Hillstomp

John Johnson walks on stage with only his roll of duct tape. Then he continues to casually take his shoes and socks off and rolls his jeans up to his knees.

The older man anxiously hovering behind me asks, “Do you even know who these guys are?”

Henry Kammerer mysteriously struts on stage with his banjo, his hooded sweatshirt, and his shades. The lights dim and he takes his hoodie off. Out come the fringed leather vest and his metal slide on his left pointer finger; the crowd howls.
It’s not blues. It’s not Americana. It’s not punk. It’s not Appalachian. It’s ass-shaking, foot-stomping, danceable energy brought to the room. It’s Hillstomp.

Twelve years ago, Henry Kammerer and John Johnson couldn’t tell you they were about to release their fourth studio album, go on tour and be playing in front of their wives and children in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.

The blossoming of Hillstomp begins at Newport Bay Seafood Restaurant at the Washington Square Mall in Tigard, Oregon. “We embrace our lack of coolness,” says Johnson.

“We never intended this to be a professional band. It was entirely for fun and it was just to entertain us a couple nights a week. It just kind of morphed itself into something else. It’s amazing,” says Kammerer.

One night, Kammerer’s coworker and punk rocker John Johnson decides to take a crack at jamming alongside Kammerer’s newfound skill of slide guitar.

IMG_2296“I grew up playing saxophone, piano, various instruments. Then I picked up a bottle of booze and a bass and went down that rabbit hole for a good 15 years. Then I met up with Henry and started doing Hillstomp,” says Johnson.

Johnson never played drums in his life. All he had were buckets, cans, a cheese grater, some spoons, and other recycled materials. “I stole shit from the restaurant. Like a big soup pot, a grill, that kind of stuff to bang around on,” says Johnson.

What started out as a productive way to let off steam from annoying customers every night ended up being the start of their careers. Kammerer’s passionate and lifelong interest in blues music, specifically the slide guitar, ignited the fire to Portland’s beloved duo.

“I’d try to mimic artists with my headphones in, but at my failed attempts I stumbled upon some pretty cool things of my own. Not a lot of research; just with my ears,” says Kammerer.

Kammerer brings the blues and melodies, but Johnson gives the band a wholesome presence and a backbone with his makeshift drums.

IMG_2070“I grew up listening to rock and post-punk. It’s not that it’s necessarily in our music; it’s the energy of it and the simplicity and minimalist aspect of what we do. That’s where the blues in our music comes through, too,” says Johnson.

“Blues and punk: both of those are primal and basic and that’s what we do. Raw,” says Johnson.

Once they developed their sound, they found their energy. They kept being asked to play all over the Portland metropolitan area. After saying no for so long, they finally started saying yes to every possible gig. That’s when Hillstomp first found their stomping ground right here in Portland.

The duo started off playing covers of Robert Lee Burnside and “Mississippi” Fred McDowell. “This band wouldn’t exist without R.L. Burnside,” says Kammerer.

The five covers they started out with turned into an 18-song set list. Through mistakes and Kammerer’s exploration of open tuning on the guitar came their original pieces.

Soon, tours in Europe turned into shows all over the United States.

Hillstomp’s first studio album, One Word, was released in 2005.

After ten years of touring, stomping, recording, and mixing three studio albums and one live album, the duo split up for a year.

IMG_2193“We got burnt out. We didn’t talk to each other for a number of months. We wanted to wait and see if we missed it, and we really did,” says Kammerer.

After taking a much needed break, the duo reunited to write their brand new album, Portland, Ore., released this March 2014 with Fluff & Gravy Records.

“We spent a long time trying to recreate our live sound on our records. But we can’t do that. Every show is a moment in time. It’s never going to exist on a record. This is the first time we’ve ever created a record that isn’t an attempt at a live show; it stands on its own. It’s a record to sit down and listen to,” says Johnson.

“There’s suddenly a slower heart rate for us. Maybe it’s because I have a baby and John’s got a pregnant wife. We’re into our 40’s and facing beyond that,” says Kammerer.

The highs and lows of being caught up in the hurricane of Hillstomp took a toll on the band. But after the break, it brought back a completely different sound.

“There was a panic and tightness in us before. That’s eased in both of us and it comes out in our music. And that’s just starting. Right now, for whatever reason, this seems to be a band not on its decline,” says Kammerer.

They are dipping their toes in this new sound. The two actually find themselves wanting to listen to their own music after making this record. Hopefully, their diverse fanbase will agree.

