The hardcore punk band Gavin Portland surprised many with their debut album, Views of Distant Towns, released last year to much critical acclaim. The album scored favourably among reviewers, both in Iceland and abroad. Now the band faces the daunting task of living up to their own shadow.
For Gavin Portland, simple things like getting together to practice can be a major difficulty. For one thing, singer Kolli currently resides in the UK, occasionally making the trip across the Atlantic to join his bandmates for practice, and the odd recording session. For another thing, guitarist Þórir is fostering a thriving solo career under the moniker My Summer As A Salvation Soldier, in addition to playing in various other bands, such as Dormah and Deathmetal Supersquad. Third, bass player Addi is also a member of Celestine, another band with a hefty schedule. I was relieved to be able to get two of them together in a room for a little talk.
The Pilgrimage to Abbey Road
For reasons stated above, IV: Hand in Hand With Traitors, Back to Back with Whores, the follow up to 2006 III: Views of Distant Towns has been long awaited. Finally, everyone has a cleared their schedule so the band is heading to Massachusetts, USA to record in Godcity Studio, with owner, producer and Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou. “He records all the best stuff in hardcore in the US,” says Þórir of the man who in the last few years has spent his time away from the band recording such acts as Modern Life is War, Blacklisted, Mysery Index, and last but not least Converge. “We sent him a few songs, which he liked, so he agreed to work with us,” he continues, adding “for us as a hardcore band, this is a great opportunity – to record in the best hardcore studio in the world, but this is also a pilgrimage for us, because all our favourite albums where recorded in this studio.” A smile appears across Kolli’s face. “This is our Abbey Road.”
Egos Held in Check
“The reason we wanted to work with him is that he is a producer. He works with us, brings ideas to the table and gives us feedback. We can be a bit full of ourselves, and I think it will be good for us to have someone from the outside to keep that in check,” Þórir says about the reasons behind their collaboration with Kurt Ballou.
With band members living in two countries, finding time to write new material can be difficult. “We wrote half the album in February,” Þórir explains. “Since Kolli came back this summer, we have changed those songs a lot, and worked on new material.” Kolli adds: “I came back July 20, and since then we have hardly left the practice space.”
Confidence Trumps Pressure
The band’s last album met with a very warm welcome from the Icelandic music press as well as in Europe. This means that the band is now recording under the watchful eye of the media, opposed to recording the first album in relative obscurity from anyone outside the small hardcore-scene in Reykjavík. “We never expected anyone to like that album apart from maybe twenty of our best friends,” Kolli states, while Þórir adds: “I half-expected [record label] 12 Tónar to back out. I don’t think we are an especially accessible band for casual rock fans.”
But the label stayed the course, and now it is up to Gavin Portland to prove that it was the right decision, but not a one-time fluke. Does that create added pressure for the band? Kolli feeds us me the standard rock cliché: “No, we don’t really care what people think.” Þórir gives us a little more straightforward answer. “Like I said, we can be a bit full of ourselves. We are just so confident in what we are doing, that I am not even worried about that.”
The Importance of Being Hardcore
So, how does a band approach its second album? Is the process different? Is the material different? “The material is heavier,” Þórir explains. “Our roots as a hardcore punk band should be a little more obvious in this album. Our last album contained more indie-rock influences, but this is more based on hardcore.” Kolli adds: “I don’t think there is one catchy song on this album, but than again, I didn’t think so last time either.”
Þórir says it was important to the band to make an album that would showcase their true roots as a hardcore band. “Although we don’t play traditional hardcore punk, it was more of an issue for us now to make a hardcore record so people don’t misconstrue this album. And its probably going to sound a bit different because we are recording it in a studio that is built for hardcore punk, whereas our last album was recorded in the studio that [‘60s pop band] Hljómar built.”
Being Gavin Portland
“We are creating music that we know is never going to make it into daytime radio rotation anywhere, and that has never been the point of being in a band for us. Of course we’ll be pleased if people like it and get what we are doing, mostly because that will help 12 Tónar, who took a big chance when they signed us,” says Kolli of the band’s expectations of the outcome. For Gavin Portland, this album is the labour of love, not a an attempt to recreate the success of their last album. Þórir: “Well, there is no one in Gavin Portland under the illusion that we will ever make a living off of this. It is more like we are trying to make a living so we can be in Gavin Portland.”
Gavin Portland will play two farewell shows before disappearing into the recording studio. On August 14 at Kaffi Rót with Tentacles of Doom and Dys; and August 19 at Organ with Skítur and Muck.