The man to my right was clutching a Pabst can in one hand and crying a little into his beard the last time I saw Holland Andrews onstage.
"I felt guilt, twisted with excitement, and had a hard time understanding how something I made could do that," says Andrews, referring to how people tear up at her shows.
The Portland classical artist, who performs under the name Like a Villain, is known for her unrehearsed, long-form noise sets, which mix jazzy and operatic vocals with experimental woodwind compositions. Andrews' reputation for operatic vocal loops has found a place in the city's renegade classical scene.
Now, Andrews' interdisciplinary yet steady approach to modern music is catching the attention of contemporary art circles, too. The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art recently invited her to do a residency and debut a piece at its largest annual event, the Time-Based Art Festival. With her TBA performance and a new album in the works, Andrews is poised to break from her roots in GarageBand, the digital audio program.
"I've never been the kind of person to sit, write lyrics and think about the structures of songs," she says.
Andrews is serene, almost pensive, with a curly crown of black hair framing her face, and dark eyes that seem to be looking into the universe, not just the empty pint glass in front of her. "[Writing songs] always happened organically," she says, "except for the album I'm working on now. It's gothy as fuck."
One track on her upcoming album, which has the working title I Don't Want to Be Here, alternates between ghostly crooning and Wagnerian waves of bass. "I was always into the more creepy stuff," Andrews says.
On her 2010 album, The Life of a Gentleman, she hit listeners with wall after wall of sound in choral blasts before switching to light, playful clarinet and snippets of spoken word. Andrews' last album, 2014's Bast, was a salute to taking charge. The title track opens with primal, growling vocals that crescendo to a piercing scream before folk riffs come in and then break into sing-songy lilts.
The most magnetic, and unsettling, aspect of Andrews' operatic loops might be the unexpected progression of sounds. It's a push and pull that both Andrews and her audience feel palpably, PBR drinkers and all.
"I learned to simultaneously welcome people in the audience like that and have inner walls up where I can interact safely," she says.
Like a Villain plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., 503-231-9663, on Wednesday, Oct. 12. 9 pm. $10. 21+.