Mind-reading trio foretold Portland’s dance future.
[DIRTY DANCING] Anyone who has ever heard the slinky, aggressive confidence of one of Strength's "love jams," or caught the Portland synth-disco trio at one of its too few and far between local shows, would expect its members to be cocksure, strutting sex gods. But the three humble, soft-spoken gentlemen (seriously, at times they were barely audible) I met last week barely seemed like they could be in your high school's jazz band, let alone be some of Portland's sexiest late-night soundtrack-makers.
"[The band] is like a release," says singer Bailey Winters, acknowledging his relatively timid "real-life" demeanor. "We're not crazy. And we're not drinking heavily and then going up onstage and then drinking some more, which a lot of bands do…. We're the band who's always saying, 'Where are we sleeping tonight? We brought our sleeping bags. If we could just have this room, that would be cool.'"
"We don't party that much," agrees guitarist/drum-programmer Patrick Morris. "But you can take really fun music seriously, and I think we do. Probably too seriously."
But don't let that sort of quiet professionalism confuse you: The guys from Strength can create a raucous party anywhere with their indulgent, beat-driven anthems. Morris, Winters and keyboardist Johnny Zeigler met as students at California Institute of the Arts and initially formed a more straight-ahead rock band. But after witnessing the crowd reaction to the dance music that followed their performances at college parties, they switched tactics.
"When the band finished, everyone would stop staring…and a DJ would put on tapes and then the party was fun," Winters remembers. "So we were like, 'We should be that tape of Madonna instead of the rock band that just went on.'"
The band moved to Portland seven years ago, and then, inspired by Nile Rodgers' productions, electronic dance music and Quincy Jones-era Michael Jackson, it released its 2006 debut, Going Strong, a collection that introduced our town to Strength's hip-shaking, lip-smacking, swaggering disco pop (which comes replete with Winters' pleading, Mick Jagger-esque vocals). But acoustic folk-rock acts dominated Portland's music scene and Strength was alien among them, urging earnest rockers onto dance floors.
"When we first started, people were surprised by the backing track, by the electronic music," says Morris. "And now everybody has electronic backup tracks. Well, not everyone, but it's so common that you can go into a club and say, 'So, we've got a computer.' And [sound guys are] like, 'We've got you covered.'"
It's been four years since Strength last released a record, and a lot has changed in its adopted hometown. Acts from Deelay Ceelay to Copy have made sweaty dance parties de rigueur at rock clubs. And Strength's long-awaited sophomore effort, Mind-Reader—a darker, more ghostly take on its heavy-breathing aesthetic—is finally ready to get parties started again.
The perfectionist band may work slowly, but the results are definitely worth the wait. "I think maybe more things could happen for Strength if we operated differently," says Winters thoughtfully. "I just think we're going as fast as we can."
SEE IT: Strength plays Holocene on Friday, Sept. 3, with Fake Drugs, DJ Copy and DJ Patricia Furpurse. 9 pm. $5. 21+.