Garth Steel Klippert’s music sounds better outside a taxicab.
[CARPENTRY ROCK] When singer-songwriter Garth Steel Klippert moved to Portland from San Francisco five years ago, he kept the music he was working on—including a cassette tape, Music for Taxicabs, that he recorded and played for his customers when he worked the night shift as a cabbie—close to his chest. But that changed when he concentrated on his other career as a carpenter. Klippert specializes in building coffee shops, and when he finished a job at Albina Press, he was asked about music by now-bandmate Charlie Hester. He passed on a CD, and the rest is history.
"He calls me up the next week and goes, 'Yeah, I booked us a show. I'm in your band. When's practice?'" Klippert says over coffee at Hawthorne's Alberta Press (yes, he built it). "He knew all the chords. He was singing harmony. I've never had anyone just take it. He started the band."
Their band, Old Light, proves that Klippert's music deserves a broader audience. Released on local label Arena Rock (also home to Richmond Fontaine and Talkdemonic), The Dirty Future is an explosive debut LP. Three-part harmonies dominate songs that take a cue from the Band and My Morning Jacket, blasting from melodious interludes to full-on rock assaults. With autoharp in hand, Old Light has crafted one of the most satisfying and rocking folk albums in recent memory.
Old Light carries that same energy to the stage. The band is a beast live: Klippert and Hester swap between autoharp and guitar while bassist Patrick Finn adds thump and drummer Todd Roper keeps the rhythm grounded. Harmonies are nailed with a panache that would make Brian Wilson take pause, and the group doesn't think twice about bitch-slapping audiences by "attacking and destroying" songs with a Neil Young mentality.
For Klippert, 37, that's the way rock should be: an experience where the band and the audience are equally engaged.
"I want to get people off, and get off myself in the process," he says with a sly grin. "There are these times when you see it in the audience. There's a circuit of energy that plugs, coming through your feet, out your mouth and head and hands, going back in. I don't have a religion other than that."
SEE IT: Old Light releases The Dirty Future on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Woods. 9 pm. $5. 21+.