[INDIE POP] It's the last night of August, and I'm mingling with well-dressed thirtysomethings at a Northeast Portland country club. To my left, a few of those thirtysomethings are happily in the midst of doing kegstands. To the right, behind a busied crowd playing soccer on the ballroom floor, local indie-pop group Newspapers croon the evening away. It's an odd (albeit fun) spectacle, but it's nothing new for the band. "We do a lot of weird shows," says bassist Billy Webb, laughing. "We'll pretty much play anything."
Earlier that week, in the plushy side-room of Southeast's Basement Pub, I sat down with Newspapers to discuss its early pipe dreams—and what drew its four members back together after years in separate projects and bouts in rehab. "I had no plans to start a band when I got here," admits Webb, who was the first band member to emigrate from Cleveland to Portland. Then he began playing with local electro-pop outfit Nordic: "[They] taught me a lot about the Portland scene," he says. Guitarist Josh Rivers and lead singer/guitarist Jake Hershman arrived three years later, and Newspapers was born.
Now, with drummer Brian Hoberg, the Cleveland boys are evolving comfortably within the indie-pop genre, peddling catchy riffs and blissful melodies baited with synth and glockenspiel. You may have already run into them, as they're known for passing out beer at parties and shouting "Courtesy of Newspapers!" (In my case, such heavy-handed propositioning took the form of being locked in a room and forcibly serenaded in hopes of a review.) One thing's for sure, the band vigorously promotes both itself and its circuit: house shows. "We love those shows," says Rivers. "It's more engaging."
Despite their music's bright disposition, it wasn't always sunshine and lollipops for Newspapers. After a few shots of whiskey and pints of Pabst, they're ready to air some skeletons from their pop-punk musical closet—namely an old moniker: the Skanktronics. Webb winces at its mention. The rest giggle and defensively chime in, "We were juniors in high school. We played Warped Tour. It was punk…all we knew how to play."
As the night progresses, Hershman and I end up at the Newspapers-frequented Jolly Roger. Exuding an innocent, Beach Boys-ish attitude, he smiles and admits, "We're all nancy, one-women guys...all the songs are secret love songs." Hershman and the boys have come a long way from their drug-addled nights in Cleveland. Now, they're filling every nook and half-stage in Oregon with alcohol-addled, polished pop tunes—a lifestyle that suits them just fine.