Amid the ruckus of sound checks and merch-table set-ups, New Bloods drummer/vocalist Adee Robeson and violinist/vocalist Osa Atoe took a moment to catch up with WW during the hectic few hours before a recent show at Portland’s Hippodrome. The all-female, all-queer post-punk outfit has inhabited the dankly romantic basements and backyards of Northeast Portland for a good two years now, but only recently have things begun to percolate. After a three-month hiatus this winter, which was spent working on separate projects, the trio’s back in full force: It just finished a tour to Austin’s South by Southwest, released a music video and finished full-length debut The Secret Life (to be released on seminal Northwest label Kill Rock Stars this Tuesday).
Yelling over the stage bustle, we finally took refuge in a stairwell, our perpetually interrupted interview serving as testament to the band’s ever-more-frenzied schedule. “It’s weird to be [home] right now,” Atoe, an Oakland native, admits, “because we’re only here to work enough so we can leave again.”
While New Bloods (which is rounded out by bassist Cassia Gammill) is best seen live in intimate, subterranean spaces, debut The Secret Life—a prophetic look at longing and wanderlust set to deep, pulsing bass, triple vocals and electrified violin—translates the band’s raw, organic vigor remarkably well. Adorned with family photos, the album cover stands as an enigmatic tribute to unsung heritages; first single “Doubles” ends with Robeson yelling: “All we are is what we were before we were colonized!”
There’s an undeniably melancholic undertone as well. “Finally, I can’t tell if it’s a dream!” they sing on “Oh, Deadly Nightshade!” as if they’ve been waiting for escape, for release. The music is often frantic, yet the vocals remain calm and gracefully empowered.
Channeling their assured stage presence, the band members don’t seem a bit nervous when discussing their upcoming international tour. The release of The Secret Life marks the beginning of a stint covering Boise to New York and a slew of European Ladyfests. True to its name, New Bloods hasn’t yet toured more than three weeks at a time, let alone been overseas. “After two weeks, you just get into a groove,” Robeson explains, taking it all in stride.
Having just returned from SXSW (and playing a string of West Coast house and pub shows along the way), Robeson and Atoe seem tired but ready for more. Atoe adds that the diversity of the crowd made San Francisco a favorite along the way. “There are definitely more queers and browns,” she says dryly. Robeson nods and laughs, “It was a rager.” Both women lived in the Bay Area for a time, but agreed it was the first place they “couldn’t play music,” due to the high price of living and rickety equipment.
Though Portland’s cheap housing and embedded house-show circuit continues to thrive, our town is not without its frustrations—many of which fuel the trio’s work. New Bloods embodies a direly needed revitalization of Portland punk, which at the moment consists largely of white guys on bikes. “When we got here there was nothing...the nature of subculture is still predominately white,” Atoe points out. Shotgun Seamstress, Atoe’s zine, is out not only to shake these foundations, but to create new ones—to construct its own subculture. Issues include interviews with and essays by the likes of drummer Chris Sutton (Hornet Leg, the Gossip) that deconstruct and celebrate black, punk and queer identities.
Both Shotgun Seamstress and The Secret Life articulate the inherent tension between connecting with the world and maintaining our personal lives. Atoe describes most people’s existence as very isolated. Of Portland, she laments, “I can go for a walk and not see anyone for half an hour.” Robeson, who (like Gammill) relocated from New Orleans, agrees there’s something lacking here: “In other places...it’s all laid out, all the neighbors know each others’ business. Here, people stay in their houses.” Perhaps it’s the weather; regardless, New Bloods is coaxing us out—of our preconceptions, and our houses.
SEE IT: New Bloods play a Kill Rock Stars showcase with Panther and Horse Feathers Friday, April 4, at Holocene. 9 pm. Free. 21+.