It seems like a rather obscurantist way to go about writing music: tease the germ of a respectable pop song or two into a 12-minute minimalist odyssey that completely obscures the hook. It’s not like there’s no precedent for it, but still, is there some kind of Magic Eye trick involved in discerning pop truths under the glacial stillness of Portable Winter? Are they asking the musical question, “So, do you take much codeine?” and, if so, what am I answering? Portable Winter (Jonathan Rothman, Ron Lewis and Ivan Wodarz) know they go on a bit at times, but at least they don’t let the goldfish attention span of the average concert-goer affect them on a personal level.
Okay, fellows. Why?
Jonathan Rothman: Well, the boring story is that Ivan and I played music together as a two-piece for three or four months before Ron showed up on the scene. Basically we had three songs that lasted about twelve minutes apiece, and we would usually play two of them before a band went on, usually a band with friends of ours. So when Ron showed up we asked him, “So, hey, do you want to be part of this atmospheric, moody thing that we’re trying to throw together?” and the three of us started making music out of the sheer Spacemen 3 ethic of making music for people to take drugs to. Long compositions that were rooted in one chord for about twelve minutes.
Ron Lewis: I was in a little project out in Washington, parenthetically titled Winter Music. Really quiet and really, really slow, and I think when I joined up with these guys, it got a little bit quieter. A little bit quieter and a little bit more poppy. That’s just kind of the way I do it.
[Conversation turns to yoga and a story that Wodarz had been trying to finish before someone interrupted him earlier.]
So, Ivan, does yoga remind you of Portable Winter at all? Like, eight hours of stretching before you really get anywhere? Ivan Wodarz: [Laughs politely.] Yeah. Playing a Portable Winter song is a lot like doing yoga. You want to breathe in rhythm, and you want to be very slow and in control.
Jonathan Rothman: The funny thing is, we’ve actually taken one of our slowest songs and sped it up to where it was extremely fast, just to sort of prove that there are still pop hooks even in the slow stuff that we play. [Laughs.]
[Conversation turns to an impromptu acoustic set in a friend’s living room after an especially loud band cause the police to break up a party where Portable Winter were supposed to play, too.]
Jonathan Rothman: I was completely depressed about the entire situation and basically begging people to let us play in their house. So we ended up playing an acoustic-type set at [a friend’s] house …
Ron Lewis: …and having to beat down the people at this after hours party, like “No! You can’t jam! We’re trying to play here!”
Portable Winter play their last show this Saturday at Jay’s Upstairs. With Wenceslaus Cat. 10 PM. Cover TBA.