When Neil Young delivered the keynote address at South by Southwest last month, a lot of musicians were listening. He was pushing his new project, PonoMusic, a portable music player rendering digital audio files with the rich, analog sound of the Harvest Moon era.
Nate Wey hasn't listened to the Toblerone-shaped device yet, but he certainly falls in the pro-analog category. The frontman for Portland dream-rock outfit Souvenir Driver pines for thickness of sound. Hence a successful Kickstarter campaign for the band's first vinyl release, Living Water. It's the quartet's strongest work to date, delivering 10 tracks governed by '90s rock, shoegaze and dreamy, downright subconscious pop. The record is deserving of a needle, amp and solid set of speakers.
"We all want the songs to play off each other and supplement and interact with each other," Wey says. "I just think records are the best way to do that." Even the digital version has a lush fluidity, echoing the wavy projections that play behind Souvenir Driver onstage. "Movies inspire a lot of the music I'm involved with," says the former film student. "We want to create the feeling of movement."
The plan was to create 10 songs reflecting 10 different moods and colors. There's "All the Patterns," a reverb-ridden power anthem that could pass for early Interpol, a song Wey labels "dark blue or light purple." There's the hazy and lethargic "Yearning Possibilities," a lucid ambient-rock dream further sedated by Wey's whispered vocals. There's noticeable texture on the record, with homage paid to past slow-diving acts like Monster Movie and the Radio Department.
Souvernir Driver started as a solo experiment when Wey's other band, Happy Prescriptions, was breaking up. From the initial Joy LP came an urge to play live, and soon Wey was recruiting some of his favorite musicians over beers. Souvenir Driver currently includes drummer and the Upsidedown member Bob Mild; guitarist Ethan Homan, formerly of Soft Paws and Tiger House; and Travis Hendricks on keyboards and percussion.
"Bliss pop" is how they describe the band's sound. There's spirituality in there, too, but Wey talks about it without the jaded preachiness of a canvassing Mormon on a Huffy, citing Mr. Follow Your Bliss himself, Joseph Campbell, rather than theology. "Songwriting should come from that raw, vulnerable and dangerous space," Wey says. Bliss may be optimistic, but it's certainly not always sun and smiles, as demonstrated on Living Water. The record teems with melancholic waves of guitar but avoids coming off as despondent. It's shoegaze with grungy jolts that uppercut your chin now and again.
"Writing spiritually is very similar to writing under the influence," Wey says. "But thankfully, we don't need to be high out of our minds every day to go to those strange and mysterious places."
That is, perhaps, where Wey and Neil Young might disagree.
SEE IT: Souvenir Driver plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Tender Age and Bubble Cats, on Wednesday, April 23. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.