July 19, 2013

On Tour

by Casey O'Dea and Dan Stump

Casey O'Dea '14 and Dan Stump '14 are Royce Fellows creating a documentary about an underground music movement.

It’s morning in Gnarnia.  Rikky stands at the living room table, double-checking the addresses on a large stack of packages before he begins assembling the larger stack of tape cassettes in front of him into the month’s remaining mail orders.  Behind him, Kyle is still asleep on the couch (he writes most of the bands’ music, but he doesn’t have his own bedroom).  Funkle, the self-proclaimed house janitor, is cleaning the kitchen.  Izak, who does most of the house cooking, is still in his room upstairs, unlikely to emerge for several more hours.  Most mornings go something like this for the crew responsible for Gnar Tapes, a cassette tape recording label based in Portland, Oregon.

Their small house on the South East side serves as both their home and their studio.  Dan and I have been living in Gnarnia since late May, and in the time we have been here Gnar Tapes has put out ten releases.  Six of those are the musical projects of the people who live in this house, and another one is by a band in Japan.  To say this level of output for a record label running out of a living room is impressive would be an understatement—especially considering that the crew is rarely home for more than a few weeks before hitting the road on tour.  In the six weeks since we moved into the basement, we have been on two weeklong tours down the west coast, often without knowing where we will sleep each night until after the show is over.

At Gnarnia, we sleep on air mattresses in the basement, which serves as the practice space for the numerous bands composed of the people who live here and their friends.  When we make our way upstairs each morning, we must be careful not to trip over the host of cords, amps, guitars, and drums that scatter the basement.  Although we only returned from tour four days ago, the crew left today for a two-day festival they are playing in Oakland.  Dan and I are staying behind to shoot more interviews in Portland, including the friendly landscaping neighbors who share a backyard with the house.

Gnar Tapes is the most prominent independent music label in Portland, and one of the most productive and creative labels in the country that is putting out music on cassette tapes.  More than one of the bands made up of the guys who live in this house are favorites on the Portland underground music scene, as well as the scenes in cities like Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles (all cities we have filmed in).  To those who listen to their music and dance at their high-energy shows, it may seem like the Gnar Tapes life is mostly fun and games; but in this day and age, being a recording artist who runs their own record label is more than even a fulltime job: it is a lifestyle.

We hope that our documentary will not only give the public a greater appreciation for a dynamic underground music movement before it becomes another passing wave in the tides of musical history, but also provide people with a window into the uniquely intense lifestyle of fulltime musicians across the modern United States.