I’ve never been to Portland, so I’d like to imagine it’s the indie-rock fantasy farm I’ve only seen in dog-eared postcards or heard about through water-cooler lore: a place where great bands grow on trees, vintage arcades inhabit every other corner and the record stores are always stocked with stuff I actually want to own. I’m of the illusion that Portland is not ordinary by any stretch, still not a constantly drenched, green-but-depressed, gutter-punk playground, but an über-bohemia much cheaper than San Francisco or Seattle. MTV recently wanted the truth as well (kind of like a few months back when they sought to expose the new “lo-fi” contingent invading SXSW) and headed to the Pacific Northwest for answers. Of course, MTV is nowhere near a reliable source for up-and-coming young bands, but between the obvious chortles with Stephen Malkmus, that tool from the Decemberists and the Thermals, the reporters did, much to my surprise, get to focusing on basement dwellers like Agit-faves Eat Skull, Valet and my latest obsession, Meth Teeth.
Even with only one lone 7-inch to show for themselves, Meth Teeth validate those absolutes about Portland in both spontaneous enthusiasm and catharsis derived from boredom. The Bus Rides EP (released on Vancouver’s primo Sweet Rot), is a definitive first statement if ever there was one, meshing isolated death folk and amplified drunken shenanigans with effortless ease. There’s nothing ornamental or even particularly hip about Meth Teeth’s haunted pop, nothing propping them up but a puff of smoke and some bright tangled notes. “Unemployment Forever” and “To My Good Friend” are the hookiest barbs of the bunch, like the Black Lips if they were infatuated with Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, but falling further down a deep dark well filled with dusty echo. I’d also dare to say that Meth Teeth are more grown than the Lips, less prone to falling over each other and concerned with some post-punk tactics, antique instrumentation, and above all, melody. This little 7-inch sort of breezes by in a lazily living-in-the-moment mix of craggy garage rock and bittersweet acoustics.
There’s just something refreshingly regressive about Meth Teeth. Everything is stripped to its skeletal core, but there’s still a couple more layers of macerated plastic, tin cans and fraying rope holding it all together. Live, they manage to keep that back porch intimacy—a place where “totally rad” and “beer run” are continuous parts of the vernacular. The band’s members fit together like three oddly shaped pieces of a puzzle: the guy that started it all (Mattey Hubele), the barely-legal drummer who won Sub Pop’s Loser Scholarship and moonlights as Leper Print (Kyle Raquipiso), and the transient friend from up North (Matt Nice) who, though in his first band, miraculously marks the whole shebang with his fleshy, ink-stained fingerprint. Once the pieces form (and at a recent show in Columbus I learned they are), it could be a sight to behold.
So how did the MTV feature come about?
Mattey Hubele: They actually contacted Eat Skull first and they were playing our basement around the time when MTV was coming to town. So they ended up liking us a lot and they asked to tape us too. It was pretty rad. It was about 20 beers into the night, and there was like 200 people at my house, which is really weird because it’s a small house. The MTV guy was super drunk. People were pouring beer on him and punching him in the head, calling him a corporate whore and screaming at him. But he took it in stride and he was actually a really nice guy. I wanted to hate MTV, but he was actually really cool.
I heard a rumor that MTV’s production manager was terrified of the basement’s condition. True?
MH: I heard that Rob (from Eat Skull) took them down in his basement and he showed them how he put ointment on his cat’s ass for the camera. The girl from MTV was really disgusted.
Matt Nice: So the next day she came to our house to have us sign release forms and acted totally freaked out. She just said, “Sign these,” and took off, leaving the other guy behind.
Do you think it was at all a good representation of the music scene in Portland?
MN: I’m the only one who watched it and I live in Seattle. In a seven-minute clip, how true can it be? There are lots of great things about Portland—and all those great things about Portland are true—but they make it seem like a ton of people go to shows, which is not actually true. That said, it’s a good place over all.
Was John Norris there documenting the experience?
MH: I was hoping he’d be there, but no, no John Norris.
So is this your first major tour as Meth Teeth?
MH: Other than a few little tours in the Northwest, this is the first extended length of time on the road. We’re really only a year old officially.
I know that you are all in a ton of other bands currently. Do any of those bands scoff at you devoting most of your time to Meth Teeth?
MH: I was in a band called Night Wounds. I pretty much quit that recently to do this full-time.
And Kyle, you’re doing well as Leper Print, but you play in a handful of other bands?
Kyle Raquipiso: I’m in a couple of other bands, like Artificial Limbs, but that is kind of defunct now.
Meth Teeth started as Mattey’s one-man folk project, which you can still hear a bit on Bus Rides. But how did that evolve into what you’ve got going now?
MH: I did it acoustically for a while, playing by myself for a few shows. He (Matt) came down and wanted to make it a real band.
On the album that you are working on, are you purposely trying to get back to what the band was originally supposed to be? Are you bringing in banjos and washboards and jugs?
MH: Well, I’m trying to keep writing songs like I did when I started. But no, I’m not purposely including acoustic instruments or anything like that. That was basically out of necessity in the beginning because I had to do it by myself. I liked that, but I like it better now as a full band. We don’t folk live.
How is the album coming along?
MH: Hopefully it will be out in late fall or early winter. We’re still working on it. I’m writing songs as fast as I can because we’ve got a lot of other releases on the horizon. Even though we are getting amazing offers, it’s the LP first. After the LP, then all that other stuff will be happening.
I’ve noticed you regularly play with bands from Vancouver and your current label is out of Vancouver. Is Vancouver a better place to play than Portland? Is there something about British Columbia, or Canada in general, that keeps you heading back up there?
MH: The kids are really cool, and we’ve always had a great turn-out when we play. They just seem really into the music there. Vancouver has lots of good bands right now. Once you cross the border people automatically seem different.
KR: Lots of Asians. No, that’s not racist because I’m Asian.
MH: People are noticeably drunker there. With the drinking age a bit more relaxed that makes a big difference. With a bunch of drunk 19-year-olds, your whole crowd is different and it makes it a lot more fun.
Anything else in Portland we should know about that wasn’t in the MTV expose?
MH: Little Claw—did they cover them? They’re awesome. And then there’s another band called Explode into Colors that I’m really into, but I think they’re pretty new and have only played like seven shows. They’re totally rad.