INTERVIEW

Girls are better than drugs.

the-memories

GIRLS ARE COOLER THAN DRUGS

In the floor-to-ceiling world of American DIY, there’s lo-fi, then no-fi, then The Memories – four Portlanders who make stoned lullabies about girls, recorded at novelty-musical-tie fidelity, or that of a Christmas card that plays a tune when you open it. You should know this now, because there’s a good chance that you might want to move along – who needs another muffly bunch of pot heads recording to cassette tape in their house-share, right?

The Memories aren’t about to apologise for what they are, though – essentially the by-product of a failed relationship. “It was the summer of 2010,” explains Eric Gage. “I’d just got out of a long term relationship and I was really inspired by romance. It was also a celebratory thing. I know that sounds weird, but it was inspired by being free.” Also a member of the slightly more hi-fi/a lot more ‘party’ White Fang, I think we can diagnose his relationship’s problem here – he couldn’t wait to be shot of it.

Two years on, The Memories have just released their eponymous debut album – a concise collection of crackling love songs that are purposely reduced to nothing but the hooks, inspired, Eric says, but Guided By Voices’ knack for making “streamlined little packages that you could just listen to again and again”. Like San Francisco duo The Art Museums – who relished the tape hiss on their debut album, ‘Rough Frames’, while dropping the tempo at a time when every other DIY band was playing speedy scuzz rock – ‘The Memories’ is far too static-ridden to garner radio play, but its melodies are the stuff of their AM heroes. Amongst them, Eric lists the unlikely Isaac Hayes, Sade, Dr Dre and Slayer, as well as Peter Gabriel and The Beatles when I point out that the opening ‘Baby (You’re Totally Crazy)’ sounds a lot like ‘Solsbury Hill’ and ‘Higher’ like ‘I Should Have Known Better’. “We’re huge Peter Gabriel and Beatles fans,” he nods. “That’s the kind of stuff we listen to on the radio when we’re travelling. All we do is listen to music and talk to people about music. Big influences are Fleetwood Mac, ‘Walk of Life’ by Dire Straits, The Traveling Wilburys’ first album – weird ’60s meets ’80s, electronic meets folky vibes, like ’80s bands with drum machine who are ’60s sounding. Lou Reeds’ ‘New Sensations’ is one of our big important records.”

This array of greats is unlikely enough when you hear The Memories sub-two-minute, sloshily retro songs, but they’re also all notably hi-fi in sound. Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits especially. Yet Eric explains that The Memories won’t be following suit there just yet. “Recording lo-fi is the most direct way of getting them across, and we feel the emotions more when we’re in a little isolated spot,” he says, before insisting that they didn’t set out to be a ‘lo-fi band’ in the Williamsburg/Pitchfork sense. “We just wrote the songs and recorded them, and were like, ‘well, we don’t need to record them any better than this, they’re already good’,” he says. “Some bands do set out to be lo-fi, but they skip the whole song-writing part, so there’s nothing to hold on to.

“It stems from being pretty bored in the suburbs. It’s a necessity. Like, why would we go and make it sound better in a studio where it costs loads of money when it already

sounds awesome and it feels more human anyway?” And Eric’s knockout punch in a world now down on the oversaturated lo-fi scene, even when it can produce songs as clearly crafted in melody as his: “If I listen to old Motown, it doesn’t really stand up to radio’s standard of hi-fi today, yet they’re still pop masterpieces, because it’s all about the song writing.”

Portland is “rad”, says Eric, but as a native himself – along with all of White Fang, who he’s known since middle school, and three quarters of The Memories – he’s keen to point out that most of the bands sold to us as groups from the North West city are in actual fact from somewhere else entirely. They move to Portland to start bands, and few get very far in a town made for solo artists. By Eric’s reckoning, groups that move to Portland are attracted by its high density of musicians, all the time telling themselves that it’ll be far less competitive than New York’s culturally similar Williamsburg district. “But they’re wrong,” says Eric, “and they discover that when they get here. I’d say 50 percent of bands that move to Portland move out again within a month of getting here, because it doesn’t work out.

“So many bands from here end up getting caught up in some bullshit,” he continues. “There’s a lot of drinking and a lot of cocaine in the winter, because there’s not a lot of light in the days and people go insane.”

The Memories’ drug of choice is weed, which happens to be their album’s sub-plot – a theme second only to girls.

“I’ve had multiple serious relationships,” says Eric, “but The Memories stuff is inspired by incidental love and small love and love that happens in its pure form. So love is a big theme, and the main theme, and drugs are a big part of it too, because drugs are a symbol of that naughty nature. It adds a more sexual element to the love too, because the record is sexual,” he says of an album that features tracks ‘Took Drugs (Went Insane)’ and ‘I Know What To Do’, about taking your pants off.

“When we’re recording and writing we’re totally sober,” he says “…most of the time. There’s a misconception that we’re wasters, which we are to a certain extent, but our relationship with drugs is we’re really in control – we all have places to live and own valuable items that we’ve not sold for drugs.

“Like, we’re all pretty down to party, but we’re more into getting music happening, and getting girls. It’s hard to be really high and relate to a girl – it’s more fun to be sober with a girl and then get high with her. Girls are cooler than drugs, for sure… but marijuana is a girl too, so that’s a tie.”

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012

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