[GARAGE SOUL] "I play Portland's drumkit!" Claudia Meza exclaims, inadvertently summing up Hornet Leg's ever-growing momentum. Like many fellow Portland transplants, the duo is grounded in nomadic tendencies: It shifts and changes as it draws from a number of places, including New York, L.A. and Olympia. In fact, Meza's so fresh to town (and to drumming) that she only owns a cymbal, causing her to play a uniquely thrown-together kit at every show. The result takes forms in blazingly prophetic soul, erratic punk and garagey drone—a multitude of genres straddled with grace and dynamism.
Meza and Hornet Leg guitarist/blues-crooner Chris Sutton met almost a decade ago, but their collaboration is recent—and they bring equally hefty résumés to the table. Sutton plays in a slew of projects including indie icon Calvin Johnson's Dub Narcotic Sound System and fellow K Records outfit C.O.C.O., while Meza is best known for a stint with Japanther. Strolling through Southeast Portland, the pair discusses everything from burritos to Fluxus art. But both positively glow when the subject of their hot-off-the-press 7-inch, The Blood Trilogy (produced with Johnson), comes up. Meza says it's the product of an offhand joke she made after hearing two songs enraptured with blood imagery. Sutton snickers and quips, "That's how Hornet Leg works. Claudia makes a joke and then it happens."
Yet it all began as a freestyle hip-hop project for Sutton, who later moved into blues territory as a duo with Marianne Kozlowski (of the Punks). After Kozlowski moved east, Meza took the reins, learning drums with impressive progress. While she admits that the combo of high-energy drums and soulful vocals initially felt like "Dumbo and the feather," it's evolved into a vehicle for the duo's undeniable chemistry and unweilding onstage energy.
Though the musicians moved to Portland (at the encouragement of New Bloods violinist Osa Atoe) within months of each other—citing their love for "a bigger version of Olympia, with more cross-pollination"—neither has eyes only for Stumptown. Both still play in Olympia-based bands and openly drool over its highly superior burritos. The duo's future sound and geographical base may be uncertain, but if projects bloom from jokes, we can most likely expect a full album of primitive sublimity within the year—and perhaps a Hornet Leg burrito stand, to boot.
Hornet Leg plays Friday, Dec. 7, with Meth Teeth and Sue Ellen at Work/Sound. 9 pm. Cover. All ages.