Before Port O’Brien formed as a duo in 2005, lead female singer Cambria Goodwin worked in a small Alaskan bakery while the male lead, Van Pierszalowski, spent months at sea on his father’s fishing boat.
Today, having released their second album, “Threadbare,” on TBD Records on Oct. 6, and in the middle of a worldwide tour with indie rock singer/songwriter Seawolf, Port O’Brien seems a long way off from pressing cake dough and making fish bate.
Still, the dedication, modesty and self-reliance learned from hard labor has spilled over into their music. Shortly after uniting, the coastal California band added a rhythm section and in 2008 they independently released their debut, “All We Could Do Was Sing.”
“Some bands will receive a huge advance and blow every penny of it on recording, but I really don’t think you need a hundred grand to record an album,” says Pierszalowski.
His attitude on touring is similarly down to earth. “We just like to keep it honest and fresh and in the moment,” he says. “Performing is basically just for the audience — trying to give them some kind of memorable experience. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing with Modest Mouse or playing a show in Missouri with only five people.”
According to Pierszalowski, the biggest advantage of being a full-time band now is the bonds they’ve birthed and the ability of having more creative minds to work with; when their creative juices don’t suffice, their unity kicks in and individual matters affect them all, including the unfortunate passing of Goodwin’s younger brother.
“If you can say anything positive about tragedy, you can say it puts your life in focus, and it put our album in focus,” says Pierszalowski. “So, part of it is dealing with depression and dealing with the anxiety but it’s also realizing what you can learn from that and making active changes based on that. We wanted to incorporate things that came from those feelings.”
The unexpected change within the group also led to more practical changes on the album, the most noticeable — and effective — being Goodwin’s vocals being featured more prominently this time around than on the bands’ debut. “It wasn’t an active decision we made, it just seemed like there was no other way,” Pierszalowkski says, stating it all happened organically. “She had a lot more to say than I did this time around.”
This focused and sincere partnership grounds “Threadbare.” The band’s “beardiness,” as Pierszalowski puts it, might draw simple comparisons to indie campfire bands like Akron/Family, Bon Iver, or Fleet Foxes, but Port O’Brien is not making music to fit it.
“On ‘Threadbare’ everything was immediately collaborative. We like a lot of different types of music and I think that every song on ‘Threadbare’ is pretty different, but it still felt a lot more cohesive than anything we’ve done before,” he says. “We always try to cover a lot of ground and not try to be pigeonholed into one specific production style or one form of instrumentation. We felt a strong connection with every song and how they fit together.”