It's no secret that Portlanders—especially those in the music industry—work themselves to the bone. Between all the barista-photographer-drummers, student-cab driver-bassists and bartender-writer-singers, Portland gives new meaning to the term "multitask."
Take Heather du Lac, booker (etc.) for downtown rock club Ash Street Saloon. The proud possessor of (count 'em!) four jobs—sound, security, promotions and booking—du Lac admits she's an "extreme example" of the Portland workaholic. In fact, a desperate, "I'm-fed-up" blog post titled "Anyone want a job?" on Ash Street's MySpace page prompted me to seek her out. I expected du Lac to be, well, fed up. But the intense 34-year-old seems far more in control than burned out. And her attitude surprised me on a number of levels.
First, she didn't want to whine. With a hearty laugh, du Lac brushed the post—which detailed the frustrations of never seeing your loved ones or even your pets—off. Though she's no-bullshit about the fact she put the post up (and took it down within 48 hours), she considers meltdowns just another part of the daily grind: "About every three months, I have a little breakdown," she admits. "I have to let it out. Then I collect myself and go on. It's not something I want to do. It's something I do out of necessity."
She also didn't want boatloads of credit. Despite being sick at the time of our interview—downing OJ and cigarettes between sniffles—and getting a call in the middle of our meeting that would bring her into work that evening, du Lac repeatedly said she wants it to be about "Ash Street, not Heather." Unlike many who would like to think their jobs would crumble without them, du Lac says she's been trying really hard to make the venue "self-reliant." And thanks to a recent offer to tour Europe as the sound engineer for garage-punk band Pierced Arrows—the newish project of legendary rockers Fred and Toody Cole of Dead Moon—Ash Street will have to survive without du Lac for three months this spring. "I'm 34. I've never been to Europe," she says. Then, as if describing heaven, she adds, wistfully, "I won't have to be in charge of anything; I'll just have to do what I'm told."
While it didn't surprise me that du Lac claims to do her job for the love of bands (and the pride she feels working for a small business), it was certainly fun to hear how she got wrapped up in all the crazy workaday music biz. After quitting a six-year job as a horticulturist, du Lac wandered in to see a show at Ash Street eight years ago on Cinco de Mayo. The band was local pop-punk provocateurs Smoochknob, and frontman Donnie Rife had heard of du Lac's soundboard skills. He asked her to mix his band's set; when du Lac obliged, Ash Street's owner said, "Hire her." When the club canned its booker five years later, du Lac agreed to fill in for a few weeks. That was three years ago.
But why is this ex-horticulturist—whose booking philosophy is to serve the room instead of her own taste—such a fine sound engineer? "I grew up in the San Fernando valley, in the studio," she says. "My dad [Gary du Lac] was an engineer...in the late '70s, early '80s. I grew up wrapping cables, miking things." Clearly proud of her rock heritage, du Lac goes on to mention her father's co-engineering credit on the vinyl version of Black Sabbath's The Mob Rules. "I would sleep under the drum riser onstage," she says. "Every time my dad had a gig, I was just there. Rock 'n' roll! I was 9."
The thing I found most refreshing about du Lac (a "chugga-chugga" metal fan at heart) is that she doesn't think Portland—despite its rep as an über-liberal haven full of young creatives—is unique in its servants-of-art plight. "It's because [Portland]'s so small," she says. "It's just more obvious" how much everyone's doing. She uses herself as an example: "I go to the post office and book a show. I go to the supermarket and book a show...but this isn't everything. There's way more out there. I swear."
Heather recommends: The Young Immortals, the Trucks and the upcoming Samian reunion show (one of two in the country) Saturday, Feb. 2, at (where else?) Ash Street.