Their assorted crowd is what keeps Kammerer and Johnson on the stage after all these years.

“We’ve had shows where I’ve been thanked by a child, a twenty-year-old with a mohawk and bone through his nose, and a grandmother—all within five minutes of each other,” says Johnson.

It’s not the quantity that matters to Hillstomp, it’s quality.

“We don’t have a big crowd. We have a lot of small crowds. The hippies come, the trucker-hat tattooed guys come, the tucked-in shirt blues guys come, and all these small crowds get along. It’s beautiful. I’m moved by it every time,” says Kammerer.

IMG_2247Nothing about Hillstomp was ever intended. It wasn’t designed. It was a delightful, surprising accident that Kammerer and Johnson just decided to roll with.

With raising their families here, knowing and loving each quirk of the city, Kammerer and Johnson know that Portland is home. There’s something different about the music scene here including the crowd and fellow musicians.

“We’re all very supportive here. We root for eachother. We like eachother. That’s amazing with a city this size and a growing reputation. You can feel the city huddling around trying to protect itself with the onslaught of Portlandia,” says Kammerer.

When Hillstomp gets on stage, it’s not music that they’re playing. It’s an energy that fills the whole room and the crowd doesn’t have a choice—they have to stomp their feet and shake their asses.

It seems like it’s two guys, a guitar, and a bunch of buckets. But no, it’s a slide-guitarist and banjo player who has a raw voice which slides into the crackling, old microphone. It’s “Lord Buckets” duct taping his instruments together, slapping his spoons on his washboard. It’s an experience that forces the movement and dance right out of you.

These two pour out their souls into their sound, generously including us in who they truly are on stage. There’s no classification for this music: it’s just Hillstomp.

For more stories on your fellow Portlanders and neighbors, check out the link: Poppycock Magazine

Where in Portland is Poppycock

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Interview: Anna Tivel of Fluff & Gravy Records

From playing fiddle to picking up the guitar and breaking into the Portland music scene, Anna’s adoption in to the Fluff & Gravy Records family has fostered a creative period that now sees her releasing her first LP, Before Machines. This incredible songwriter with her fragile voice talks with us about her journey to this point, her odd comfort on stage but discomfort off, and her off-the-cuff recording choice for the album.

WB: I’d love to talk about your genesis getting into the Portland music scene. You had moved here and started waiting tables, and then broke into the Portland music scene. How exactly do you do that?

AT: It’s one of the friendliest ones I’ve ever found in this city. I moved to Portland to go to school and then hung around. I wasn’t writing songs or playing much fiddle with anyone, and I started looking for ways to play. I started writing songs maybe a few years ago and playing guitar. I wanted to do some more music and so I started looking on Craigslist on the musician page. There was everything from “dress up like a cow and play bluegrass in the mall for the release of a new app” or there’s little bands people are forming.

So I started getting together with people. Everyone was just really friendly. Just kind of [made] my way through the grapevine, I guess. I played with a guy named Tyler Stenson for a little while and met someone else through him, and someone else though him. Eventually, I picked up a guitar and started writing songs and that’s when I really wanted to take it more seriously. I did that for a year and thought maybe I could stop waiting tables for a little bit and try it out and see if I could, between playing fiddle with other people and doing my own stuff, make ends meet.

WB: So it’s working out? You’re not waiting tables anymore?

anna-0617AT: No, I was thinking about doing it this winter. I’m definitely not in the lap of luxury by any means.

WB: So you said you started writing songs about two years ago. What prompted you to begin writing songs for the first time in your life?

AT: I guess I’ve always really loved writing in general. I’ve always loved poems and stories, and the lyrics to things I’ve always been drawn to. I just didn’t really have a vehicle to make stuff into songs and play guitar. Writing songs on fiddle never really felt natural to me. I just started playing my roommate’s guitar a little bit and learning a few chords and messed around with words. Then it just clicked, I guess.

WB: So what do you draw from? There are a lot of different artists, and a lot of different styles or types of songs. Are you writing by opening your heart and writing from very personal experiences?

AT: I have this aversion to being too obvious in my songs, like saying the direct thing, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The more personal it is, or the feeling of it, the more truthful I feel like the song is. Then it kind of sticks and I want to play it, I’m proud of it, but when I’m writing a song that isn’t as close to home, it never really sticks.

