The members of Portland pop-punk band the Cry live and breathe rock 'n' roll, and you can tell just by looking at them. The Ramones stare out from a pin on singer and lead songwriter Ray Nelsen's jacket. An earring shaped like a pistol dangles from guitarist Brian Crace's ear. For these boys, rock 'n' roll is a lifestyle, in the way it was for kids growing up decades earlier. And now, with their second album, they're determined to make rock 'n' roll their living.
"I see the Cry as a rock-'n'-roll band in its truest form," says Nelsen, who resembles a baby-faced Johnny Thunders.
Nelsen and Crace, who met at the 172nd Avenue MAX Blue Line station in East Portland while in high school six years ago, are the group's backbone. They formed the Cry in February 2010, after letting go of their U.K.-style street-punk band A Crooked Look. Nights of getting wasted, doing "stupid shit" and sharing new songs led them to develop an act with a deeply nostalgic view of rock's past. A number of drummers and bassists have come and gone, but the two mainstays remain close, referring to each other as "brother" and eating dinner regularly with Nelsen's family. Nelsen's father, John, is the Cry's manager.
The group's songs are rich in three-part harmonies and classic guitar riffs, unabashedly inspired by the bands they love, such as the Rolling Stones and the Clash. Imagine the Ramones with the fashion sense of T-Rex, and that's close to the Cry's aesthetic.
Not surprisingly, Nelsen and Crace feel today's music is devoid of heart, throwing in with other current bands, such as Wyldlife and the Biters, that are looking to bring old-school soul and sweat back to music. There's a bit of a disagreement between Nelsen and Crace about whether their sound is anything new, but both think it's better than most of today's mainstream rock.
"By trying so hard to do something different than everybody else, [bands today] end up not translating well, and it sounds like a clusterfuck,â Crace says.
The Cry's first album, which sold 8,000 copies during the band's U.S. tour, earned many comparisons to Portland punk favorites the Exploding Hearts, another band that found inspiration in rock's past. At first, the comparison was bothersome, until Nelsen realized he was listening to the band a lot when writing the songs for the Cry's debut. He and Crace now both concede the Hearts are a major inspiration.
The Cry's new 10-track album, Dangerous Game, is more polished than its first record, and Nelsen hopes the band's next album will incorporate more instruments and studio techniques. The Cry has three new members, including a keyboardist, for its upcoming tour supporting Paul Collins, formerly of '70s power-pop band the Nerves. Nelsen is excited for the fresh charisma new members bring to a tour. He refers to them as being "very circus"—his way of saying they, like him, enjoy rolling with the punches.
"The show must go on," Nelsen says. "We're not gonna stop till we hit the top—or one of us dies."
SEE IT: The Cry plays Valentines, 232 SW Ankeny St., with Chanterelles and the Verner Pantons, on Sunday, March 16. 9 pm. $5. 21+.