Obsessed with birds from the earliest days of his Simi Valley, Calif., childhood, Freddy Trujillo once hoped to pursue ornithology before a series of missteps thrust him toward a remarkably varied musical career.
Though he's played with such renowned L.A. artists as Pat Smear (Nirvana, Germs), and joined some of Portland's most influential groups, including Richmond Fontaine and Fernando, the bassist-singer never really forgot his passion for raising pigeons and devouring episodes of Wild Kingdom as a boy. That's in part how Trujillo came up with the idea for the television show On the List: Bird Walk / Music Talk following a birding expedition on Sauvie Island last summer.
"Somehow, I just naturally have always had a good memory for birds," Trujillo says. "Anyone that's been on tour with me through the years knows that I'm always pointing them out: 'There's a cardinal! There's a grackle!' When I first moved to Oregon in the '90s, I was at a bus stop and heard this little chirping noise, looked up, and it was an osprey! And he had a fish!"
In the series' first three episodes, which will be shown in their entirety at a Clinton Street Theater premiere this Sunday, Trujillo brings together his feathered friends with more famous names—think of the program as a version of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, only there are birds instead of caffeine and vintage rides. In one installment, legendary blues vocalist Curtis Salgado joined Trujillo at a raptor rehabilitation center in Eugene. Another features Decemberist keyboardist Jenny Conlee, who watches the swifts swirling down the chimney at Chapman Elementary. And Richmond Fontaine frontman-turned-novelist Willy Vlautin accompanies his former bandmate to a popular migration site at the top of a mountain in Nevada.
Considering the inherent difficulties of nature photography and minimal experience of the creator and crew, these initial programs feel remarkably assured despite technical constraints.
"I would've liked to have gone bird watching proper," admits Trujillo. "That was the original idea, you know, but these episodes are pretty specialized. We got lucky because we were able to get close and have the birds in the same shot with us. Eventually, we're going to need a really good nature photographer taking B-roll. We've lucked out so far with our budget and who we have."
Moreover, for a project originally conceived as a means of promoting the artist's tunes, music plays a surprisingly indirect role. He duets with Conlee on an impromptu accordion-and-guitar jam of current theme song "Little Bird"—a track Trujillo dedicated to daughter Paloma and son Falcon. There's also performance footage of Salgado alongside a discussion of the singer's Blues Brothers-inspiring effect on John Belushi when the two met during Animal House's filming in the Eugene area.
The obvious respect granted Trujillo by his far-better-known collaborators should vouch for his proficiency, just as their warm rapport suggests in the show. Like Comedians in Cars or, especially, '90s IFC cult fave Fishing With John, the appeal of On the List for non-birders lies with the private glimpses of still-approachable public figures. And there are far more to come.
"Once we have a budget, dude, we're doing this," says Trujillo. "We're going to be in the fucking sea. We're going to the wetlands. We may even go check out sea eagles in Alaska with a guest who's legit blown away. When we get a big name attached, maybe people will listen to what the Audubon Society has to say about protecting environmental concerns. Maybe, through the eyes of musicians, we can shine a bigger light."
SEE IT: The first three episodes of On the List: Bird Walk / Music Talk screen at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., cstpdx.com, on Sunday, June 9. 2 pm. Free. Donations go to the Audubon Society of Portland.