At the beginning of this year, it seemed the music industry was about to undergo a reckoning. It seemed the Portland indie scene was about to go through one, too.
"I feel like the Ryan Adams piece kind of was a game changer for a lot of us, knowing men like that in the industry," says Summer Cannibals frontwoman Jessica Boudreaux, referring to a February report in The New York Times in which multiple women accused the formerly esteemed singer-songwriter of emotional abuse and sexual manipulation while promising to advance their careers.
Last fall, Boudreaux scrapped what would have been Summer Cannibals' fourth album. The project's demise, she says, was the result of the end of a relationship with a well-known Portland musician who co-wrote the album. Boudreaux has compared her experience to those described by Adams' alleged victims, but has been hesitant to provide more details on the record.
"I think I'm trying to stay away from using his name," she says. "I feel like still, at this point, when I do talk to people in the industry, there are plenty of people who don't know. And I don't want everything I do to have his name in it."
In the album's wake, the band wrote, recorded and self-produced an entirely new full-length. The result of those sessions, Can't Tell Me No, is due for release Friday. It's the Cannibals' widest-ranging album yet, balancing the tough, lacerating rock the band has become known for with soft, rhythmic interludes and heart-on-sleeve lyricism.
In a certain sense, Can't Tell Me No is its own form of restitution. But it also hints at how far the industry is from truly grappling with its ills.
"There are a lot of people I know who really let me down in this whole process," says Boudreaux. "Like rock and punk bands who are very vocal about women's rights and very, very against Donald Trump and all these people, and then have people in their bands and people close to them who are truly just as bad."
It's possible to listen to Can't Tell Me No just for the thick layers of gnarly riffs and catchy hooks, without detecting the specific tension driving the lyrics. But there are moments that directly address what transpired last fall. In the breezy opening bars of "Innocent Man," Boudreaux gently sings, "I told them I know what you did in the dark/And it's not just slanderous lies meant to tear you apart." The song also touches on the difficulty of speaking up when the reputations and egos of cultural gatekeepers come into question: "Power corrupts/And it's his against mine."
"I had plenty of backlash from important people in the industry because of this," Boudreaux says. "It's hurt me on a personal and professional level to an extent. Not in an extreme sense at all, but it's definitely messed up relationships for me. But I think it probably has for him too."
Boudreaux says it wasn't a difficult decision to scrap Can't Tell Me No's precursor, despite the fact that the unnamed album was more than a year in the making. But the band created Can't Tell Me No in only a few weeks. It's the first album the band has recorded and produced on their own. That freedom—combined with the liberation of trashing tracks weighed down by emotional baggage, and the frenzy of 14-hour days—led to a sense of experimentation.
"When I wrote ["Innocent Man"], it wasn't intended to be a Summer Cannibals song," says Boudreaux. "But when I played it for the band, everyone was kind of like, 'We can do whatever we want. It doesn't matter if it doesn't sound like a Summer Cannibals song.'"
That revelation lent a loose, organic chemistry to the final product. The band's sound seems to get rawer with each release, and their fourth album is no exception. Can't Tell Me No is as snarling as any Summer Cannibals album before it. Boudreaux's voice soars and swaggers. Growling riffs propel each song, and the crashing drums add extra grit. But there are surprisingly spacious moments as well.
Can't Tell Me No is stripped of polish, including any too-tough posturing. It's as ferocious as it is vulnerable. "Spin" is an emotional rager that you could just as easily headbang to or belt out with tears in your eyes and white wine on your breath. "Into Gold," the album's closer, is a subtle, run-away-into-the-sunset statement of self-vindication.
Can't Tell Me No is hardly a bummer. It's first and foremost an emotional release, but once it's out in the world, there's a possibility it could dredge up what it intended to leave behind. "I try not to think too much about it," says Boudreaux. "It would be weird if I wrote about really anything else."
Boudreaux knows there will be listeners who want a name, and others who are already aware of who the album is about. But she's said her piece.
"If people gather who it's about," she says, "I'm sure it's not OK with him or people close to him, but it's OK with me."
Hear IT: Can't Tell Me No is out on Tiny Engines on Friday, June 28.