WB: So you went from waiting tables to breaking into the Portland music scene, meeting people, and then you started writing songs. How did Fluff and Gravy come together? Did you have this album before you connected with the label?

AT: Kind of. I met Jeffrey Martin, who was living at John [Shepski’s] place from Fluff and Gravy, two years ago I think, and started playing fiddle with him and singing; then we did some touring together. He knew John, and was playing the Wildwood Festival out in Willamina. I went out there and met them. It’s the most wonderful family of people, musical people. They get together and have fires and jam all the time, and all their kids hang out.

I haven’t been doing music in this way for very long. It’s just a search to find how to make it feel right. When you’re making an album, you’re starting out as a musician, it’s a lot of self-promotion. I’m never sure whether that’s alright with me, or how to put that in a box. Fluff and Gravy just feels right to me, the way they go about stuff. John wants to do only vinyl, ever. He never listens to CD’s or anything. He’s all about the integrity of things. He writes beautiful songs, their band [Vacilando] is one of my favorite bands in Portland. It’s just a good family. I’m really glad that I met them.

WB: Obviously, from what it sounds like, they just let you do whatever you wanted to do on this album. There was no real direction or editorial oversight, is that right?

AT: Yeah, I just kind of brought it to them. I really wanted to do it live, because I was touring a lot right then, so I was by myself and I don’t usually have a band. I had a couple of friends I wanted to chord with. Sam Howard on bass, Taylor Kingman played electric guitar, David Strackany played drums, and then Jeffrey Martin did harmonies.

I just had this idea that it would feel really great to get together with them a couple times and just have a couple crash practices and record it live, all together in the room so we could feed off of each other’s energy. I respect them as players. They care a lot. I kind of wanted that feeling of a performance where you’re in the moment and everybody is watching each other for cues and the song takes on its own feeling from that. I brought that to John and in this tiny room in the studio they just made it work. They had never done that before. They just crammed us all into this room and rearranged things.

WB: That was my next question: It was a very interesting decision on your part to do a rougher, less practiced album. Are you happy with the end product?

AnnaTivel_BeforeMachines_Digipak_flatAT: I’m really happy with it. I kind of want it to always feel like a real thing. Like right now, I’m learning so much and I’m sort of new to performing and songwriting and all that. It feels like a really rough thing to me. Everything that comes out is sort of raw and I have to work on it, shape it, and it’s not polished. That’s the best part of that feeling to me, is being able to write and not judge yourself or polish it too much. The way you feel playing with people when you don’t know the song, you just really connect with each other. I wanted to make that. You can’t separate the words from the song, because we do it all live. So I couldn’t sell it to commercials if they wanted; there’s all this businessey stuff. It’s not very clean, but it just feels good that way to me, I guess.

WB: Is that something that’s possibly temporary just for this album or is that something that you think will permeate your style as a person and performer, not putting on any airs for your performances?

AT: Yeah, I hope so. I’m definitely not a performer. I don’t say the right thing or dress the right way or anything. That’s one thing about this kind of music that I really like, or the musicians that I really respect. Their songs can stand alone, and I’d like to be able to get there someday. Where you could just be wearing what you’re wearing and you can stand up on a stage and really make people feel something. That’s what I’ll try to go for.

WB: So you’ve been performing in the Portland area and the Northwest, and you said you’ve been on tour. Do you still get stage fright? Also, what do you hear from fans or first time listeners that really does it for you, gets your heart aflutter?

AT: I guess if someone comes up and says, “This line made me think of this in my own life.” That’s like gold to me. It makes me feel like a million bucks for weeks. That they could take something that came out of my guts and it spoke to theirs.

I still get terrified. I’m no good at giving speeches, and being in front of people has never been what I’m good at. It’s funny, there’s this tiny pocket of this way that I can share something with people. When you can explain it in an artistic way, the way your lyrics are, you don’t have to make sense, necessarily. Everybody takes from it what they hear in their own life, and I like that about it.

WB: So you’re a bit of a shy person in general?

AT: Yeah.

WB: But you’re at the folk festival in Texas right now and you get up on stage in front of God knows how many people. Sounds like a little bit of stage fright.

AT: Yeah, I guess. I’m playing some fiddle with Jeffrey Martin here and we’re not performing too much, but there’s something really magical about standing in front of a whole bunch of strangers and singing an artistic version of something that you wouldn’t tell your best friend; that you wouldn’t have the words to tell. There’s no other time in your life you really get to do that. It’s a weird vortex.

