For the past two years, twenty-one year old Lewis and Clark student Harrison Smith has …
Live in Portland August 23 | Doug Fir
I go to meet Ah God down under the bridge, at their practice space in the Portland Cement Studios, in that part of town that feels somehow forgotten, as yet (mostly) untouched by the high-rise development running rampant across the city. As I approach, I notice painted mannequins standing guard on the roofs of some of the converted ex-industrial spaces. It’s hot out–oppressively hot–and with the afternoon sun wafting back up off the pavement, the streets take on the quality of a delirious dream, one where everything is humming and fuzzy, especially around the edges.
Ah God is the soundtrack to this place, I realize. Their latest album, Tiiime, in particular, a laid-back psychedelic journey with rounded angles and blurred lines, which in this heat is beginning to make more and more sense. We meet in the street–frontman Chad Davis pulling up in a sedan and producing from the trunk a fan and a rack of beer, which we take back into the cool depths of the building, to sit and talk.
ELEVEN: So here we are with Ah God. First off, how do you say that? Is it like an exclamation, or what?
Chad: Ahhh God! Like ah, crap! I started calling it that because when I first moved out here, I had a band called Blast, and we had this thing, and I was dating this girl for a long time, and my drummer came up with me, but after a year he moved back to Eugene area, and my girlfriend, she hated all the music I would make, and at that point in my life, I was like, “ahhh, God…” But also, when you do something good, like, sex-wise, you might say, “ah, God!” So it’s like a yin-yang.
11: You can definitely read it in multiple ways. I guess before we get any further, why don’t we go around and everyone can introduce themselves for our readers.
Cody: I’m Cody, and I play the drums. I guess we occasionally all play everything when we’re recording, but I play the drums live.
Eric: I’m Eric, and I play the bass.
Chad: I’m Chad, and I do singing and guitar. And graphic design.
11: Nice, we’ll get into that later, but let’s start with the first record, Ah Fuck, 2013, that was your debut. How long had you been here in Portland, and how did that record come to be?
Chad: Cody started living in my basement, and I got this really cool 4 track cassette recorder–it’s a Tascam 144–I dunno if that matters to anyone, but it’s an awesome machine, and I started recording in the basement. And after my buddy who played drums with me left, Cody started helping me, and I started drinking a bottle of wine in my basement every day and recording songs.
Cody: Yeah, I’d get off work and Chad would have everything recorded but the drums, but there was never a metronome or anything, and I would just get all pissed trying to line up with Chad’s janky 4/4, but we’ve gotten better over the years.
11: So Eric, were you involved at that point?
Eric: No, I wasn’t then. I’ve played some of those songs, but I joined probably three years ago. They were in a band that I was in, they were the backing band.
Chad: Yeah we were his backing band, for his project.
Eric: and then we just mobbed together, and then the other guy who was playing bass left, so I hopped in. This new record is the second recording project that we did, the ones we finally kept.
Chad: Yeah, we recorded this third album like three times. It was terrible.
11: So getting into this new album, It still has that fuzzy aesthetic, but it does sound a lot cleaner than both Ah Fuck and your Self-Titled 2015 record. Did you do this on the Tascam as well?
Chad: Yup, we did it on the Tascam, except I was using four tracks before, and now I use four tracks and then I bounce it to an eight track.
Eric: Then we bounce it to my 32 track machine, so that’s why it sounds cleaner.
11: I think a lot of your guys’ aesthetic is based around that particular piece of technology–what is it about the tape?
Chad: I dunno if it’s based around the tape, it’s just we get along with the tape very well.
Eric: It’s more hands-on too, when you’re recording, you’re not looking at screens. We did a group of recordings before that was looking at screens, and there was just a loss of connectivity, it felt like.
11: When you are recording, are you tracking everything live then?
Eric: For the most part…
Chad: Every way you could possibly do it, we did it.
Cody: Yeah, sometimes we’d have like a minute and a half of tape left, and I’d just play drums on it, and that would become a song later, or Chad would take that and bounce it to another thing, change the speed–you can do a lot of things. But other times we’d just have all the parts and go and lay it down.
Chad: With some tracks I would just have a small chord progression, and I’d show these guys ‘cause they’re wizards at drum and bass, and they’d just play this amazing stuff, like second take, second time they’d ever heard it, and then I’d go back, lay down the vocals while they weren’t there, so they didn’t have to hear me struggle through it.
11: The new album is called Tiiime, with three I’s. Is that a third eye thing?
Chad: Laughs. No, it’s not a third eye thing, although I didn’t think about that. Maybe it is. A lot of it is stream of consciousness stuff, how we do the creative process, and so maybe it is. It’s also our third album.
11: With your art style and videos, You guys seems as though you’re into kind of multimedia stuff.
Chad: A little bit.
Cody: I showed Chad a couple of iMovie things a few years ago, like how to do layers, and then he kinda went crazy with it.
Chad: Oh yeah, yeah we do all our own videos, most of our own artwork. Sometimes we’ll do the artwork and then get someone to do the layout.
11: Speaking of your artwork, I saw the video for “Another Planet.” Can you talk a little bit about how you put that together?
