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Scott Gillan: Scott Gillan. I’ve lived here since July 3, 1993. And I moved here from Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Adam King: Broadly, would you say there is a music scene in Portland?


SG: Oh definitely. Yes.


AK: Would you say you’re part of that music scene?


SG: Yes. Absolutely.


AK: Could you describe that music scene in the broadest sense. 


SG: In the broadest sense?


AK: Yeah. If somebody said, “Hey, I’ve never been to Portland. What’s the music scene like?”


SG: Well, that’s as difficult a question to answer as it was when I moved here in 1993. To me there’s always been two distinct, and this is just from my personal tastes, but there’s always been two distinct Portland scenes. There’s the hippie vibe thing, which includes jambands before they were even called that in the 90’s. But you know, jambands, bluegrass bands, stuff like that. Then you have the rock scene which I think Portland is maybe more well known for, from all the punk rock stuff. So when I moved here in ’93, those were the two main things. 


Now, 25 years later, there’s fewer venues and I think there’s a lot less… there seems to be a lot less bands that are trying to make it big, but there’s a lot of bands who are playing pretty regularly locally, and maybe tour every once in a while, but there’s not all the record labels and stuff that there were. Now that there’s no music industry like there was in ’93, the music scene here I think is best described as just disparate.It’s all over the place.I mean, there’s a strong hip-hop scene that I really know nothing about. I rarely go to any live shows or house parties. There’s house parties for all different kinds of music, in lieu of a lot of venues closing. Portland’s always had a strong hippie element, a big time blues scene for older players and maybe in the suburbs, and rock or metal, encompassing punk too, has always been pretty strong. So Portland’s got a lot of different types of music in its’ music scene, and it’s active. For a city this size, I think there’s gotta be more bands per capita here than in other cities of equivalent population I would say.


AK: So outside of your scene, are there any of those other subsets of the Portland music scene that you have positive or negative feelings towards in any way? Envious or loathing-wise.


SG: Loathing-wise? No. I’ve always been dubious of the whole blues scene. Cuz it seems like there’s a lot of people that gig regularly – people older than me – that gig regularly in the blues scene, but it’s blues. And after a while, for people that are musicians it’s kind of like the rudimentary entry level jam thing. You know what I mean? I would never say, “Hey let’s go to this blues show.” But as far as loathing it? No. I respect that there’s people doing what I do as semi-professionally as a musician. There’s the equivalent of that in the blues scene. They just are older and have been playing a lot longer than me. But as far as a loathing for any particular scene? No, not really. I mean, maybe there’s modern country being produced here and there’s somebody who’s hitting it hard or whatever with that country-hop or whatever that shit is, but I don’t encounter them because I’m playing all the time. No I don’t have any loathing toward any of the other subsets. I don’t think.


AK: So do you think that, amongst all those subsets though, do you think there’s something that can be broken down as being thought of as a Portland sound?


SG: I think that that was definitely true in the 90’s when I moved here. Far more than it is now. But I think that I don’t know if I can speak on that with any authority currently. But definitely in the 90’s all the way up to basically the millennium, there were a lot of bands that were kind of related to the grunge thing, the Seattle thing. But it was a little darker, a little moodier, not as polished or sophisticated that I enjoyed back then. So yeah, I think that there was more a Portland sound back when Elliot Smith was in Heastmiser or Pond was playing. Or there were tons of them. Gravelpit I saw a bunch of times. Bands that would go on to do nothing other than be huge in the Portland scene. Like Sweaty Nipples, they were like contemporaries with Mr. Bungle and that kind of thing – they would tour with Bungle. Crazy, weird ska-metal, stuff like that. And I think that there was an element of that that was definitely… Portland. But Portland has always had kind of a gloomy vibe to it. It’s similar how Seattle’s grunge stuff as looked at as being kind of gloomy and reflective of the weather and everybody’s mood. In the 90’s, yeah, there was definitely a Portland sound and vibe that other bands that weren’t from Portland kind of caught perfectly and encapsulated perfectly, which is probably why fuckin’ Pavement moved here for one thing. But yeah, I guess now, speaking contemporarily, I don’t think I could really put my finger on that because… Portugal the Man? They’re Portland, but they’re not even really from Portland. That Modest Mouse guy lives here, but I don’t consider them to be Portland. The Decemberists, maybe? I mean they’re straight up Portland right?