WB: So, it seems like a bit of a whirlwind, a fairly short curve, from waiting tables and checking Craigslist, to you having a new LP coming out on the 17th of June. Then you’re going on a Northwest tour, I see. How wild is this? Do you ever take a moment and sit back and go, “Holy crap, compared to where I was…” Do you feel like you’ve made it, or had that surreal moment where you’re like, “I can’t believe this is happening”?

anna-0749AT: Yeah, it seems fast, but I think the whole thing is just this long, weird, wonderful journey that hopefully could go my whole life whether or not I’m always doing music as my main thing. I don’t know what I did before I wrote songs. It was just this constant battle to speak to people. There’s this little thing that really helped that. I’ve always been like that about music, I guess. I could go to a cocktail mixer and just claw my way out. Or I could go to a jam with a bunch of strangers with my fiddle and I just feel like it’s the best party in the world. It’s just friendly in Portland. Everybody helps each other out. They go to each other’s shows and they play on each other’s albums.

I started playing fiddle with the Shook twins a few years ago and they’ve just been so great. I get to keep writing my own songs because of the work I get from them. They’re just wonderful and I’ve learned so much. They let me play my songs during their set and they’re just a family. That’s what they want, for venues to remember how gracious they were and for their fans to feel like they’re in their living room.

WB: Is that really unique to Portland? It sounds a lot less competitive than you might think the music business would be from a complete outsider like myself.

AT: I’ve never lived in a different city and done music. I’ve briefly been through other places. I think folk music especially is a friendly scene, generally. I think people want to grow, and they’re competitive with each other, but it’s definitely not LA where business takes up a lot more space in the music world. You wouldn’t move to Portland to become a star. You’d move to Portland to sink into a really wholesome, friendly music community where everyone is really supportive and you can work on your craft more than find the right places to get famous.

WB: It must help to have so many music venues in Portland. There’s something going on every day. It’s also a bit of a hub for any national tour. You go through Seattle, Portland, and then down to San Francisco as a pretty standard run. Has that helped, to have such a wide variety of venues and opportunities to play and hone your craft?

AT: Yeah, for sure. I am from a really small town in northern Washington, and when I moved to Portland I worked at this little movie theater serving popcorn. For a while I would spend all my money going to shows because I would look in the paper, or the Mercury, or Willy Week, and there would be something like six people in a month that I was like, “Oh my gosh! I’m probably never going to see them again!” I just had this small town mentality like, “I can’t believe I could go see this in my town!” After a while I had to cut myself off and see one show a month.

You can definitely see people that inspire you, and there’s also a variety of places to play if you want a smaller listening room or if you’re looking for stages or places to play. It’s really nice. It’s not in every city where you can play in a small listening room and book it easily.

**For more stories about Portlanders just doing their thing and chasing dreams, check this out: Poppycock Magazine

Where in Portland is Poppycock

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Serenaded by Moniker: Video

Along with picking her brain in her basement and then hanging out with her in an abandoned building, we figured with all this talk of music that we should get at least one song. So, check it out. Her living room, one-take. For more on Moniker, be sure to check out the June/July issue of Poppycock available at Portland Button Works and Reading Frenzy with more locations to come. Remember, she’s our 11X17 pull-out poster of the month:
Moniker_finals16

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Poppycock Magazine: June 2014

Poppycock June/July 2014

It’s Rex Manning Day! Wait, that’s not right. Oh, yeah..it’s Magazine Day! The June/July issue is out today. Support indie, ad-free nonsense in Portland. Visit our FB page and every ‘share’ enters you to win exclusive project: poppycock merch, stuff you didn’t even know you wanted until just now.

Check out some of what we’ve got for you:

An in-depth story about Portland’s own Moniker

The story of Walnut Studiolo nearing its fifth anniversary

An afternoon with Matt Huntley of Bodypaint by Numbers

A look at the unique experience of Holdfast dining

An interview with Fluff and Gravy Records artist Anna Tivel

A look at Portland’s Secretwave music scene

The poetry of Aleg Naj and Franklin of Psychopomp Poetry Salon

A story about blues legend Ellen Whyte and her work in our public schools

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5 Reasons to be Stoked for WTF

It’s the best time of year: festival season.

It kicked off with Coachella, then came Sasquatch, and for the lucky Portlanders there’s Musicfest NW.

But if you really want to escape, there’s a festival that might just top them all: What The Festival.

