We conducted an interview with TOWN PORTAL, an instrumental/math rock/progressive rock band from Copenhagen, Denmark, on January 8, 2012.
Thank you for taking this interview. Please, introduce yourself. Tell us a few words about your band. How’s the new year so far?
Thank you, and well, hello – we’re TOWN PORTAL. We’ve been grooving around since late 2009, taking different shapes and sizes, but at the moment we’re pretty fixed as a trio.
The new year has been amazing so far. Mostly due to the fact that we, after spending the past 4 months reestablishing as a trio, finally got back on the stage last Saturday.
It was the first show since the release of our debut EP “Vacuum Horror”, and there was this anticipating vibe in the crowd, that we’ve not been used to. Made our knees tremble before the show, but felt incredible once we got up there.
Please describe your local music scene. How is the scene for instrumental and post-rock bands in Denmark?
The scene here is cool. There are lots of good bands, that besides from making good music, are made up of nice people. There is a great sense of mutual respect and support among the bands of the scene, and it’s a pleasant thing to be part of.
One problem might be that there are more people in bands doing this kind of music, than there are people actually listening to it. That’s not true really, but it can feel that way sometimes. Seems like it’s getting a lot better lately though.
How did you decide to be an instrumental band? Haven’t you been thinking about adding vocals to your music? If no, then why not?
The classic rock’nroll lineup of guitar, drums and bass in itself, provides an infinity of ways to compose and arrange songs, and we wanted to dig into this unfathomable ocean of possibilities. We wanted to focus on the core of composition; the combination of tones over time, and so decided to cut away all superfluous effects, that you can use to cover up, that what you’re playing on your instrument, really isn’t that interesting. Like i.e. tons of reverb is an efficient way to make a boring riff more interesting. Due to a similar principle we decided to cut away vocals as well. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having vocals, but we feel that omitting them, leaves more space for doing interesting stuff on our instruments. It’s sort a dogma you might say. It’s not meant to be a strict set of regulations, that we plan to follow for the remainder of the bands lifespan though. We consider it more of a starting point, from which we plan to progress over time. One progression could be adding vocals at one point, who knows.
Please tell us more about your previous associated act, SHELFLIFE. What are the main differences between both bands and which members played in both formations?
SHELFLIFE was a band that was active around 2007-2008. Both guitarists in the original TOWN PORTAL Lineup (Christian and Jeppe) were also guitarist in SHELFLIFE. SHELFLIFE was in many ways a project with the main purpose of proving to ourselves that we could make a record that would hold up against the music we all liked. A little test of manhood if you like. So we gave it our best shot and did everything we could to produce that record. As a result the band was very focused on recording and creating the soundscapes we wanted to make. While I think there are definitely similarities in chordal/tonal songwriting elements, TOWN PORTAL started out with a completely different approach. This band was about putting the creative collaboration and live performance in focus. I don’t think any of us went into this project with any expectations about what the final product would sound like, as we wanted it to be a natural synthesis of what we all brought to the collaborative effort. Soundwise, we mathced this approach with removing a lot of the layers in our sound, focusing on the essential elements. Aside from those differences, Malik is a very different drummer than Jonas (who played in SHELFLIFE), and with the dominant rhythmical elements in TOWN PORTAL’s sound that has a lot to say. With the entrance of Morten in the band, and Jeppe’s exit, the SHELFLIFE comparison probably becomes less and less relevant. Luckily though, it seems like we have managed to keep a good portion of SHELFLIFE listeners interested in the stuff we are doing now. That people are ready to follow the progressions we choose to make as musicians is really nice to experience.
You have recently released an EP entitled “Vacuum Horror”. It’s full of original melodies, harmonies, and interesting rhythm structures. How do you write music? Tell us more about the process.