AK: Yeah, I guess so.


SG: But I can’t speak to there being a definitive Portland sound.


AK: Well do you think though is there a modern, contemporary Portland vibe? If you can tell that it’s different than what it used to be…


SG: Yeah…


AK: So what would that be?


SG: Hmmm. 


AK: Not as gloomy?


SG: Not as gloomy, I think maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to make the comparison because in the 90’s I was in my 20’s and now I’m almost 50. So I don’t look at it the same way because it isn’t the same way. I guess, because I’m in a better place, I would think that it’s not as gloomy. I can’t remember the last time I was like, “Oh I wanna go listen to Quasi’s second album.” And I mean, I love them! In the 90’s, I moved here and there were shows every night all over the place. Different clubs. It was crazy. But now I don’t even have any perspective on that.


AK: Well, do you think you could tell though that back then it was perhaps easier to survive solely as just being a Portland musician as compared to today?


SG: Yeah, probably. Because you could rent an apartment with four people for $500 a month. And then if it was a rental house with a basement, you could have the jam space down there. Many, many bands were doing that when I moved here. We did that. The first band that I basically thought up and created. We played every Friday night because we didn’t know anybody. We knew each other from college but our circle of friends wasn’t all that expanded. None of us had any money, so we would just jam. And I mean every Friday night for like two years. (Laughs) Until we started actually playing. So yeah I think it was probably easier to be a full-time musician then because of the cheap rents – I mean there was housing and stuff. And there were places to play. If you were just starting out, or just starting a band, and it was a rock band or whatever, there were places where you could play on a Tuesday with two other bands, or three other bands, and people would come see you because there was nothing else to do. I mean, you could watch TV. There was no internet. It wasn’t like you could stream everything in the world that you’ve ever thought of, like you can now. So I think it was definitely easier for that to be the case, and Portland as a population center was more amenable to that. It was easier to do that.


AK: Do you think there are Portland musicians who are surviving solely on music here today?


SG: Oh, I know there are. But you’re looking at somebody like Lewi (Longmire) is probably the foremost example that I can think of. I mean, he’s booking the Thirst, he’s playing in like four different bands, and he’s playing all the time. There’s another guy that I know, David Langenes, who’s the guitar player for the Karaoke From Hell band. He does a lot of different stuff and is gigging all the time. I don’t know if he’s as busy as he was, but I remember at one point having a conversation with him where he was in seven bands. Seven! And they were all playing! He was just like, “Oh man if I’m not on my way to a gig, I’m coming from a gig, and then I probably have another one later.” I mean, it was just crazy. And I guess to an extent, you would have to include wedding bands like that Blueline Band that’s booked by this guy Trent, the guy that played with Tracewell at GBB Fest two years ago. So he is like the local franchisee. He’s from Nashville – he’s a super-pro player. But he is like the music-director/booking-agent/manager of Blueline, which is like an events band. Like weddings, corporate events, all that. And I think you could make a living doing that, but as far as a full-time thing? I don’t see how you could really do it in Portland anymore. Because it used to be I would think that you could probably have done it in Portland, and there were people that did it all through the 90’s up until probably 2005 or whatever – you could definitely do it, but it took some hustling and eventually you have to tour. And I know that a lot of bands of that level, or back then and probably now, would go to Europe. They would play in Portland occasionally, maybe play up and down the west coast, but then would just go to Europe. So I mean I think you can make a living at it – you could, but it would be hard now.


