In my years working in the music industry, I’ve seen shows in all kinds of …
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In the basement of a garden-variety two-story house in Southeast, magic is happening. Midwestern transplants Louie Herr and Aaron Colter have spent the bulk of the past four years cultivating an idea: capture and bottle up the Portland house show experience, and give it away for free (or donation). They invite bands and friends to their now-secret shows to participate in the gleaning. There might not always be money in this Banana Stand, but the magic and the music is there in a big way.
11: What is the mission of the Banana Stand?
Louie Herr: We want to preserve the live music here in Portland, as much live content as we can and we do that in a couple of different ways. We do the high quality recordings at the secret shows that we have here at the ‘Stand and increasingly with the help of kind folks [Evan R. Thompson, Brian David Smith] we are [expanding and] doing video capture as well.
Aaron Colter: I think there’s a scene here in Portland right now that was [similar to] maybe San Francisco in the late 60s or New York in the 80s or Seattle in the 90s where a lot of bands come to this city and there’s so many and they get together and they break up or they go on tour and don’t come back and it’d be a shame to not have some of the best of that stuff preserved.
LH: Not being from here, (a lot of us are midwestern immigrants,) the live scene was one of the things that drew us here and it’s one of the things that is very special about Portland itself. There’s all kinds of places for people to play shows, there’s a ton of great live bands.
AC: I was a show kid in the midwest, I’d drive days to see a band, I’d go see Phish, I’d go to all the music festivals, I’d drive to chicago all the time to see shows, so being able to go to a city, where, “Oh, we can walk drunkenly down to Doug Fir or Holocene or wherever.”
LH: Or soberly— class!
AC: It’s awesome, there’s always a show I want to go to every week that I can’t afford.
LH: And really there’s so many bands here that we feel like people need to try and record more efficiently, so our focus on live [shows] lets us touch base with a lot more bands. We get to work with a lot more folks and capture a lot more content that way and we think that’s important because otherwise stuff is going to get lost.
11: Is that what inspired you to start this project? How did that process come about?
AC: I dunno there was so much potential to do stuff down there [in the basement] and we were doing this really shitty podcast that we won’t mention because we don’t want people to look it up. We were doing that and then our roommate Shawn Pike (The Greater Midwest) and Adam Pike had moved out here long before we did and set up Toadhouse Studios and yeah the Pike brothers were definitely and inspiration for us to come out and do music.
LH: And we’d been inspired by things like Morning Becomes Eclectic,
AC: Or KEXP, I would always listen to live streams out in the midwest from KEXP and I loved what they were doing.
LH: Really what ended up happening is we had the means to record and the first show that we recorded was actually a new years show here that were just taking a flyer on, really, and we got pretty good results that time and it was just promising. It was Deer and the Doe and Tranquil Lazer. It was super fun.
AC: And the second band we did was Lonsome Radio Heart. That was when we knew we could really do something cool. LRH was a lot of transplants from Northern California and they brought out a lot of really nice people, and people brought out video cameras and our basement was just full of kids sitting around listening to music and they were all really happy that they had a free show to go to and we were like “Yeah, let’s do this as much as we can.”
LH: Lonsome Radio Heart ended up turning that recording into an album of theirs too, so it was like, “Wow, this is pretty interesting, we really have the potential to do some work here”
11: If you could record any PDX band right now, who would it be?
AC: I really love Typhoon, Portugal. The Man, we’re huge P.TM fans and we’re sorry that we bother them so much.
LH: I love like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, gosh there’s so many good bands.
AC: Sallie Ford + The Sound Outside,
LH: Yeah Sallie Ford is terrific. It’s tough, you know we focus in so much and send out so many booking messages to folks that we don’t think about the dream bands sometimes as much. But yeah there’s just a lot of brilliant bands, you could go down the list, like, The Thermals,
AC: We’ve worked with so many good bands that are up and coming too, like the We Shared Milk or Woolen Men or Youth or Forest Park, that’s a band that I’m really excited about. These kids are like 18, 19 and they’re making really good music.
11: Do you see the process and operation changing much in the next few years? Getting bigger, or better?
LH: We certainly always want to improve what we’re doing and over time it probably dosn’t appear that way from external because we’re sort of secretive but we’ve made some changes to the model over time, we’ve had to make our shows secret now and that’s really in the hopes to try and attract some bigger artists and make it more of a special thing for folks.
AC: Working with better people, better bands, better recording engineers like Chris Anderson and Chris Vita and that’s been really cool.
LH: We’re also trying to expand into video too and I think we’ll probably just do as much as we can that falls under that umbrella of documenting live performance in this town and just trying to capture as much as we can. Also being a house show ourselves, we love the house scene and so that’s something we want to try and capture. We want to get out to PALS house and we want to get up to Badlands and we want to get out to any other good house shows and try and capture that stuff too and try as much as we can to support that scene. We’ve just worked a little bit with PALS Clubhouse and we’re really excited for that connection because that provides you know, more people that are interested in doing work and trying to do stuff for the scene, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
AC: We thought about trying to help people in other cities, that’s something that’s big for us too, if you’re in Minneapolis or Chicago or Austin you can do this in your own city. We havn’t really figured out how to do that in other places yet.
