2. THE DOMESTICS
SOUNDS LIKE: Two strangers in a bar at closing time, swapping stories of relationships gone bad until their voices conjoin in bittersweet harmony.
A month before Michael Finn and Leo London forged their Domestics partnership, another domestic partnership had ended for Finn. He wasn't handling it well.
"I was not taking care of myself," he says. "I had no ambition." A bad breakup had left him with an apartment he couldn't afford, but when his move-out date came, Finn hadn't so much as emptied the fridge. "I was telling Leo, 'I don't know, I'm probably just not going to move. I'm going to test out my squatter's rights.'" The next morning, as Finn slumped on his porch, London and his girlfriend, Lori, pulled up in a van and, like social workers cleaning out a hoarder, helped extricate him from his apartment. "I just sort of sat there," Finn says. "I'm pretty sure at some point Lori shaved me."
Finn is in a better place these days, though the backyard could use a good mowing. He lives in the house known as "Minden Manor," the Northeast Portland bungalow he shares with members of the disco-pop group Minden. Finn and London, along with the three members of the Domestics' live lineup, practice in the basement. At the time Finn left his lonely apartment, he and London were already collaborators, assisting one another on their respective solo projects. But both cite London's act of emotional rescue as the moment that made them bandmates.
In the two years since, the Domestics have become a sleeper hit in the Portland music scene, which, for a band that contains no trace of synthesized bliss, psychedelic noodling or punk rage, is somewhat surprising. Instead, the music of the Domestics is built on the bedrock elements of classic American pop: bittersweet melodies, rich arrangements, the occasional swaggering guitar riff. It's a sound both timeless and not of this particular moment—which is, perhaps, the key to the band's appeal.
As songwriters, neither Finn, 23, nor London, 29, were made for these times. But that's mostly because of how they were raised. Neither came of age like their peers, with the entire breadth of popular music at their fingertips. Adopted by his grandparents—his birth parents were junkies—London didn't have Internet access until after graduating from high school. All he had were his father's old records—"the ones that didn't get pawned," at least. At a young age, he immersed himself in the Beatles, Elton John and the Velvet Underground, and for a while swore off anything recorded after he was born.
Finn's adolescent listening tastes, meanwhile, tended toward contemporary Christian music, the product of growing up in a softly religious household. His cultural awakening happened at Goodwill, when he picked Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire and the first Foo Fighters album at random from the $1 bin.
"That wasn't all that substantial, but it showed me there's a lot of other stuff going on," Finn says. A more poignant moment of discovery occurred shortly after his maternal grandmother passed away, when he walked in on his mother playing Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde on the record player she'd inherited. "It was clearly this emotional moment," he says. "And I was totally blown away. I looked at the cover, and I was like, 'This is the coolest dude.'"
In July, the Domestics will issue their self-titled debut through Tender Loving Empire, the label that broke Typhoon and Radiation City. Not surprisingly, given what first brought the band members together, the album is steeped in urban heartache. As organs hum beneath guitars that alternately jangle and gently weep, Finn and London share tales of disintegrating romance, strewn with cigarettes and broken glass, set in bars and driveways, in Conoco stations and on the MAX. The two trade lead vocals—the former high and plaintive, the latter deeper and more beleaguered—but always seem to intertwine right when they need each other most.
Though the record is haunted by old loves, the relationship that informs the Domestics the most is the one between its principal members. Finn and London joke about being "the Lennon-McCartney of Portland," but, faux self-aggrandizement aside, their dynamic is not unlike that of all great songwriting tandems, where the differences uphold the similarities.