Chad: Small doses, We weren’t tripping balls, just a little bit. But before these guys showed up I was in my living room and I had all this green fabric, and I stapled it up on the wall. And for filming I had a cell phone on a tripod, and I hit record, and we’d just play the song over and over and we got a bunch of different takes. Nobody was filming or anything, we just did it with a tripod. Then we did some takes in the backyard, and then I animated a lot of that stuff by hand, with construction paper and puppets. I just put them on a piece of green paper and animated them like that.
11: The effect is nice, there’s kinda a progression from that, and then the “Peach Sunset” video, which has a similar thing going on.
Chad: Oh yeah, that was the first time I tried to animate anything. It’s all pastels. That took me like four months of 2014, it took forever.
11: I was also noticing on the new record, it’s more down-tempo than your previous stuff, which I like, it’s a good vibe. Was that intentional?
Chad: Kinda. I think it’s just where we were at at that particular time.
Eric: Yeah, ‘cause there were like thirty songs, and when we listened to them and tried to pair them together, they just kinda fell into the order they’re in. This is the way they kind of flow the best.
11: So between this record and the last one, you said you recorded the album three times? Were you touring during that time as well?
Cody: We haven’t really been touring, but we are gonna head out with On Drugs later this summer.
Chad: Yeah, in September, on the west coast.
Cody: Mostly we’ve just been recording. I think we recorded everything for so long that when it was done we thought: “Ok, lets do this properly, lets not just do a million shows.” We’ve been going up to Seattle occasionally, and I have more fun every time we go. We’ve been making friends up there, keeping it fresh, not just playing in town all the time. But yeah, we’d like to be on tour more.
11: When you do play live, is it more improvisational? I notice toward the ends of a lot of your songs you have these soundscape sections where you just vibe out for a while.
Eric: Yeah we do. I think with these new songs though we’ve played them so many times that we have pretty tight structures, and we just play them through. When I first started playing with these guys there was a lot of fuzzy stuff.
Cody: I think that kinda comes from my style, I always thought it was cool to have stuff flow into other stuff. You don’t wanna have to stop and say “How’s everybody doing?” and that kinda thing. I like to just keep it going. We’ve been writing some songs that do actually have ends now.
Chad: But we still like to just vibe out. We do improvise on stage, I’ll hear them do stuff I’ve never heard before a lot of the time. Sometimes we’ll try new things. We feel each other when we’re playing, but we try to stay true to the song.
11: When you talk about staying true to the song, do you mean you go into recording something you’ve played live with a set idea of what it’s gonna be? What do you think is the true form of a song?
Eric: Hmm. No? But after we mixed them, and spent so much time on them, and then like Cody said, took more time to plan what we’re doing.
Chad: Only three of them were done before we started recording.
Eric: Having a plan with it also fed into the idea of playing the song in one specific way. But that’s all subject to change. Once you play a song for a while, you sometimes want to change it.
Cody: The songs on the album are all a little longer, and when we play live we like to have short sets that we go through, we’ll often have sections that we cut out, just to keep things moving.
11: This practice space is pretty dope. How long have you been here?
11: What’s the deal with this building?
Cody: The Portland Cement Co, I was reading yesterday, is a national historic site. When you drive to Eastern Oregon, there’s this old abandoned cement factory, and they built this place when they started bringing in all the cement from there to really start building Portland.
Chad: That’s crazy!
Cody: Yeah it’s pretty cool. And it makes sense, why it’s right near the train tracks.
Chad: There’s a lot of good bands that play here.
Cody: Built To Spill sometimes practices here.
Chad: Yeah I was here alone one time and I was thinking, “Man, there’s someone doing a really good Built To Spill cover,” and I went outside and Doug Marshall is out there, and I was like, “No way!”
11: This area of the city is wild. Especially in the last two or three years, there’s a new high rise everywhere you look. But this area seems kind of untouched still.
Chad: Well they’re gonna blow this area up soon.
Eric: There’s a ton of art stuff just on this street. There’s a dance studio, an art gallery on the corner, the ceramics studio up the street. But you know, people are probably in the process of buying it all up. But our landlord here, she’s pretty committed to keeping this space what it is.
11: You’ve got the “Another Planet” video for this album already. Are you planning on doing more visuals?
Chad: Yeah, I might even have some clips of the new vid on my phone. It’s for the title track, “Tiiime.” It’s all paper cutouts and double green screen. You can do chroma green and chroma blue, and so I cut all the letters out of the green and then put it all on blue, so you can do two layers of texture on there. This one has the lyrics on the screen.
11: I like the idea of that, a lyrics video. With all the fuzz, I sometimes find myself, uh…
Chad: You can’t understand what I’m saying? (Laughs)
11: Yeah, is that intentional? Or just a side effect?
Chad: I don’t mind if people heard what I was saying. I’m a guy with a degree in English literature, that’s why I started doing what I’m doing, writing poetry, and I was looking for a place where I could channel it in a more physical way. So that’s kinda where I started, but then all the music I liked was this crazy distorted stuff. So like all the lyrics to the albums are actually pretty good, but you can’t really understand them.
11: Well you can if you really listen, which is what is interesting to me, is it forces you to listen closely.
Chad: I try on Bandcamp to add the lyrics, and if you want to know anything just ask me, I’ll write it out for you.