Here are Poppycock’s 5 reasons you must go to WTF?! 2014:

The underground music While they have a few big names coming through this year such as Glitch Mob, Washed Out and Emancipator Ensemble, there are many smaller names participating. This festival introduces and gives a chance to local musicians. So, if you’re an electronic music junkie searching for the next breakthrough names like us at Poppycock, GO.

The film festival Aside from the four stages set up, there’s also an international micro-film festival. After dancing all day, fest-goers can chill out and relax in the forest with their Decked Out Cinema and watch independent films all night.

The illuminated forest It’s a forest that’s set up for your mind’s imagination. Once you enter this forest, you’re pretty much on another planet. There’s a jump wall. There’s a web garden in the trees. There are various sculptures, lanterns, and “puzzles” hanging through the forest. Intriguing.

There’s belly dancing, breakdancing, burlesque, and Bob Marley yoga classes. Enough said.

It’s an excuse for a massive pool party. But seriously, there’s a massive pool.

So there you have it, the best summer kick-off ever. OK, so you want a little detail, a line-up, something other than this cursory list of cool crap? OK, fine. Check this poster out below and commence drooling.

2014 poster

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ODESZA Blows the Roof Off of Holocene for the Soul’d Out Music Festival

There’s no need for introductions or spotlights here. They let their music do all the talking.

Anyone can throw a few tracks together and call it a song. But these two Seattleites prove that sample artists can in fact be true musicians.Some electronic has a trance that feels like walking on clouds, but ODESZA lights a fire underneath it and makes it skyrocket.They’re both percussionists. Their live beats make each of the tracks tie together and pop, rather than just being lost in the daze.

mainphoto

Each song starts with a trickling sensation, making you want more. They tease you, give you hope that they’re actually going to take the song there, and then boom—the song explodes and takes it five levels past that.
Going to a show isn’t just about seeing the band play anymore. Musicians are constantly finding new and inventive ways to step it up and create an experience for the audience instead of just playing what they previously recorded.

ODESZA is a perfect example of where music is heading. They are masters at connecting the crowd to their music through video, lights, live beats, and samples. It’s not just “oh hey, I know this song.” Instead, they blow all expectations out of the room. There’s no way to predict where the track will go next. Sometimes surprises in electronic sets can be really off putting. The crowd expects a drop and it doesn’t happen.

Every surprise that these guys bring to their set is delightful and so worth the tease.

In just two years ODESZA already sells out shows and opens for main headliners like Pretty Lights. These guys have hit the ground sprinting, and it’s only the beginning. All of us here at Poppycock are biting our nails and anxious to see the big things about to happen for these two.

rooster skull line

It’s festival season. Get your booty to the ODESZA stage.

17 Apr
Leonardo’s
Fullerton, CA
Free for 21+ with RSVP. $10 for Guaranteed Entry.

19 Apr
Coachella
Indio, CA
SOLD OUT
Set Time TBA

6 May
Iron Horse Music Hall
Northampton, MA

7 May
The Middle East
Cambridge, MA

9 May
CMW – Tattoo Rock Parlour
Toronto, ON

10 May
Knitting Factory
Brooklyn, NY
SOLD OUT

13 May
Santos Party House
New York, NY

14 May
Cafe Eleven
St. Augustine, FL
with Kodak to Graph

15 May
Bardot
Miami, FL
with Kodak to Graph

16 May
Will’s Pub
Orlando, FL
with Kodak to Graph

17 May
Crowbar
Tampa, FL
with Kodak to Graph

11-13 Jul
The Hudson Project Festival
Saugerties, NY
ODESZA Set Date and Time TBA

1-3 August
Osheaga
Montreal, QC
Show Date and Time TBA

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Temples Played Star Theater for the Soul’d Out Music Festival

I love when an LP doesn’t do justice to a live show. Going in to covering Temples at Star Theater on Thursday I was nervous that the sounds I heard on their new LP, Sun Structures, weren’t going to translate to a great show, but I was wrong.

Blitzing guitar riffs, dramatic lighting and a crowd that was so very much in to what they were hearing brings the album alive. It’s always fun to watch a crowd gather as the minutes tick down to show time. You go in to secure a spot and find yourself fighting to inch closer to the stage. That’s when the excitement builds.

Temples could not look more the part of a psychedelic rock band from the UK. They fell right out of a time machine after opening for the Beatles in Hyde Park with the tunes to match.

Check out a track here. Sun Structures is available now on Fat Possum

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