Photo by Carissa Pereira
If you aren’t familiar with Abronia yet, it’s time for that to change.
The band was created after long-time musician Eric Crespo returned home from a backpacking trip through Southeastern Utah with a vision. Abronia, a flower emblematic of the area, is now the name of a six-piece band in Portland. “I could see one big drum” recalls Crespo, “and people set up around it with guitars strapped on and big amps behind them. There was a pedal steel … and a horn player or two. I drew a sketch of it in my notebook.”
Crespo went out and bought a 32” marching band drum before he knew who would play it.
“Keelin (Mayer) lived in Portland in the early 2000’s and I think I met her when I played a show in her basement,” explains Crespo. Mayer moved back to her hometown of Chicago, however, where she played in bands with Abronia’s third original member, Shaver. Eventually, both relocated to Portland before Crespo invited Mayer to play saxophone in his new band. Mayer was not only interested, but roped Shaver in for the ride, recommending him for the gig of playing ‘the big drum.’
Mayer, often compared to vocalists like Nico, Kim Gordan, or Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, digs deep in the band’s third album, Map of Dawn. Finding the strength in her “raw voice” and using it as a commanding focal instrument. Practicing outside during the pandemic forced her to explore her voice without the normal pedals and distortions she is used to, leaving Mayer’s true sound nowhere to hide.
“Initially I pictured the band being entirely instrumental,” remembers Crespo. “Keelin decided she wanted to start singing a bit… and everyone knew that was a good idea as soon as she started doing it. She has become really crucial to our band.”
Mayer gives a nod to her adolescent days growing up in Chicago, watching loud women lead rowdy punk bands and acknowledging the impact the scene had on her ability to step into her role. She fondly recalls a time when Abronia was first starting to tour and they played a show in Fresno. The crowds are not always large or even appreciative in some smaller towns, however, there was an ecstatic young woman who was nearly brought to tears, looking at Mayer in the same way she had looked to those women from her past, validating her position in an important and supportive legacy.
Though there was a bit of shuffling at first, Abronia’s current line-up has remained constant since 2019, including members Rick Pedrosa (Federale) on pedal steel, Paul Schaefer (The Creative Institute of Dying) on guitar, Shaver (Million Brazilians) and Shawn Lyvers on electric bass. The band attributes their cohesion and productivity during the pandemic to their consistency and consensus-based decision making. When necessary, practices continued virtually in order to keep momentum going. Sometimes, it was just the band spending quality time together or creating their cover art, which they also do collaboratively.
“In this band, we have six people with very good taste deciding together what makes it out into the world,” describes Crespo. “At this point I’ve come to trust that whatever makes it through our gauntlet of filters and criticisms contains some kind of truth or ineffable substance that’s going to resonate.”
And it does.
“Abronia has developed a nuanced and totally addictive approach to creating song forms,” explains Byron Coley of the band’s domestic label, Feeding Tube Records. “Their sound keeps evolving in terms of both depth and connection.”
Abronia’s live performances have been likened to “deep desert rituals” that defy genres, yet infuse elements of spaghetti western, psych rock, spiritual jazz and even tones of folk and heavy metal. Their unique conglomeration of sound feels both mystical and ritualistic, at times like a prophetic soundtrack set to a Quinton Tarantino film from his heyday. Their music has the power to sweep the listener up into a space that is otherworldly, facilitating the movement of one’s heavy and soiled energy to make room for what is next. Hence, their fullest sounding release yet, Map of Dawn (whose title refers in part to the poem by Angus MacLise entitled “Map of Dusk.”)
“The last two years have been dealing out a whole lot of dusks—be it through the pandemic, climate doomsday scenarios, unchecked capitalism, or Portland in decline. The idea behind the flip-flopped name is that ‘the artist’ themself could be a map to potential new dawns, whatever they may be,” explains Shaver. “We are still charting our own vision despite the bleakness.”
Palpable tension ebbs and flows organically throughout the entire album, releasing with power and profound vulnerability, creating spaciousness and room to explore, as epitomized in their single “What We Can See.” The songs are “intensely personal, although they are not explicit,” explains Mayer. “I want the listener to find the lyrics personally meaningful and perhaps come up with their own story.”
When asked about his motivation behind the music, Crespo explains “It’s about finding the courage to present your own vision and then be willing to put in the work to refine that personal vision into something that is worthy of presentation.”
Come help Abronia celebrate of the release of their vision and new album Map of Dawn with friends Death Parade and local label mates Mouth Painter, because “music this good should be a fully-immersive experience,” says Coley.
Album Release show is this Sunday 5/29 at Mississippi Studios with light show by Ryne Freed.