Sure, gifted artists—be they authors, songwriters or painters—are inspiring. But their stellar work can also be totally intimidating. Perhaps that's why it's so gratifying when an artist releases his or her early work. We discover, for instance, that Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, who released a collection of early recordings last month titled Alone, went through awkward metal, electro, grunge and alt-rap stages. It's comforting to know that the scribe behind the "Blue Album," one of the greatest rock recordings of the '90s, suffered artistic identity crises (and produced subpar work) just like the rest of us.
Which is not to say that Alone or releases like it—Death Cab's You Can Play These Songs With Chords, Bright Eyes' A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 and Modest Mouse's Sad Sappy Sucker (which features tunes circa 1994)—aren't enjoyable and curious to receive. Enter the local version: an event (and recording) called Tried Tried Again. The brainchild of Andy Giegerich, singer-guitarist for local indie-pop quartet the Honus Huffhines, Tried Tried Again will feature 14 area songwriters—including members of Curious Hands, Ross and the Hellpets, Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory and the Minor Thirds—playing their earliest (read: embarrassing, unsophisticated) tunes. "I'd been dubbing some old stuff from cassettes onto CDs and started thinking about what various peoples' early stuff might have sounded like," says Giegerich. Thanks to local collective/label Love Harder, that early stuff will be available on a free CD-R at the show.
Giegerich, a bespectacled Portland Business Journal writer, feels the whole concept can be summed up in one word: "sketchbook." "It's like studying an early and rudimentary series of an artist's sketches to see how he or she arrived at their most compelling paintings—or develop[ed] their signature style," he explains before a quick addendum: "Jesus, didn't mean to sound that pretentious." And the 44-year-old says he's often found his favorite musicians' youthful efforts not only interesting, but encouraging. "David Bowie's early recordings, from the mid-1960s, are horrendous," he notes. "What must his very first songs have sounded like?"
When asked if anyone cares what Tried Tried Again's performers' maiden material sounded like, he admits the event's a family affair: "These [musicians] are all friends of ours," he says, "[but] most [of them] are pretty developed [songwriters], which is helpful for an exercise like this. Of his own green songwriting, Giegerich offers the following lyric from a song called "Blonde Young Fascists" that he penned when he was 21: "Listen to Reagan, he knows the score/ He'll shoot off some missiles, then he'll buy more." "Pretty cringey," he admits, "and there are plenty more tortured lyrics within."
All in all, he says the performers involved thought Tried Tried Again just "sounded pretty fun." "Josh [Mayer, one of the performers] said it's 'interesting and cruel,'" adds Giegerich, "which indicates to me that it could be pretty damn entertaining."
Tried Tried Again, featuring performances by Jacob Anderson, Ross Beach, Dave Klopfenstein, Jack Tuftee, Abigail Adams, Dave Sullivan, Dan Cook, Josh Mayer, Chris Piuma, Sean Mersereau, Alison Dennis, Andy Giegerich & more, takes place Friday, Feb. 1, at the Red Room. 8 pm. Free. 21+. Read the extended Q&A with Giegerich
, and listen to "Blonde Young Fascists"