Who: Kyle Bates (guitar, vocals).
For Fans Of: Mount Eerie, Metallic Falcons, Grouper.
Sounds Like: The impressionistic, lo-fi score to a film adaptation of an unreleased J. D. Salinger novel, shot in the Pacific Northwest.
Kyle Bates was a week away from leaving Portland for college when he tried to take his own life.
It was late 2013, and after suffering from months of anxiety, paranoia and severe insomnia, the then-19-year-old had a dissociative psychotic breakdown, culminating in a suicide attempt. Instead of enrolling at Fairhaven College in Bellingham, Wash., he was prescribed a crapshoot of various medications, as doctors tried to find the balance that would treat his array of symptoms.
In an effort to distract himself as he acclimated to the medicine, he documented his breakdown in the Songs to Sleep On EP, a cassette of ultra-personal music he'd been writing more as a coping mechanism than a creative endeavor. He made micro-batch runs of tapes, each including a comic book he wrote and illustrated about the experience. "So that you can know more about me," he wrote in the liner notes, almost as if his recordings were meant to serve as one-way, message-in-a-bottle type transmissions.
"Talking about it in the public sphere makes it easier," Bates says. "It's stigmatized to the point where it's almost taboo."
After stabilizing, he released the memoir Mnemonic in tandem with his second cassette, Soon Asleep. Its six songs were Bates' attempt to capture the sensations he experienced as side effects to his medication regimen. They took on the form of murky, dissonant acoustic folk, featuring Bates' drowsy timbre in a sedate whisper, dulled by years of Seroquel dosing and a two-year lithium regimen.
Eventually, Bates resolved to wean himself of his medications entirely. He implemented a successful taper and traveled to Spain with a laptop, microphone and guitar, enrolling in a monthlong program in Zamora, where he worked with foster children and other at-risk youth as an English tutor and counselor. When he started trying to write again, he found himself too homesick to record.
"It turned out pretty dark, because I was so isolated," he says.
Once home, Bates began work on a more collaborative effort that would become his forthcoming EP, Memory Bed. Its first song, "Break," was written with Bates' partner, Maya Stoner, of the Portland band Sabonis. It's an understated affair shrouded in a drone of organ, tinny acoustic strums and the alternating echo of their voices, before coming together with a squeal of feedback at the song's climax. For Bates, it serves as yet another highly intimate representation of his experiences, recorded and released as the first word in a potential conversation with whomever cares to notice.
"What I love is, if I can get obsessed with one person's body of work and see connections between it, be it lyrics, or if you buy the record, you can sit around and stare at it and see the thread to the other stuff and glean more about that person's life," Bates says. "I've always been interested in trying to build something like that."
SEE IT: Drowse plays the High Water Mark, 6800 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., with Sabonis and Dragging an Ox Through Water, on Friday, Aug. 5. 8 pm. $7. 21+.