Just when you think you're at capacity for uber-sincere alt-folk, along come Agesandages—a warm, world-weary embrace of a band. The Portland septet came together after the demise of other, more aggresive projects, most notably Pseudosix, formerly helmed by Agesandages lead (and native Seattleite) Tim Perry. As heard on their just-released Knitting Factory debut Alright, You Restless, Agesandages songs approach folk-pop perfection. On the surface they're strummy, cheerful and clap-along-able; deeper listening reveals admission of both the shadow of life's imperfection and the shine of human hope. It's powerfully uplifting stuff, delivered in hook-heavy packaging, all seven members singing full-throated, piano and tambourine jangling, electric guitars set to hum.
Refreshingly, the lyrics bear scrutiny. Album opener "No Nostalgia" is a statement of purpose: "All my doubts/They will cast/No nostalgia/No point of reference/Nothing wrong/And no looking back."
City Arts caught up with Perry before the band's most recent tour while he was driving from Gladstone to Portland in his newly-purchased Ford E350 passenger van.
CA: I really like the video for "Navy Parade." The song--a lot of your songs--is suitably bittersweet. There's a hard-fought hope here.
Perry: We chose that song because it had a distinct storyline, but it's also one of the more subdued songs on the album. In a way it's representative but in another way it's not the best song to represent the album as a whole. The theme in this album touches on that hard-fought optimism in the face of a world going apeshit. It sort of centered around the concept of willful isolation. We're distinancing ourselves physically, mentally from what's going on around us and finding freedom in that isolation.
It's kind of cultish in a way, a commune-out-in-the-woods type of thing, a utopian scenario that we used for the imagery. Anytime you say that--"utopia"--it's not whlly realistic, or maybe it's naïve optimism, and I think there's a touch of that in there. It's almost idealistic.
"No Nostalgia" seems to argue for a sort of aesthetic neutrality or timelessness.
Timelessness, definitely. And letting go of the anchors that can hold you in the past. Past ideas, past beliefs, whether positive or negative, can bind you to a place in a way that’s not free. In order to embrace this new way of looking at things, you have to let go of your sentimentality of past events that hold you where you're at, keep you from moving, literally.
Why do I like you guys so much when I'm already full-up on strummy alt-folk bands?
Well, I'll put it this way. I recently read a review that was based off a video of us put up by KEXP. We don’t think it's completely indicitave of our sound as a whole. That recording is unmiked and unplugged. I play an Orange with two 12s and I crank it til there's natural distortion. I'm not saying we're Metallica, but we're not Joan Baez either. We're still a new band so that video is one of those things we have out there, and it's from KEXP so it's one of those things that people see. It paints a certain picture but it's just one aspect of the band. And that kind of writing can help the band but it can hurt it too.
I think that was me on the City Arts blog. It was the first song of yours I heard and it brought to mind the Cave Singers. Definitely a knee-jerky blogger reaction from me. And I kind of framed the whole thing in a Seattle-Portland rivalry, which is a dumb too. But there's something going on with bands in the Northwest that are folk-based and play a very sincere, emotional sort of music.
I certainly don’t have any rivalry with Seattle—I'm from there. [As for sincerity], the method we used, what we're saying, comes in some part from all our experience in previous bands and playing music as long as we have. To the point that the seven of us, for different reasons in different ways, had to come to this current thing in order to cope with what we we're doing. That involved closing ourselves off and doing it, for better or wose. Some people will get to it and some won't.
Sincerity means committing yourself to an emotion or idea, whereas if you obscure meaning and emotion it's easier to maintain detachment.
The whole fear of committing yourself to an idea or emotion in a song or a band is something that I think is rampant in today's... dare I say today's indie culture. I think it's because there's so many references, so many ways things branch off. Everything is a reference to something else, and it's a matter of "Where do I fit in and who am I referenceing?" It gets confusing and people are afraid to offer a real opinion and say, "Yeah I like it," and when their friends say, "I don’t like it," just be cool with that. All the criticisms are given with a condiditon so that you don’t commit to an opinion.
It's a really delicate path to walk. You can't deny the references, and in fact, references can enrich your life and be enjoyable—a good movie, a good song, a good band. To be original, truly original, it has to be from the heart, not just something nobody's done before. It's a difficult place to get to and it takes people a while because they have to learn who they are and what they care about. That entails accepting the fact you're gonna get shit thrown at you for saying what you feel, but what are you gonna do?
Agesandages play the Tractor this Sunday.