AK: If you were in a position to sacrifice your self-purported definition of artistic integrity for a well-paying, steady music gig, is that something you would consider?


SG: If that was my full-time job and I didn’t have a day job? Oh fuck yeah. Absolutely.


AK: So then would you say that you have artistic integrity as a musician?


SG: I do have artistic integrity. Yeah. Absolutely.


AK: But you want to pay the bills.


SG: Of course. I long ago figured out that I’m not the type of musician that… I’m not a song writer. I’m a really good song editor. And I’m good at hearing what somebody’s idea is and helping them flesh it out or what have you, but I’ve never had a grand artistic statement to make and I’ve never really thought of myself as a musician that does that. I’m a specialist. But as a bassist, I have to know what’s up with lots of different styles. And if that means that I can get a gig playing with a wedding band? Fuck yeah. I have no problem doing that. I don’t think that thatand artistic integrity are mutually exclusive. 


AK: So if you could snap your fingers, what would you make different about the Portland music scene right now?


SG: More venues. More venues. Better parking for musicians. Or just parking for musicians. Musician loading zones – that would be huge. Huge! And they should have it in Portland goddamnit.But what would I change? I don’t know. The scene as it is now – I’m quite happy with how my musical career has turned out over the last few years.


AK: Well would you say that the Portland scene in general though, would you say it’s better or more thriving now than it was in the 90’s?


SG: That I don’t know. It seemed like it was more thriving back then because I was just going out all the time, and I was seeing lots of different bands, and discovering bands opening for national touring acts that I don’t think I ever would have encountered. But that’s because I was going to place like Satyricon, or the X-Ray Café, or the balcony at La Luna, which would have shows like that of that size. Later, the Tonic was another place like that, that would have multiple local band bills and that sort of thing. But those places are getting harder and harder to find, and I don’t go out that much because I’m playing a lot. And when I’m not playing, I generally don’t want to go out anymore as a 50-year old person. 


AK: Regardless of yourself, why do you think that some of those places aren’t surviving anymore? Do you think it’s because people aren’t necessarily supportive of the local music scene here?


SG: I think that’s part of it. But I also think that with the internet and with the fact that you can get Garageband and rudimentally fuck around, even if you have no musical knowledge or skill whatsoever, you can do that yourself and put it online and don’t have to even play gigs. You don’t have to do that now. But there’s also a lot more people who are playing instruments badly out live. You know what I mean? There’s a lot more guitars and there’s a lot more – there’s just a lot more bad music. Because people haven’t been doing it that long. I think 20 years ago, when I was hungry and bored and going out and partying a lot, it sure seemed more thriving.


AK: Well would you say now that you take pride in being a Portland musician? Is that a label that you’ve ever put on yourself? 


SG: Well no, but yeah I’m proud of it. I’m totally down with it. Like when we go up into Washington, we’re from Portland. We’re not from Seattle. We’re not from Bellingham or Olympia or wherever, and the fact that we’re from Portland it’s fucking… yeah, I’m proud to be from Portland. I’m proud to be a Portland musician. Same thing going down to Eugene – it’s like, “yeah man, we’ll show you fuckers how it’s done.”


AK: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever played music in Portland?


SG: The Wonder Ballroom on a sold-out night – that’s probably close. Geez. I really like playing at The Mission. I love playing at The Mission, and I love playing at the ‘Thirst. But I like playing at The Goodfoot a lot too. For me, The Goodfoot is like evocative of that old school Portland because there’s no stage, the low ceiling, and people show up to fucking rage there. They show up to dance, and drink, and get stoned, and then party. And that’s one of my favorite places. Anywhere the energy is like that massive. But in Portland itself – The Mission for sure. I mean, no question, that’s like the optimal room to play. But for different reasons, like the Thirst is one of my favorites too because it’s super intimate and I’ve seen so many bands there for the last 25 years. And seen some amazing things there. But that’s also the first place that I went when I moved here. 


