Unknown Mortal Orchestra recently brought their tour behind this year’s excellent Multi Love to a …
Portland soul-rock outfit The Get Ahead have a strong voice and sassy banter. Their love of classic sounds overlapped with diverse influences of blues, funk, soul, and rock makes for a bawdy night of stiff drinks and sweaty dancing. The powerful voices of Juliet Howard and Nathan Earle play out characters in vignettes of city scenes, both singers playing parts as lead roles and duets, accompanied by fat sounds of brass, bass, and stomping beats. It’s an easy, sweet sound, but also powerful and fun. It’s all about release and getting people together.
ELEVEN: So, you guys are getting ahead.
Juliet Howard: Yeah we’re trying.
Nathan Earle: Most of the time. Sometimes it feels like you have to be ahead to get ahead.
11: You have a song called “The Get Ahead” on your first EP. Why do you call yourselves that?
NE: So that first first song was really inspired by working class ethics, I guess. I come from a blue-collar family and environment back in the Midwest. The working class American ideal is to keep working to get ahead. But few actually do get ahead. So it’s really just working to keep up. That’s something that we started to embody, kind of the grit of working class life. Thats really what a lot of soul music means to me. Just getting through every day and finding some joy and beauty in it at the same time.
11: How did you get together?
NE: I moved out here from the Kansas City area. There is a lot of blues and gospel with my background and in my family.
JH: I grew up on the coast, Depoe Bay, I have deep ties in Oregon.
NE: I was a part of a few folk rock outfits, and Juliet and I met through roller derby. We were at a party one night, and we both ended up acapella singing together and stomping on the floor.
JH: We kept running into each other and he kept threatening to put something together. A short time later one of my best friends Sean, a punk bassists from Ventura, CA came on board. We found our original drummer, Phil, and our saxophonist Steve through Craigslist ads. We were pretty lucky with that. We started writing and finished the first EP pretty quickly.
11: Do you have any history or training in music?
NE: My family, my mom was a singer, and did a lot of country and gospel, and I would sing with her. My uncle was a recording artist when I was a kid. I remember being in the studio with him singing when I was three or four.
JH: They are a really talented family, it’s been really fun to see it all and spend time with them. I did some choir in high-school, but I was always nervous about singing and really didn’t start until I was an adult. People are always amazed that our voices come out of us.
11: What kind of guitar do you play?
NE: A Tele. A Mexican Telecaster that I have rigged up a little bit. I got it for Christmas twelve or thirteen years ago. I have had opportunities to trade up but I haven’t been able to let it go because i have a lot of time invested into it.
11: What is the progression from your first EP to Volcano?
NE: With the EP we very quickly got into the studio and recorded right when we were formed. At that time Klickitat Band Camp was open, and I was friends with the engineer and owner. It was relatively inexpensive and we got it done fast. This time though it was more expensive. We took more time with it.
JH: We were more prepared this time. Obviously we have grown as a band. I think with Volcano the music is stronger and the lyrics are more solid. We know each other better now, and I think you can feel our harmony and connectedness.
11: There seems to be a lot of stories pieced together with this album. What are some of the things you draw from in your songwriting?
NE: It’s probably important to mention that a lot of the songwriting for this album came about during a very tumultuous time. I was splitting up with someone I cared about very much. And Juliet and I started….taking off.
11: So you are a couple?
JH: It was a lot of craziness going on. Lots of things were happening. We have been together a little over a year now. Right before recording. Yeah, we are a couple. *both laugh and scoot closer together*
NE: So when I think about Volcano, it’s an outburst of energy and emotion. A lot of the lyrics come from feeling misunderstood and a lot of anger and emotions from feeling like you’re not seen as a person or respected. I was also inspired by the short stories of Raymond Carter during this time. I think of some of this as little stories about people’s everyday lives. “Could Be Better” was literally taken from one of his stories. It’s about how hopeless things can feel and the apathy in everyday living. But I find a lot of beauty in that too. There are a lot of people just living in the middle, where just getting through the day is enough.
