"The Northwest doesn't have too many bands that we really like," explains David Hoffmann, the softspoken guitarist, songwriter and all-around point man for Portland's punk-rock sweethearts, the SLiP iTs. Softspoken...and wasted. And at 7 pm on a Saturday evening, so is the rest of the band hanging in the bar: bassist Teri Lea Graves and second guitar player Kris Chapman. Drummer John Chilson is elsewhere.
Two hours ago, all of the SLiP iTs were blasting forth in the parking lot of Centaur Guitar—a little unsteady in the August sun. The night before, though, they totally nailed it at the Know. "Best SLiP iTs show ever," was the buzz. And tomorrow they'd be playing a barbecue at Billy Ray's, where I looked forward to catching up with Chilson. Three shows in three days: A big weekend for a local group that plays far too infrequently. And, yeah, it comes as no surprise that the SLiP iTs don't really dig Northwest bands.
For the past two years the SLiP iTs have been honing a distinctly distressed, bicoastal garage sound that stops noticeably short of the southern Oregon border. Students of the name game check the New York Dolls and Supercharger; lay rockers just dig the punched-up noise and flat-angry vocals. That's not to say that the SLiP iTs aren't enthusiastic about—and comfortable in—the company of bands they keep here in town; it's just obvious the band isn't exactly mining the region at hand for musical cues.
"The Spits are cool and shit, but for the most part, indie rock is still kinda dominant here," continues Hoffmann. "I lived in Olympia for a while and that was all it was. Finally I was like, fuck this. I like the Ramones."
New York City, as it turns out, is where the SLiP iTs story begins. In the early 2000s Hoffmann and Graves played together in a band called the Tie Reds, and things were going well. Unfortunately, just as the city's garage-punk scene was really taking off, the economy was crashing post-9/11. Tired of struggling to make ends meet, Hoffmann and Graves moved to Oregon in 2003, where Hoffmann still has family.
Arriving in Portland, the couple quickly put together a short-lived trio called Champion. That led to a gig with damaged proto-punkers the Moneychangers, featuring Chapman on guitar. After the show, Hoffmann asked the Nearly Deads/10-4 Backdoor/Juniors Gang alumnus what it would take to get him to play with them. Chapman's response: "Not much."
Finally, Chilson was brought into the fold through the magic of a Craigslist ad: "Must like the Zeroes!" There was no try-out. Chilson and his minimal drum kit came up in the San Diego scene of the '80s, where he played in a number of leading '60s revival groups of the day (the Hoods, the Loons). As the "elder" figure in a band of thirtysomethings, Chilson has a full, mature life that's the main factor in the band's trim performance schedule—a small price to pay for a guy who could make Charlie Watts proud.
For that matter, the rest of the SLiPs aren't exactly fresh faces on the punk circuit either, though you wouldn't know it to hear them play. Still, why keep at it?
"I ask myself that all the time," responds Hoffmann. "Am I too old to play? I'm not going to get anything out of it. It's cheesy, but...it's just fun to play. We love music; it's our passion. But, really, it's like, either play music or come home from work and watch TV. That's what it comes down to. I'd be like my parents, and I don't want to do that."
Chapman agrees: "That would suck."
As does Ms. Graves. "That would suck shit."
The SLiP iTs play with Phantom Lights and the Eegos Saturday, Sept. 30, at The Bear Paw Inn. Look for more secrets of the SLiP iTs at localcut.com.