My friend was like, “Okay we’re gonna go see The Treefrogs at The Laurelthirst.” And I was like, “What’s the Laurelthirst?” “Oh, that’s a pub – you’ll love it.” And at the time they just had beer and wine. So of course just having moved here like two weeks ago I was still just dazzled by microbrews in general and the fact that a place would have fifteen different beers, none of which I had tried. It was pretty amazing. But I walked into the ‘Thirst right as The Treefrogs were starting “Eyes of the World” and I was like, “Okay, I think I’m in the right place here.” And that was it.


AK: What’s your least favorite place that you’ve ever played, or play?


SG: The Analog pretty much sucked. Didn’t like the Analog at all. Still don’t.


AK: For what reasons?


SG: It’s just skeezy. Everything, it seemed as though it was kind of thrown together. I mean, the P.A. system and everything was fine, but it just… it just seemed icky. Like the people working there, obviously they didn’t give a fuck. And they’re over-serving people and people would just get fucking hammered there. But yeah, The Analog and I did not like playing at The Tonic – The Tonic Lounge.


AK: Even though you liked seeing shows there?


SG: Oh, I loved seeing shows there. But playing there – different story all together. And it’s just because typically when I would play there I would be in a hippie band or whatever. Like we did a KBOO fundraiser there, and the people there are like tolerant of it, but you can tell they are not into it. It’s like the joke is when Shafty plays at The Star, The Star makes a lot of money. The place is packed. However, everybody there except Count, the sound-guy, everybody there hates Phish. Hates the Phish-heads, but they tolerate it and they put up with it. But it’s just hilarious. They have to capitulate to it because they’re making the cash.


AK: What’s your favorite place to see music or have seen music?


SG: The Thirst would be up there – might even be number one. The Schnitz – that’s probably my favorite of all venues, The Schnitz. Oh and can I say for favorite venue to play – can I add to that?


AK: Yes.


SG: Crystal. Crystal Ballroom. Even though the sound in there is shit and I’ve had some really terrible times at shows there – horrible. Playing on that stage though – unbelievable. Super cool. 


AK: What’s your least favorite places to see music?


SG: The Know when it was up on Alberta.


AK: Why?


SG: It was just punishingly loud. Small. Too small. Punishingly loud. Menacingly loud. Kind of the attitude of some of the people there – it was pretty hipsterish. Just kind of too cool for school kind of stuff. But again, all of this I have to mention when I was going to music a lot and going out a lot, I was also drinking a lot. I guess I’m trying to reach back in memories that probably are associated with that too. 


AK: That’s true. I appreciate that. What’s your most disastrous Portland gig? Not necessarily disastrous, but the one you most want to forget.


SG: Boy I don’t’ know. I have to go way back to that. Oh. I was playing with Earl and the Reggae Allstars. Earl was the singer. Legit guy – Jamaican. And was a very charismatic guy but didn’t have a whole lot of musical knowledge. Luckily for him the musicians that he had knew the reggae shit and could basically make shit up on the spot. And they were good because you know, it’s reggae, everything’s cool – arrangements can fall together quite easily. But there was a show we played at The Jolly Roger. You know where that is? It’s right on Hawthorne and 16th. It’s right next to where that big food-cart pod is. It might not even be there anymore – maybe it is. They definitely don’t have shows there. I saw him – he was absolutely using his frontman status to scam chicks, basically. And was throwing game at women that were there with their boyfriends or hanging out, just horribly so. I mean it was uncomfortable. Trying to get them to dance, or singing to them or whatever. It was pretty embarrassing. And in those instances, those are the gigs that I was like, “Oh my god, just make this stop. I don’t ever want to play with this in this situation again. This is horrible.”


AK: What about all-time favorite gigs?


