With His Dungeon Synth and Doom Project WHIMZ, Cameron Spies Broadens His Musical Horizons

“This is something that’s completely fun and completely spontaneous and has no preconceptions.”

Without really trying to, Cameron Spies is leading a quiet revolution within the Portland pop music community.

It’s a position the multitalented artist was well prepared for. Spies has built an impressive résumé within the local scene, starting from his days co-founding the record label and collective Apes Tapes to his nearly decadelong stint as a member of celebrated indie group Radiation City.

Since that band split in 2016, Spies has kept busy while slowly retreating into the shadows. He’s cultivated a career as an in-demand recording engineer and producer, working with garage-psych group The Shivas and heavy-rockers Blackwater Holylight. And through his new label Literal Gold Records, Spies is amplifying the work of city pop-inspired duo Seance Crasher and neo-soul artist M A N E.

As for his own creative output, Spies may feature prominently in the promotional photos for both Night Heron (one of WW’s recent Best New Bands) and WHIMZ, his current pop project, but he doesn’t want to be the center of attention in either.

“I know my own limitations in terms of singing and playing,” Spies tells WW. “I think I’m a good songwriter and producer, but I don’t necessarily want to be the one out front all the time. It’s nice and liberating. And I feel like when I’m telling people about the projects, I feel less bashful about it ‘cause I’m like, ‘That’s not really me.’”

Instead, Spies likes to direct focus toward his collaborators. In the case of WHIMZ, it’s Sunny Faris, his longtime friend best known for her work as bassist and vocalist in Blackwater Holylight. The two met when Spies worked on that band’s 2018 debut album and kept in contact after those sessions wrapped. He later sent her the first Night Heron album. She was an instant fan.

“She was like, ‘Oh my God!’” Spies recalls.”’Let’s do something fucking sexy, but also doomy.’ We chatted over the phone a little bit and then we got in the studio for a couple of days with no preconception except that we wanted to have fun and we wanted it to be sexy and listenable.”

The pair ticked both boxes with ease. The five tracks on WHIMZ’s first release, PM226, ooze sensuality and skin-tingling vulnerability via low synth drones, stodgy rhythms, and plenty of atmospheric sound. Guiding the listener through it is Faris, who downshifts her vocals into the mode of a goth diva à la Siouxsie Sioux and Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard.

The only limitation the pair put on themselves was making sure that WHIMZ had an end date. Faris’ Blackwater Holylight responsibilities keep her on the road or in the studio for much of the year, and Spies has multiple recording projects he’s in the thick of. The fact that WHIMZ is playing a pair of live shows (Nov. 10 at Doug Fir Lounge and Nov. 12 in Seattle as part of the Freakout Fest) with a full band that includes members of Spoon Benders and YOB feels like a small miracle.

“This is something that’s completely fun and completely spontaneous and has no preconceptions,” Spies says. “We didn’t even think it was going to be more than one song. Then the one song we started working on became an 11-minute song, and we were like, ‘This is actually two songs. Now we need a B-side!’ So we made three more songs and here we are!”

While WHIMZ may not survive past this month, Spies has plenty more to keep himself occupied. There’s another Night Heron album in the last stages of completion, which he hopes to have completely wrapped up by the end of this year. It is a little more uptempo than the group’s first full-length, Instructions for the Night, Spies says, but still bathed in melancholia and laid-back grooves. Though the studio versions aren’t completed, fans will have a chance to hear some of this new record live as, through sheer happenstance, Night Heron will also play at Doug Fir Lounge this week on Sunday the 13th.

If that weren’t reason enough to hit this Night Heron gig, there’s also a good chance that this will be the last time the current lineup of the band plays together. All of the members have other creative work they’re involved in, and it helps Spies bring in some fresh blood to add new twists to the group’s sound.

“I’ve been pining to make this more of a collaborative thing,” he says, “but the reality is that people have their own projects that they’re going to have a little bit more passion about. As much as I want everybody to love this as much as me, I know it can’t be that thing right now.”

SEE IT: WHIMZ plays at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., 503-231-9663, dougfirlounge.com. 8:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 10. $15. 21+.