Friday, August 14, 2009
Music Video Project: Day One Auditions
It’s hard to imagine there’s a more recognizable tune to the collective ears of Portland than the Trail Blazers theme song. For many longtime fans, the sound of those horns belting out a few quick notes brings back so many fond memories of time spent rooting on the Trail Blazers while huddled around the radio or television. It simple song, one without lyric or pretense, which is probably one of the reasons why it is so beloved by fans.
And that’s a mixed blessing for the groups who are auditioning in this year’s Trail Blazers Music Video Project. Covering a song that so many people have an emotional connection to can be kind of tricky. It takes some guts to put your stamp on a theme while also being respectful of what that song means to fans, but eight bands did just that last Thursday at Lola’s Room, with eight more to give it a go on Monday.
For the second year in a row, the Trail Blazers have encouraged local bands to send in their interpretations of the theme song. Acts with the best submissions are brought in to record music videos to accompany their takes on the theme, which are then aired prior to the start of games broadcast on KGW and Comcast SportsNet. It’s a great partnership that lets the team interact with Portland’s vibrant and extensive music community. It’s also an unparalleled way for bands to be exposed to the Blazers’ diverse fan base. But for the groups who tried out on Thursday, their desire to be a part of the Trail Blazers team, even in a small way, had much more to do with their involvement that the opportunity to boost name recognition.
“All of us are huge Blazers fans,” said Gus Nicklos, lead singer of The Mediam. “Four of us are from Portland, grew up here during the whole Clyde, Terry, Jerome, Duckworth area. Adam moved here from Indiana so he’s got that Oden side of things. And we’re all basketball players.”
Nicklos, with fellow bandmates Adam Pike, Joe Mengis, Ondrej Fercak and Sean Cochrane, describes The Mediam as “probably a rock band,” though their overriding goal is to make “hard music that people can feel.”
“We wanted to make the Blazers song sound like a sing-along,” said Nicklos. “What the Blazers need is that song that they play where it’s like, the whole crowd sings along with the Blazers theme song, not just us at the beginning of the game. We kind of approached it as more of a background, sing-along, let’s get psyched up and take’em down kind of way.”
Diamond Liars, a self-described “party” band consisting of Rvi Alvarez, Jeff Bond, Steven Cook and Scott Thomason, fashioned their attempt at the theme with a similar objective.
“It came out pretty cool, we think,” said Cook, who plays bass for Diamond Liars. “We were pretty stoked on it. We just wanted to sound kind of party and get people pumped up, so hopefully it accomplished its goal.”
Unlike some of the other bands trying out, Diamond Liars didn’t take the stage draped in Trail Blazers gear, but their status as hardcore fans of the team should be unquestioned nonetheless.
“Scott literally has a Blazers poster over his fireplace,” explained Bond, who plays drums. “After we lost in the playoffs we stood by that for probably a half hour. He looked at it and he said, ‘Every one of those guys deserved it! It just hurts, deep down.’”
“They really are a team that deserves to win,” said Cook. “As much as it’s funny the way that Scott describes them, it’s true. There’s a camaraderie. They’re not showboating. They’re not the Lakers. They’re like the anti-Lakers.”
Jon Ragel, the one-man band known as Boy Eats Drum Machine, probably had more practice playing the theme than the other bands in attendance on Thursday. Ragel, accepting a previous challenge from the Willamette Week, produced his version of the theme last season prior to the start of the playoffs.
“I did it in like one week,” said Ragel of his rendition. “I didn’t have a lot of time because the playoffs were three weeks away. I just knuckled down one weekend and really banged it out. It just went really fast. It was really natural.”
The Boy Eats Drum Machine version of the theme featured Ragel, wearing a vintage Bill Walton t-shirt, playing saxophone, drum and tambourine while utilizing looped beats from a turntable. Ragel also got the audience involved in his version by handing out kazoos, which were played during the song’s chorus. The combination made for a multilayered sound that is typical of Ragel’s work.
“I always try to tell people it’s poppy and it’s experimental and it has a lot of beats and it’s eclectic,” said when asked to describe Boy Eats Drum Machine. “If I’m describing my live show I would say I try to interact with the crowd, get people involved, but it’s a one-man band so that’s the first thing everyone notices. It’s post hip-hop; I use a turntable. I love Motown, I love Stevie Wonder, so I try to make the sax sound in that vein, make it sound like it’s a horn section rather than an eighties noodling romantic solo.”
Ragel’s use of the saxophone gave his rendition a sound that harkened back to the original theme, a ploy that was no accident.
“The theme gives me really warm feeling inside,” said Ragel, “so I really wanted to keep that original horn, kind of funky vibe, but obviously make it more along the lines of the way I would do it.
“I love the original theme. It’s cheesy but it’s glorious. It’s like the ‘CHIPs’ theme song mixed with ‘Dallas’ mixed with everything you loved about that era… I don’t even know why they bother making a new theme. It’s perfect.”
Jacob Merlin Band, Strange Tones, Paper Or Plastic and Dennis Mitchell Band also auditioned on Thursday. Eight more bands will tryout on Monday.