IMAGE: Douglas Garfield, douglasgarfield.com
[POST-CRUNK] It’s rare that the same group of musicians begins in one genre only to make a U-turn into another, but that’s exactly what happened to Portland trio the Estranged. In morphing from violin-embellished “crust” hardcore band Remains of the Day to their current Wipers-informed post-punk outfit, Mark Herman (guitar/vocals), Derek Willman (bass/vocals) and Keith Testerman (drums), who are all in their early 30s, pulled off the kind of style shift that would ordinarily indicate a major change in personnel.
Although Greg Sage’s Wipers may be quite the trendy influence these days chatting with Willman and Testerman makes clear that this wasn’t an overnight change of punk costume.
A miserable 2003 European tour, on which Testerman recalls struggling through shows while he had a 104-degree fever, killed Remains. “It was actually kind of an Eagles ‘Hell Freezes Over’ thing when Remains broke up,” Willman says. While he and Herman had always been “like a married couple,” he says, relations between Herman and Testerman disintegrated toward the end.
Testerman and Willman remained heavily involved in the city’s DIY scene. While they did stints in numerous groups and Testerman ran his Black Water label, Herman was “not so into punk.” The bassist says he was surprised when Herman reappeared with renewed interest in playing. Their initial material came out sounding less hardcore than dark post-punk—and, ironically, “more like the stuff we all listened to during the later Remains days,” Willman observes.
Though early shows initially confused a few punk types, the band’s general response has been overwhelmingly positive—unsurprising considering the quality of this year’s Static Thoughts, which abounds with driving Joy Division-inspired basslines and über-catchy, double-string guitar leads.
And while the band’s other commitments make planning for the future a near impossibility, it seems certain that the crusty punk masses won’t be the only ones coming around to the Estranged.
SEE IT: The Estranged play Ash Street Saloon Friday, Oct. 31, with Pierced Arrows. 9 pm. $8. 21+.