for that matter.
“I’m in a healthy relationship with my partner, and my life with my band and my friends and everything,” Wilson says. “Maybe things can be pretty fucked up sometimes, but most of the time, they’re pretty good.”
SEE IT: Aan plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Desert Noises and Boys Beach, on Saturday, Feb. 1. 9 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.