Growing Pains might be your favorite Portland rock band’s favorite Portland rock band.
Local singer-songwriter Mo Troper and Camp Trash’s Keegan Bradford have taken to Twitter to sing the band’s praises, and the four-piece received a crucial early boost when Alien Boy’s Sonia Weber—a former music instructor at the Portland School of Rock, where guitarists Jack Havrilla and Carl Taylor first met—started booking them on bills.
Yet even the barista at the Portland cafe where the band has agreed to meet on a chilly post-snowstorm day is surprised by how young the band members are. Havrilla is the oldest, at 21, the others are 20, and the band is presently divided between Portland and Eugene, where Taylor and drummer Kyle Kraft attend the University of Oregon.
“We still make it work,” says Kraft over FaceTime. “We do a lot of trips back and forth for each other. I will say we definitely neglect actual practice, but we make up in just hanging out as a band.”
This last statement will come as a surprise to anyone who’s heard their new five-track EP, Thought I Heard Your Car. Doubling down on the band’s love of gauzy guitars and atmospheric vocals, it’s both their hardest-hitting and most ethereal release—and both a progression and a left turn from their 2020 debut, Heaven Spots.
Opening track “What Are the Odds?” begins with a drum pattern in a tricky time signature, run through a filter so it sounds like a hip-hop beat, before the song explodes into a heavy guitar breakdown with chopped-up, Auto-Tuned vocals by singer and bassist Kalia Storer.
“For this release, we really tried to use production as another instrument,” Havrilla says. “Heaven Spots was basically just instrumentals and vocal melody, whereas on this we were able to do all that combined with quadruple-tracked vocals or chopped-up vocals to make it sound more like an instrument.”
Thought I Heard Your Car was recorded largely at Storer’s house by Nathan Tucker, drummer of Philly-via-Portland indie-rock stalwarts Strange Ranger and a friend of the band’s.
“He was adding all these different production things and trying things out,” Havrilla says. “I feel like not having the time constraint and working with someone that we knew personally helped make the EP what it is.”
This looseness contrasts with the recording of Heaven Spots in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The circumstances of making the record at Echo Hill Studios in Portland were rather uncomfortable: The band had to record while masked and distanced, and the sessions coincided with Oregon wildfires that turned the sky orange.
Upon the release of Heaven Spots in October 2020, the members of Growing Pains had no particularly lofty expectations. “We didn’t do anything to celebrate it or publicize it, really,” Kraft says. “It was just kinda like, all right, here’s some music.”
But the record built up an audience, and the return of live music blindsided the band, who suddenly found themselves contending with a flood of show offers and larger crowds than ever.
“I think it was either like June or July 2021, but shows were starting to come back,” Kraft says. “We had already experienced a year in Eugene, but never got to play. And so we finally played a show in Eugene, and it was this huge crowd.”
“It was a really big moment as a band to be working on something and building for years, and then to finally have this show where we all had such a good time and saw what this could be,” Havrilla adds.
The first tentative returns of the Portland live rock scene included many do-it-yourself outdoor gigs, including one under a freeway underpass with another young Portland band, Common Girl.
“It was outdoors, but you could hear all the music echo off the underpass,” Taylor says. “It was an insane experience.”
“I don’t think basement shows came back in the way that they were super prominent before COVID,” Kraft says. “Outdoor shows were always nice before COVID, but it was really rare. I feel like it’s flipped where outdoor shows are more the norm now.”
The band members rattle off a long list of outdoor spots where Portland artists have been putting on shows in the past few years. They’re reluctant to divulge any details, but as the parlance goes, ask a punk.
They’re also excited about the crop of younger Portland bands rooted in the local do-it-yourself scene that started gaining steam during the return of live music; Chainsaw Girl, Common Girl, Purity, and Rhododendron are a few names they mention.
I ask if these bands have anything in common.
The members of Growing Pains think for a second.
“Loud,” they all agree.