2. SUMMER CANNIBALS
SOUNDS LIKE: J Mascis and Kathleen Hanna formed a secret one-off surf-rock band in the summer of 1994. They played two basement shows in Olympia before going back to their day jobs.
If recent Best New Band polls are an indicator of Portland’s interest in what one may refer to as “rock music,” the relationship status has been gradually digressing from “it’s complicated” to “divorced.” The clouds of grunge have parted, making way for genteel bedroom artists using laptops and layers of reverb to make what is now democratically referred to as “pop music” above all else. While this is great news for baristas in search of locally grown vibes to occupy sonic real estate between cuppings, it’s a sorry state for everyone else who wishes these fops would grow a pair and shut the fuck up already.
Alas, the rockists have finally risen from their couches to make their voices heard: Summer Cannibals are the new “rock band” for the people.
The Cannibals started out like most ambitious youngsters, cutting their teeth as local support and participating in showcases at Rontoms Sunday Sessions. While being an important steppingstone for anyone trying to be someone, the uber-hip eastside spot is not exactly famous for drawing an attentive crowd.
“We’re really loud! It doesn’t matter!” bassist Lynnae Gryffin exclaims when crossed with the idea of uninterested scene kids. It’s not subtle, sure, but it works: The group’s amped-up surf rock has vaulted it to packed houses supporting Atlanta’s Black Lips, Thermals side project Hurry Up and a sold-out Crystal Ballroom gig opening for Chvrches.
Since forming in 2012, frontwoman-guitarist Jessica Boudreaux has kept a sharp eye on the band’s place in the hierarchy of the local music scene. The dream of the ’90s has plenty of room for Summer Cannibals’ garage-grrrl redux, but it’s essential to dream bigger to escape the holding pattern of local fame.
“I think [attaining national success] is a little harder in Portland, at least more than it would be in New York or L.A.,” Boudreaux says. “There’s a ladder of success you can climb, and it’s relatively easy to get to certain points initially, but in other places there’s a more competitive vibe, and you’re fighting for those spots that are enviable. I don’t see that as much here.”
“I think the ceiling is lower for that reason, too,” Gryffin adds. “There’s ‘Portland’ famous, but that’s a pretty limited scope.”
“Yeah, totally,” Boudreaux says. “It’s not a negative thing. It’s just different.”
Before testing its mettle on the road, the group will record a full-length this summer at Larry Crane’s Jackpot Studio—a follow-up to its debut, No Makeup, which the Cannibals released last year on their own label, New Moss. (They also issued Diamond Junk by 2013 Best New Band finalist Sun Angle.) Besides being known for running the DIY recording tome Tape Op, Crane has a massive production résumé that includes records by such bands as Pavement, the Breeders and Summer Cannibals’ often-referenced heroes, the Thermals.
“Our first show was with Hurry Up at Mississippi Studios, which was crazy to have that kind of support from them right off the bat,” Gryffin says. “[The Thermals] have been a band for 10 years. They told us to do it forever. Don’t stop. Just keep doing it.”
With the other rising stars in the Portland scene having very little stylistic overlap with what makes Summer Cannibals a force to be reckoned with, it’s easy to see their back-to-basics approach to garage rock taking off in a big way. Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are slowly taking over the southern half of the West Coast, and it looks like the northern half is Summer Cannibals’ for the taking. Even Boudreaux’s mom seems to get it.
“We were having dinner with Jessica’s parents and a couple other people in Gig Harbor, and [Jessica’s mom] was really embarrassing us and putting on Summer Cannibals,” says guitarist Marc Swart. “When she put it on, she asked the other couple, ‘Do you like rock music? This song is rock music.’ It was awesome.” PETE COTTELL.