WHO: Jack Wells (vocals, guitar), Mel Tarter (vocals), Matt Grippi (bass), Josh Hertel (drums).
SOUNDS LIKE: When young love works out, or the color lilac, or two velvet ribbons tying themselves into a bow.
FOR FANS OF: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Rilo Kiley, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent.
"I guess we've known each other for a very, very long time," says Jack Wells of Portland indie-pop band Those Willows. He and the band's other primary writer, Mel Tarter, first crossed paths during ninth-grade theater productions in their native suburb of Detroit. Wells, who was singing in a pop-punk band, picked up an acoustic guitar for the first time when he and Tarter sat down to write some songs.
After discovering Tarter's classical theater-style vocals and Wells' pop-punk roots made for "a gross combination," they experimented with "Regina Spektor kind of stuff." But as they kept playing together throughout high school and college, their influences grew in number and scope. Wells cites Fleet Foxes and St. Vincent as informing their current amalgamation of folk and art rock. He adds that "Grizzly Bear has been this thing I tell our producers: 'Please, try to get some Grizzly Bear vibes in the drumming.'"
Occupying a space where melodious acoustic pop lives happily alongside synth and reverb, the band's new self-titled album is the sound of a folk band that's grown roots in the same town as Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Its opening track, "Know More," contains a sax line that Wells says "was directly inspired by St. Vincent. She uses a lot of interesting tones, and that's something we always try to explore."
Opting for the term "indie pop" mostly out of a struggle to pin down something more exact, Wells says the band's sound is "no longer folk music," especially on this album. Tarter chimes in with the clunky but helpful descriptor "dreamy folk jazz pop." But through its stylistic twists and turns, the bright thread running through Those Willows' sound is the magical blend of Wells' and Tarter's voices. It's next to impossible to tell which one is singing.
Thankfully, the addition of a full band for this new album doesn't drown out this focus, but actually highlights it. "The bass player and the drummer both joined about a year and a half ago," says Wells, "and they helped us form these songs. We came to them with the ideas, but they brought a unique groove to them, which is something we've longed for."
The added volume range of the full-band sound creates more space to marvel at Wells' and Tarter's harmonies as they crescendo and break off. Each found much more than a musical half in the other, and as if their music could be any sweeter, the two are now engaged to be married.
"Doing this with someone I love makes all the difference," Tarter says.
SEE IT: Those Willows plays Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Lenore, on Thursday, Nov. 17. 9 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.