11: What’s the best kept secret in or about Portland?
AC: Cheap rent, for now.
LH: Yeah. I think about that a lot. I think that’s the secret sauce that Portland offers is that we can all live pretty cheaply and that gives a little bit more time for those artists to work on their art because they can kind of scrape by a little more easily, the other thing about Portland is..
AC: A lot of us that do this, we work odd jobs and part time jobs and it’s cool that we can still afford to live in a west coast city.
LH: And that hints too a little bit to the Portland ethic here I think, which I think either makes sense to people or dosnt make sense, which is, you have your work that you do to feed your body and then you have your art which you do to feed your soul, I guess. That sounds terrible…
AC: So prolific.
11: It’s gonna look good in print.
LH: That was the stunning thing for me coming here as a visitor and seeing my roommate Shaun Pike’s band, it was just a local band and I think it was at Dante’s and there was a ton of people out to see that band,
AC: Everyone we talked to, we were like, “What do you do?” and they were like, “Oh, you know, I work at a pizza shop or I’m a copy writer, but what I’m really interested in doing is painting, or music, or video work,” like everyone is doing something other than just their nine to five.
LH: And that was really the inspiration for me from the midwest, I had just started a real job in the midwest and could see that could be sort of dissatisfying in certain ways and you know, coming out here was refreshing to meet all these people that were working very hard on these creative endeavors.
AC: And comics too, we’re both big comic nerds and the comic scene out here if fucking awesome.
11: What’s your favorite dive bar in Portland?
AC: It’s not really divey but Dot’s was the first place I ever went to in Portland, we literally got in off the plane at midnight and went to Dot’s and they had, at the time, Dead Guy on tap and some awesome avocado sandwich it was like yeah, its dark and there are people outside smoking and I don’t know, velvet paintings, I felt really at home. It’s not that dirty though. Maybe my favorite kind of dive-dive bar is Pub at the End of the Universe where you go in on the right night you can buy a handfull of mushrooms from a guy playing pool.
LH: Or the wrong night.
11: What’s the most exciting or most fun show that you guys have had here?
AC: We got to record Explode into Colors before they signed to K-Records and it was like wow, there’s the potential to record bands right when they start and then they get bigger and if you’re a really big fan of this band that is big now, you can see how they got started playing house shows and listen to like, their first album, I don’t know, you know Talking Heads, their first album was a live album and the MC5, their first album was a live album and that was kind of cool.
LH: It’s funny, it’s hard for me to think about what shows I enjoy most because there’s so many things going on in the moment of a show and I’ve noticed this with photography or video too, when you’re trying to capture, you’re not paying as much attention to enjoying it, so what I’m thinking of lately is we have a couple of live releases coming out soon with The We Shared Milk who we like a lot and The Woolen Men who we love a lot, and they played here together last november and I don’t think I realized what a special night that was until we got those albums back and so it’s always fun to kind of look in retrospect that way too.
AC: It’s always fun to play with people we know too, like Tiger House, [Blue Skies for Black Hearts] or Alex Arrowsmith are people who are just good dudes who play awesome music and we can just hang out and drink beer and not have to worry about anyone fucking up our equipment or space.
LH: Clubhouse mentality with good folks.
11: What do you guys think the future of the house show scene is going to be like? Or how can it improve?
AC: I think it’s going to move out, like the problems we were talking about with rent, a lot of the shows moved out to Northeast, and now in Northeast is getting a lot nicer so I think maybe you’ll see house shows move out past 50th, house shows are going to be where a bunch of kids are living in a house together and are down with doing that and can afford a cheap place. It will probably move outside of inner portland which such. The best thing I think is like, if you are someone in the scene who cares about seeing live music and doing all ages stuff, go to house shows and I’m not saying intercede but try and bring good vibes and don’t let people do shitty things. We can all kind of police house shows and if you see someone acting a fool, just be like, “Hey, cut that out,” We’re all here to see music, if you wanna keep seeing music, be cool, respect these people, respect the bands playing even if you don’t like them, just be supportive.
LH: I think there’s an increased place in the scene for house shows too, because we were talking earlier, the Artistery is closed down and the good all ages venues have closed down, especially in this area,
AC: Dekum Manor, Satyricon…
LH: We saw a lot more kids out at [house] shows after that. I think that a lot more house venues will pop up, but a succesful house venue brings it’s own problems, there’s a greater expense, there’s a greater chance that you have things stolen and stuff like that so maybe the case that some house shows kind of pop up, some go away, but what we’re really excited to see is places like PALS Clubhouse that really seem to care a lot about what they are doing and care about what they are putting good things together.
AC: Maybe you’ll see more free festivals too, there’s MFNW which is obviously very high polished, you have PDX POP NOW! which is huge in Portland, but maybe you’ll start to see people rent out their own space and maybe have mini festivals which I think would be cool.
Words by Richard Lime
Photos by Jennifer Sowell