SG: One of the best was I played with The Buds of May at the Mt. Tabor Theater, and it was a fundraiser for City Repair, the people that beautify and paint like the sunflower paintings in the intersections and have all the trippy cobblestone stuff. They used to do that – it’s not bedazzling – beautifying the intersections or vacant lots or whatever. We got asked to do a benefit for them and The Buds of May were like, “No, no we don’t do benefits.” I’m like, “No, no, no we have to do that for City Repair. What they do is really pretty valuable. We should absolutely do it. And that gig was over the top. It was an incredible night. None of us – we couldn’t make any mistakes and I think that at one point I might have actually turned around and said that to the band. Because we were hitting everything, all the harmonies were great, it was super tight, it was a packed house, we made a ton of money for City Repair, and it was just one of those transcendent experiences playing music. Like every once in a while you’ll have the completely transportive experience where it’s not like you leave your body, but you’re not really aware of your body or even the surroundings. When music just completely envelops everything and you’re one with the sound. You’re not thinking about it. It’s not math. It’s not muscle memory or any of that.That was one of those gigs. Where you can’t make a mistake. And part of it though, was the late Danny East, he was a super charismatic singer. The opposite of what Earl from Earl and the Reggae Allstars was. And that night he was on fire. It was like performing with Steve Martin, just as far as that sort of charisma, interacting with the audience, introducing songs, and then singing spectacularly. It was unbelievable. That was one of those nights when, I think it’s Robert Fripp that says, “Sometimes if we’re lucky music will take us into it’s confidence. And that was one of those nights. That was definitely one of those nights. I’ve always liked that description. 


AK: Are there any other places other than Portland that you could see yourself sort of existing in the same kind of…


SG: Same kind of scene? Same kind of musical experience?


AK: Yeah.


SG: I’ve heard Asheville is similar.


AK: North Carolina?


SG: Yeah. I’ve never been there but I’ve heard that it’s very similar. It’s probably smaller. Maybe Denver? Maybe? I don’t know. I mean if I could afford to live there – San Francisco, the Bay area. No question, I would be totally into that. Totally down with that. But yeah, I just can’t really even picture myself moving somewhere where I couldn’t join a band pretty rapidly. So I can’t move back to my hometown. I mean there’s bands there. There’s a scene. But it would be tough. It would be really tough.


AK: Yeah. I bet. So would you say that the city of Portland in general, the community,  is supportive to local musicians?


SG: Yeah. No question. It always has been. I think that’s a selling point of Portland is that there is live music. If I was visiting Portland from… Chicago. Chicago’s a good example. Chicago is fucking huge. And I have friends that’ve been playing music there professionally. I have one friend who’s been playing there professionally since college – since I moved out here. But he’s able to survive and earn a living playing in Chicago because he’s got a solo gig every Saturday night at a wine bar, or he plays wedding gigs, or he does work on commercials, or does studio stuff. But it’s like the wedding gig and the wine bar gig, that’s how he earns his living. If somebody from Chicago came here to visit… on a weekend night there’s a lot of different options, depending on how far you want to Uber, or what kind of music you want to see, or if you just randomly take a chance and go to some shit-hole bar where there’s a band you’ve never heard of playing their first gig, you could do that.


But as far as the community being supportive. Absolutely. I mean, particularly in the Summer time, anytime there’s sort of a marathon or any sort of event like the neighborhood street fair, there’s always bands. Always. And some of them, like the Mississippi Street fair, which is the same weekend as The Country Fair, is like a music festival after 4pm. There’s bands all over the place. All up and down that street. So yeah, I think that the city is supportive of it. Now, with that unreinforced masonry bullshit that’s happening, they seem to be taking a step away from that, and seem to be kind of wanting to do what Austin has done, and limit where you can have venues, and have noise ordinances and stuff will undoubtedly be next because of all the giant apartment buildings going up everywhere. But for the most part I think it’s always been a matter of common knowledge that Portland’s got a strong music scene, and if you go to an event – it doesn’t matter what kind of event or what time of day it is, there’s probably going to be music. Live music. 

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