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February 7th, 2007 Amy Mccullough | Riff City
 

Friends in High Places

How Portland helped All Smiles' Jim Fairchild find his voice.

     
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Jim Fairchild—best known for playing guitar in now-defunct Modesto, Calif.,-based blip-pop band Grandaddy—lived in Portland for only seven months. But during that short time in 2005, Fairchild managed to record a fine album of gentle, acoustic guitar- and piano-based pop songs (All Smiles' debut, Ten Readings of a Warning) with a few of Portland's best drummers: Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi), Danny Seim (Menomena) and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Black Heart Procession)—a group he calls "the Triumvirate."

Now Fairchild's living in Chicago, which, he says somewhat defeatedly, is "fine." He and his girlfriend relocated so she could attend the School of the Art Institute, but—though he's getting settled and "75 percent of the way to having a band"—Fairchild says, "Portland is absolutely where I feel most natural and at home...that's where we want to wind up."

Portland is also where Fairchild found his voice as a solo musician. A man who has described himself as "allergic" to singing, Fairchild says it was Menomena's Danny Seim who he first felt comfortable playing and singing with: "I just said [to Seim], 'Hey, I've had all these songs that I've been working on for the last year or so. Would you come over to my house and bring a small kit and we can just maybe play them a bit?'" The thin, dark-haired, very Portland-looking guitarist also played a few shows with Modest Mouse during his time here, and he says frontman Isaac Brock encouraged him as well, saying, "Oh, you've got a nice voice. You should sing."

Grandaddy officially announced its breakup in January of 2006, but, according to Fairchild, the band began to dismantle in 2005: "Not to get into a shit-talking storm about Grandaddy, but that band pretty much became one central person [leadman Jason Lytle], so there's a lot of....pent up is kind of a mischaracterization, but there's just a lot of spare energy that I didn't use." Fairchild—who was once run over by Grandaddy's tour bus in an alcohol-related accident—also adds that being in control of his musical destiny "feels awesome."

The now "more sober" songwriter is hardly one to dwell in the past, either: "I'm pretty resolute that I'm going to be as productive as I can for the next few years," says Fairchild. Though he's still getting used to being "the person that the majority of people are watching" (in "The Velvetest Balloon," he sings, "Lots of folks are brave until they find themselves alone"), Fairchild says, "I don't ever want to be in that spot where I miss something. Who wants to hear somebody go, 'Oh yeah, it sucks that this thing ended'? It ended. Certain things end."

And Fairchild's amped to continue working with Portland musicians. "I want to make a record with everybody on Ten Readings of a Warming," he says. "I'm totally serious. I've been making these songs—maybe like how a director sometimes says, 'I wrote this part for Lindsay Lohan or whoever' (who would be a bad person to write a part for)—but I've got a set of songs written specifically for Janet, according to the way Janet plays." Somewhat of an honorary Portland expat, Fairchild will be back in the company of his local friends at this week's show, where he'll open for Quasi and be joined by Plummer on drums—an experience that should embody only the sincere end of Fairchild's chosen moniker, leaving the new frontman all smiles indeed.


All Smiles plays with Quasi and the Broken West Thursday, Feb. 8, at the Doug Fir. 9 pm. Free. 21+. Ten Readings of a Warning comes out Tuesday, April 24. Also see music listings.
 
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