Rhythm & Brews
A (Relatively) Sober Guide to the Bands of Penumbra Beer Bash
This year's Penumbra—The Stranger's second annual beer and bands festival—is going to be even beerier than last year: 26-ish breweries will be bringing two beers each, which leaves you, as a possible beer drinker, with 52 beers to try. That said, please do not try to drink 52 beers in one night. I have never seen anyone get close to drinking 52 beers, nor do I want to (though if I or anyone I know has ever gotten close to it, no one involved has any recollection of the experience beyond the subsequent apocalyptic headache, limb loss, and/or jail time).
Because I don't want you to hurt yourself, but I also want you to have a nice time drinking delicious beer, I've come up with some ideas for beer/band pairings for the festival. I want there to be something for everyone, so I've listed a few possibilities for each. I also tried to focus on some of the rarer stuff that isn't always available in the city's many brewpubs, bars, and bottle shops, since a few of the great beers at the festival are often seen around town.
Before we proceed further, for the sake of disclosure, I'll tell you now that I play drums in Dude York and that it's a pretty good time most of the time. I hope I don't let you down.
I caught up with Seattle's premier locomotive punk band to talk about music, beer, and whatever else comes up when you're talking to a band before they play a combination music and beer festival. At Penumbra, consider pairing NighTraiN with Two Beers' fine Immersion Amber Ale, Urban Family's Dubbel Deuce, or Boneyard's IRA.
NighTraiN are the only band listed as "locomotive punk." Where did that term come from? Hello there, this is Rachael Ferguson. Basically, locomotive punk is a term indicative of how we play our music. It's very much intrinsic to our given circumstances and our perspectives as women, and black women, playing rock and roll. It's not specific to a new type of genre or in between proto-punk or garage or anything like that, it's more like an intrinsic, emotional connection that we put through our music. There were a lot of people who were like, "You should be categorized as punk-funk-soul, or indie rock, or something like that." And we're a steady type of machine that, you know, puts out this music. It's not necessarily under one flag. Locomotive punk is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our name, NighTraiN, and engines, and trains. I guess it's a nod and a wink to where we came from, our Hot Grits background.
Can you tell me about the process of making Mating Call? It sounds awesome. Over the past year or so, we'd been making a lot of music that's been pretty moody and sensual and heavy. Mating Call sort of happened because of that. We were like, "Okay, we're going into this in more of a straight rock, crazy, dark and stormy type of way, let's go ahead and indulge that." We got approached by Erik Blood. We were like, "We know about you, let's go ahead and give it a try." During the whole recording process last year, which was from August to December, basically, he really was able to tune into those musical themes that came from our songs, and that's how Mating Call came about.
How did you and Erik Blood end up working together? That's so weird! In February 2013, we did an event called Dancing on the Valentine, and Erik Blood did a couple of songs, and so did we. I believe he caught wind of us during that event, and then he came to one of our shows, and afterward he was like, "I want to record you."
We were like, "Really? Us?" But he's a Zen master, he was able to truly listen to the nuances of our sound without overproducing it, without covering up our style and voice, and I thought that was really amazing.
What was the recording process like? We would come in with our music and we'd record what we had, and that went smooth enough, and if he had suggestions, we'd go through those suggestions—it was a very smooth and fun process. We just tried to dial what we could in and not belabor the point, or beat a dead horse, or wear ourselves out, and he was very communicative about what we should or shouldn't do with his suggestions.
Was this your first time working with a producer? With a producer like that, yes. We'd recorded before with different people, but on this type of level, yes.
He's done a lot of really cool projects in the last few years: his record, Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction. And the Moondoggies, and Partman Parthorse. When you listen to each and every album he's done for other artists, it's like he's putting salt on a nice piece of meat, bringing out the flavor of that particular food. It's exactly what he does, he's seasoning [laughs]. He brings some spice to our life.
What's your writing process like? It's a completely collaborative process. We all work on composition and lyrics and arrangement. Sometimes a person might say, "Hey, I have a song, it sounds like this," and we might say, "That sounds good, let's try it this way" or "I have a bass part for this." It's like a really intricate weaving process, or you could say that our songs are like a patchwork circle. We all have a hand in sewing it up a bit.
We're just so happy to finally get back on tour after three years of not being on tour and not having a new project. It's really cool to be out and share these things with people who haven't seen us before. We've been getting a lot of new friends lately.
Did you play music in other bands before this? We didn't know how to play instruments six years ago. We'd never been in a band, we'd never sung in a band. This is quite new to us. We did a show called Hot Grits where they did an open call for women of color who wanted to learn how to play an instrument and make their own songs as a punk-rock band, and we answered this call as actors. After the production ended, we decided to keep on doing NighTraiN.
Did you have a theater background, then? Yes, I got a BFA in theater from Cornish. Me and the bassist [Selena Whitaker], we both have acting backgrounds. Taryn [René Dorsey] and Nicole [Peoples] don't have acting backgrounds, but did fabulously anyway and just wanted to be part of the project.
Are you guys enthusiastic about beer, or planning anything cool for the festival? We love beer, we love microbrews, Selena misses them. NighTraiN actually make our own beer. Selena and her partner, Dermot, make their own NighTraiN beer and sell it on the road. It's a dark amber, it's really delicious, and we usually have it available at Hoodstock, our festival. It's a music festival we put on each summer; it'll be six years this summer. It's in the Central District at the Milky Way House, our bassist's home. It's all ages; people bring their families. It's a fun community event.
Also on the bill at Penumbra...
Portland's Shivas have been knocking out effortless-sounding and totally danceable surf jammers built on immediate guitar lines and a foundation of '60s rock and roll for the last several years. Pair with something with hard West Coast vibes and not a ton of booze, like Fort George's Divinity Raspberry Wheat, Double Mountain's Vaporizer Pale, or one of the many low-alcohol session IPAs on draft: Fremont's 77, Stoup's ISA, or Silver City's West Sound IPA should be sufficiently hoppy without giving you that headkicked feeling. Kind of like surfing without all the falling over.
Chastity Belt's post-post-punk party pop is in flux again as they gear up to record their second album soon. Expect a set of serious-not-serious head trips and joking-not-joking moments of truth sung effortlessly and gorgeously by Julia Shapiro, who's backed by completely off-the-wall and completely brilliant instrumentalists Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, and Gretchen Grimm, who play like no one else in this city right now. There'll probably be some very good new songs and perhaps a callback or two to last year's still-great (and still pretty much totally sold out) No Regerts. Naked City is bringing a whiskey-barrel-aged sour that might adequately deliver some surprises, but 7 Seas' Imperial Oatmeal Raisin Stout might complement their sour-sweet songs as well.
Just rockin' good stuff. Boneyard's Notorious Triple IPA might be fun if you're into gigantic beers, as might Fremont's Dark Star (which isn't quite as big but is always very nice) or Two Beers' Forester Double IPA, but I'll probably be going for CommuniTea Kombucha around this point.
I have no idea what Broken Water are up to these days—they haven't released new music in quite some time, and I haven't seen them in more than a year—but I can state with confidence that they've blown me away for different reasons every time I've had the privilege of watching them impress the hell out of everyone within earshot. Their take on Pacific Northwest guitar music is expansive, sludgy, all-consuming, and more inspiring than just about anything else working with and demolishing these rule books. Crux's Banished DoubleCross Belgian Dark or Mosaic Double IPA, Standard's Cascadian Dark Ale, or Finnriver's Saffron Botanical or blackcurrant ciders could all pair beautifully, but I don't so much have an idea of what we're in for as I am confident that it'll be really, really good.