Thank you. “Vacuum Horror” is compiled of the first 6 songs that we ever wrote as Town Portal, and exactly how our songwriting process works, is still something we’re trying to figure out. A song typically starts out with a set of somewhat unrelated guitar riffs from Christians hand, that we then develop, re-arrange, and add bass lines and beats. Then some more riffs occur from spontaneous jamming, and they’re added to the mix. It’s a recursive process with a lot of going back and forth, and usually we take a long time to write a song. Lately more riffs start out on bass or even drums, which makes it even more of a common effort, and thus an even more complex path. The process can never be reduced to any logically arranged set of actions, and hence the beauty of it.
What are the inspirations and influences behind the record?
Like I said these were the first songs we ever wrote, and as such it was just what happened when we went into the rehearsal space, with the earlier mentioned dogmas in mind, and our respective musical backgrounds. Christian and Jeppe came from a shoegaze band, Malik played (and plays) death metal and Morten played math-pop. We like to see our music as a result of our backgrounds in these very different styles of music.
How many shows have you been playing so far? Is touring important for you or do you prefer the studio environment?
I don’t know that we ever really counted the shows, but we started off around April 2010 playing a few shows in Copenhagen, then later in the year we headed out on a minor European tour with our mates in Nightpass playing 12 shows. Then a few more shows in Copenhagen during 2011, and now the next thing is another European tour starting next week(!), adding another 18 shows of live-experience. This time it’s with our friends in OBSTACLES, who basically toured before they knew how to walk. They’re probably the best live-band around here, so we expect to learn a lot from watching them every night.
Touring is definitely important to us. So is recording. Two different things obviously. This band though, was formed on the idea of creating a live band, in contrast to some of our previous bands, that were mostly recording bands.
What artists do you listen to these days? Recommend us some of your favourite bands.
We really enjoy lots of different stuff in this band, which also means that we don’t have three matched sets of musical preferences. Malik (drums) i.e. comes from a death metal background and enjoy a lot of that stuff, whereas Christian and I (Morten) have been pretty occupied with the 90s D.C. and Chicago scenes amongst others. We have great differences in taste as well though. There are still some artists, that we all enjoy. MESHUGGAH is one of them. They have been a great inspiration in our approach to rhythm and groove construction lately, even though I think it’s safe to say that we sound nothing like them. Besides from that, I think both Christian and I have been spinning the new CYMBALS EAT GUITARS record on a near-daily basis. They have a flair for mixing progressive almost epic compositions, with a down to earth sound, whilst being really catchy at the same time.
What are your future plans as a band? Are you planning to hit the road sometime soon?
Yes indeed. As mentioned we’re leaving next week for at tour. When back home, we’re gonna start recording our debut album, play a few Danish shows, release the album around the fall, and then probably look into possibilities of touring again at that point. We even have a few plans regarding that, but we’ll keep those to ourselves a little longer.
If you could change a thing about the music industry, what would it be?
There are some changes that has been going on, since the introduction of the Internet and with that music piracy. If they weren’t already happening, we would probably want to initiate those changes.
It seems to create a lot of panic throughout the music industry, but from our point of view, it’s a great thing. It is a liberation for us as a band, not to depend on a record label for money and know-how in relation to recording, releasing, distributing and promoting. The Internet is part of ensuring this independence. We can do the whole thing on our own (and we did), and thus be free to do it exactly the way we want, and to some degree that makes the record label a superfluous institution. On the other hand, we still like to hold a vinyl or CD in our hands, but don’t really have the money to release our music this way. Luckily there is a seemingly ever-growing amount of smaller record labels, willing to invest in stuff like that, solely motivated by the love of music, and the urge to spend their time on something meaningful. So well, if we should wish for a change, we’d wish for a radicalization of already present tendencies: Less dependence of centralized resources, less artistic standardization, more awareness about free licensing like Creative Commons, etc. In short, taking the industry out of music industry.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything you would like to share with us?
Thank you. In relation to our answer to question 10: Our EP Vacuum Horror is released on a Creative Commons license, and it’s available on www.townportal.bandcamp.com. We encourage everyone who likes the music to download it, and share it as much as they please. Give it to your friends, post it on your blog, play it on your radio station. You won’t get sued, but you might a risk a thank you in an e-mail ;)