JH: “No One Even Knows” was also an attempt of writing a story song. I think on this album we were expressing day to day life, and also what Nathan was going through at the time.
11: Is that what “Face Up” is about?
NE: Yes it’s definitely about that. And about really being honest with those around you.
11: Who are some of your favorite artists?
JH: We have a lot of similar ones. I love Sam Cooke, his gospel stuff, Mabel John, just a lot of old school soul.
NE: We have stacks of vinyl. Wilson Pickett, “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” by Ike and Tina. Syreeta Wright. I’m obviously listening to D’Angelo’s new record.
11: Where do you think the soul scene is in Portland?
JH: I think there is an awesome soul scene in Portland, Portland is more known for indie rock. It is here and it is growing, we have met friends like Brownish Black, there are definitely band’s getting this going. I put together MUSA Soul Fest with Jeni Wren to showcase soul music on the map in Portland.
11: What are some other local soul artists to watch?
NE: There are two playing with us the night of the release show: Ara Lee, and Redray Frazier who is starting to do good things. I love the voice of Nafasaria Scroggins, who is Janice Scroggins daughter. Portland is best known for indie rock, but there is a lot going on. As awesome and progressive as the city is, there still seems to be a segregation with music. And it’s unfortunate, because the scene should be very broad. There is a lot of different things going on in the African American community here, that is somehow disconnected. It’s a little uncomfortable for me. Where I’m from I was in the Black Student Union, I was in an acapella R&B group. That’s where I get a lot of my style and singing. I don’t see a lot of connections like that here much, yet.
JH: Music is a great way to make that happen.
11: How do you put a modern edge on those age old sounds?
JH: Part of it has to do with just living in the time we are in, and consciously and subconsciously being influenced by the music around us.
NE: There are a lot of bands that are recreating their own flavor of that same classic soul sound. Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. With our music we are really shooting for something soulful, but it’s not cut from a specific cloth.
JH: Also as a band we all come from different backgrounds musically, so putting together this label of soul is really open. Like Sean is from punk, our new drummer Danny is from rock, I often refer to our sound as soul-rock, it’s definitely soulful, but it’s not classic. There are a lot of influences.
11: And what about the sax?
JH: Steve comes from a rock, psych- rock, jam-band background. He’s been a part of a few other projects. We initially thought about it as one piece of a horn section. It’s a baritone sax, very low. Upon mixing we added effects to make it sound like a big horn section.
11: The song “Shine A Light” may be the best valentine ever.
NE: It’s actually the first song I wrote about Juliet.
11: So you do realize, that your music may cause things to go down between people, like after the show?
JH: Well, we hope.
NE: Sometimes not so long after the show. We have had some shows where crazy stuff happens on the dance floor.
JH: One of the reasons why we started this band, is that I used to go to a lot of soul nights in town, DJ nights. People were dancing and sweating, and having the time of their lives. But I didn’t feel like there were bands that were bringing that kind of energy. So I was hoping we could create this band for live fun. Singing, dancing, laughing. Basically we would have shows at Slim’s or the Spare Room, fun divey bars. We played really late at night. Once in a while we would have a “Midnight Nasty Contest.”
NE: It was instructive.
JH: Getting back to grinding and getting down. We would buy the winner a drink or give them a CD or whatever. There were some nights that it got…people took clothing off.
NE: It got past R towards NC-17, with some cheering and ushering from the bar.
JH: We were surprised.
NE: We don’t necessarily encourage this, but we don’t discourage it either.
11: What’s coming up?
NE: We would really like to start doing some touring. We would love to play some festivals. We love Pickathon.
JH: This year we are really just trying to get this album out. We are self- released. We have put some investments in ourselves and have had support from family and friends. So we are trying to get our name out there. »
– Brandy Crowe