Coming live: Trumans Water reemerges, hit or miss 

Musicians Kirk and Kevin Branstetter are passing me back and forth on the phone as they hit balls across Portland's Broadmoor Golf Course. Their band, Trumans Water, has to practice in a couple of hours for a show the following evening at Turn Turn Turn, a music and vintage clothing shop that serves beer and hosts live music. After that, they'll spend a few more days in Portland before heading to Missoula to play another show—their only other show of the summer—in support of Trumans Water's recent release, Live in Oslo, an album they recorded in Norway 12 years ago.

The brothers are in a spirited mood, despite a golf game that keeps getting in their way. They don't often play shows, and when they do it's usually in Europe. (Kevin lives in France.) For the Portland and Missoula shows they have Mike Coumatos on bass and John Sherman, of Red Fang fame, on drums.

"John Sherman is actually on the live record," Kirk says. "And that's the last time he played with us, was when we recorded this album 12 years ago." He stops to search for his ball—"Sorry, this would be a better interview if we were better golfers," he says—and passes the phone to Kevin.

"You kind of called on the hole we're melting down on," Kevin says, laughing. "Our first two holes were really good, and now all of a sudden we've both hit balls into the trees."

The fits-and-starts nature of the conversation is perfectly apt for musicians who deal in building blocks of bent psych-rock and free jazz. Their sound invites comparisons to Captain Beefheart, though the spastic riffs and angular, sometimes sprawling breakdowns make categorization elusive. It's the kind of experimental rock that carries enough garage and punk flavor to feel familiar, but almost never takes you where you think it will.

The band started in San Diego in 1991, born into an underground rock scene that included Rocket from the Crypt, Fishwife and Three Mile Pilot. Between swings, I ask about their big break—at least in the underground sense—when British DJ and producer John Peel played the band's entire first record, 1992's Of Thick Tum, uninterrupted on his BBC Radio One show.

"He called up on the phone out of nowhere and was like, 'I want to get you over here for a Peel Session,'" Kevin says. He was a big fan. He fell in love with us, luckily, and that's pretty much what launched our career."

click to enlarge Trumans Water will play Missoula in support of the band’s recent release, Live in Oslo, recorded in Norway 12 years ago.
  • Trumans Water will play Missoula in support of the band’s recent release, Live in Oslo, recorded in Norway 12 years ago.

Trumans Water recorded three Peel Sessions, toured with Beck and shared record labels with Dinosaur Jr. and Big Black and a booking agent with Sonic Youth, Sebadoh and Nirvana—and still the band remained obscure. But back then, obscurity was no impediment to touring.

"In the beginning we had a really good booking agent in New York that made everything easy," Kevin says. "It was also the 1990s, when you could be in an obscure band and still make good money on tour."

Trumans Water has made some Missoula connections through the years. In 1995 they recorded a 7-inch with the Missoula-based record label Wantage. On a few occasions they've joined Portland band The Bugs to play Missoula's now-defunct independent music festival, Total Fest.

"I come back every summer to Portland [from France] and we try to set up a show or two for fun," Kevin says. "This time we were like, 'Hey how about Missoula?' Because we like it. As opposed to going to San Francisco or San Diego or L.A. We're more camping-type people than city folk—we like the nature."

The sound of Kirk yelling breaks up the conversation for a moment. "Yikes, a ball is coming at us!" Kevin says. "Some guy just hit it off the tee and was trying to kill us I think."

Kevin hands the phone back to Kirk so he can resume searching for his ball. The game has clearly devolved into chaos, but they don't seem to care. As with music, they just like playing.

Trumans Water plays the ZACC Thu., July 20, at 8 PM with Atrocity Singers, the Bugs and the Plastic Harmony Band.

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