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Show Review: ACTORS at Star Theater

Show Review: ACTORS at Star Theater

After Portland’s own Ritual Veil, and buzz about Brooklyn’s Bootblacks, I arrived just in time to see Vancouver, BC band ACTORS take the stage at the Star Theater on March 17th. St. Patrick’s Day in Portland, and everyone here was wearing black.

ACTORS have been on an upward climb since their full length release, It Will Come To You. They have toured extensively, playing numerous festivals including Terminus, Cold Waves, and the ever-growing Out From The Shadows festival here in Portland. Their music can be heard on the soundtrack for dark Netflix series The Order and they have sold multiple pressings of their album as a beautiful blue vinyl record.

Through it all, ACTORS’ lead vocalist and guitarist Jason Corbett works as a producer at Jackknife Sound. He’s currently recording various artists, including Artoffact Records, keyboardist Shannon Hemmet’s side project Leathers, and tourmates Bootblacks’ upcoming album, while simultaneously working towards ACTORS’s sophomore LP.

ACTORS’ bass line, sleight of hand drum snaps, mysterious keys and lights, and eerie sideways synths, brought high energy to the stage. ACTORS share early ‘80s romantic post-punk elements, while exhibiting a controlled environment. The beats are dancy, but there are also dark experimental spaces in the songs though intentional warping — something that Corbett describes as an outlet for confronting daily anxieties.

We talked further with Jason Corbett to ask about being “post-post punk,” touring, and when to expect the next record.

ELEVEN: You guys have been so busy touring and playing dark music festivals.

How did ACTORS start?

Jason Corbett: The first single, “Post-Traumatic Love,” came out in 2012. I just started releasing singles with ACTORS and had no real intention of putting a full length record, but the scene kept growing with the songs and a following grew. Artoffact Records reached out to us with a deal to put out a full length that made sense. This line-up we’ve had for about 2 years now, and this record, It Will Come To You, came out in March of 2018. We thought we would test the waters and tour, and we’ve been touring in areas that seem to be supportive.

Since the record came out it’s been a steady climb. We’ve been invited out to so many festivals. There have been blogs, facebook posts, online radio stations playing our songs, and we’ve sold through multiple pressings of our blue vinyl.

11: Why did you go with the name ACTORS?

JC: An ex-bandmate, a friend of mine kind of dropped it. I didn’t want a big elaborate name with too much thought behind it. ACTORS was vague enough, but also striking enough that it worked for us. It doesn’t inform you right away what the band is going to sound like, so the music can speak for itself.

11: Who are some of your influences? It seems like there’s quite a range.

JC: A lot of the music that we do as ACTORS is from a lifetime of listening to music. In my formative years, I listened to a lot of ‘80s music. A lot of Depeche Mode, David Bowie, and Duran Duran. I feel like arrangement wise, ACTORS has tapped into the economy of arrangements from ‘80s music, but we are modern in production. When you listen to our record, it doesn’t sound the same as an ‘80s record. It evokes just enough nostalgia, but it still firmly rooted in the present.

11: Is that how we define post-post-punk?

JC: We kind of got saddled with the post-punk tag early on. I’m glad that we’ve been embraced by post-punk communities, darkwave, and goth. When the term “post-post-punk” was mentioned, I think it means we aren’t a post-punk revival band. We don’t sound like we’re trying to be Joy Division or The Cure or Siouxsie Sioux and The Banshees or anything. We have our own sound that sounds like some of the nostalgia of post-punk but is still new. I often think the same of a band like The Soft Moon. I mention them a lot because I really dig what they are doing, and to me that’s not post-punk. When you listen to it, it’s modern.

11: There’s this element of your music where things get off kilter and go into a negative space. Like the keyboards and synths and melody go purposefully out of tune to confuse our senses.

JC: A friend of mine was at the studio and I was showing some new songs that I’m working on for the next record. The song would be playing, and it would hit a certain note and he would say, “Oh there it is, that’s the ACTORS note.” There is a certain vocabulary that makes it unique. It’s not deliberate, it’s just my ear gravitates towards that. Part of it is in my life, up until about the last year, has always felt so uneasy or was so wrought with anxieties and depression of some sort. I’ve always tried to be an upbeat and positive person, but there’s always been this unease as I’m sure a lot of us feel.

That’s why I’m so happy that the record is connecting with the amount of people that it is, because I realize, “Oh, other people feel how I feel,” and that’s really why I wanted to do music as ACTORS. Because I wanted people to find a connection.

11: You just mentioned that you have been working on new material. The most-recent thing I’ve heard was your cover of The Sounds “Mining Heart,” released on Valentine’s Day.

JC: We came back from our last long tour and recorded that really quickly. I was really happy with how it sounded. It’s supposed be coming out later this year on a compilation, but I kinda sneaked it through and released it as a Valentine because I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to release something to show people that we are doing more stuff. I was too excited to sit on it. I think more people should know about The Sound because they are a fantastic band.

In terms of the new record, we’re already booking shows into 2020. So we have 80 shows coming up. We’re all over Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, all over the states and Canada — Montreal, Toronto — we just came back from Calgary and Edmonton. It’s really exciting, and we’re getting a chance to connect with people who have had time to sit with our record for a bit. I thought it was important to go back to these cities instead of putting out a new record right away. I thought, if we’re going to do another record, we need to explore those bands and people that we’ve met along the way and party with this record a bit.

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I’m just chipping away at some new songs. I think sometime this summer we will release a new single, a video from the new record. I’m shooting for next spring for the full record.

11: Are you planning to record that in your studio, Jackknife Sound?

JC: Yeah, that’s where I do everything. I get to work with so many great artists there. I do music 24/7 and feel really fortunate. When I have an evening where my day’s maxed out by work, I’ll work on an ACTORS song or sometimes have creative ideas that I need to get recorded. Right now, I’m sitting on a batch of songs and those will slowly develop. I like start a song, not finish it, then come back to it so that it’s feels almost like someone else’s song. Then I can look at it as a producer and ask, “Ok what do I need to add to this now, to flesh it out and make it a better song?”

We’ve been making lots of friendships through the studio too. We’re doing the new Bootblacks record. They just signed to Artoffact, the same label we are on. I’m working on the new Spectres record, also on Artoffact. So I’m really hoping there will be this tidal wave of fantastic music coming out of the studio and on the label. It’s just me turning into a workaholic, but I’m so excited about it.

11: You’re here on Sunday, on St. Patrick’s day. Are you going to wear green?

JC: Unfortunately, maybe just under my eyes from not sleeping. But always black, and lots of leather.

11: This year you are here just ahead of Portland’s Out From The Shadows Festival, but last year you played it?

JC: We would’ve liked to come back to play this year, but we had to get our dates in a row on the tour. Even compared from OFTS last year, when we were trying to book a show right before the record came out, we couldn’t get a show. We had a hard time getting a show in Seattle. People would ask who are you guys? We got a lot of “NO”’s.

This time around in Seattle, I think we sold a hundred pre-sale tickets. Kind of across the board, we’re selling a lot more tickets at all of our major stops. It’s like, there’s people spending their hard earned money to make sure they have a ticket to the show. It may not sound like much compared to Depeche Mode or something, but for a band that’s working their way up real grassroots with 200-300 people, it’s great. It’s a lot for us.

The success of the record and the baby steps of success that we’re having are all connected to people that connect to the record and people that want to help us by posting or playing us. There is no corporate agenda, people are just supportive. And it’s been heartwarming. It’s nice to know that there are people out in the world that feel like I do, because that’s what the music is about.